adjective \ˈna-chə-rəl, ˈnach-rəl\
existing in nature and not made or caused by people
I am me, naturally
Who am I? There are so many ways to delineate the concept that I think of as “me”.
On a purely physical level, you could make the argument that I am simply a collection of living cells that have combined forces to preserve one another. On an even more basic physical level, you could say that I am made up of atoms that react with one-another according to well-defined rules.
Looking at it from a psychological perspective, you could say that I am a conglomerate of emotions, ideas, memories, and motivations that collectively make the personality known as Dan Hentschel.
There’s also a spiritual perspective. I believe that I am a product of a benevolent, intelligent creator who has designed me as an everlasting being, in His image.
I am a homo sapiens, a primate, a mammal, a chordate. If you trace my scientific classification all the way up, I am considered to be a part of the animal kingdom.
My seventh grade Life Sciences text book told me that I am descended from chimpanzees, or perhaps chimps and humans are parallel developments from some earlier primate ancestor. Before primates there were rat-like mammals, which were preceded by reptile / mammal hybrids, then tetrapods, then fish, invertebrates… all the way back to single-celled organisms.
Through a process of mutation and natural selection, I was determined to be the most fit form of primate (so far) for my habitat. Congratulations to me.
And yet, despite the insistence of my seventh grade Life Sciences book, our culture tells me that I am not natural. In fact, nature and I are at war with each other.
I take a shower or flush the toilet, and I use up gallons of water. I order a pizza, and I use fossil fuels to cook it and deliver it, generating greenhouse gasses in the process, I kill trees to make the pizza box, which I then throw into a landfill, and I kill a pig and a cow to put pepperoni on top.
The message is clear: every day I am hurting nature. Little-by-little, the actions that I perform are destroying this beautiful, natural world.
Do I hate nature? Absolutely not! On the contrary, I love nature: woods, mountains, beaches, flowers, and animals. I also happen to love some man-made things as well: cities and buildings, monuments, canals, bridges and dams.
I don’t love the bizarre, double-minded thinking of our culture about humans and nature. Are we a part of nature or aren’t we? If we are are part of nature, then what is the purpose of the distinction between natural and man-made? Why don’t we have terms for chimpanzee-made or tiger-made?
Humans are different
Perhaps we were “natural” at some point in our history, but the moment the human race started to contemplate our impact on nature, we became separate from it. A squirrel doesn’t think about its impact on nature. A squirrel does what it does. It eats and stores seeds and nuts. It climbs trees. It has babies.
No animal affects nature to the extent we humans do, though. The human race has practically covered the globe, consuming resources wherever we go. But that’s broken thinking again. Does the extent of our impact make it less natural? Based on natural selection, the extent to which we have affected the environment just highlights our fitness to it.
It’s all a matter of perception. We see ourselves as unnatural because we are able to perceive and assess our impact on the world around us.
Nature in the balance
The war between humans and nature needs to stop. Just as squirrels do the things that squirrels do, people do the things that people do. We take showers and flush toilets. We order pizzas with pepperoni on top. We live.
Nature is in constant flux. The fossil record shows many snapshots of nature that are very different from the one that we know. Change is not necessarily a bad thing. Once again, the badness is injected by our own perspective.
Due to human influence, nature is currently in a period of rapid change. Is it definitely change for the worse? How do you even quantify such a thing? Change is scary. We know the nature of the past, and we like it. The nature of the future is yet to be seen.
Any change in nature is bound to be bad for certain forms of life, and good for others. I find it hard to believe that anything we do would completely wipe out all life on the planet. The real danger, from my point of view, is that we will change our planet to the extent that it becomes difficult, or even impossible, for humanity to thrive on it.
So what’s the big deal?
If we are just a collection of atoms or cells, then what does it matter if the human race ceases to exist? There will be other collections of atoms and groups of cells, just not in human form.
The story is much the same if I am defined by my emotions, ideas, memories, and motivations. My thoughts may seem very important to me right now, but once I’m gone they will fade. If all the people on Earth were to disappear tomorrow, who would mourn their passing?
Without the spiritual perspective, preservation of life is simply maintaining status quo out of a fear of change. Our actions take on meaning when we know that they are being weighed by an eternal observer.
The Bible tells me, in apparent opposition to my seventh grade textbook, that I am created for God’s pleasure. It says that He loves me and gave me this world, and everything in it, as a gift and as a responsibility. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.
I believe that it is my responsibility to cherish and care for nature not out of misplaced nostalgia, not out of fear of change, not out of a guilty conscience, but out of a love and respect for the creator who gave it into my care.