Seeing Paradise

Painting: Joy Garnett

It’s the will of a god. See it written in a piece of eco-pornography which seeks the end of life on Earth. I used to think the apocalypse was just a fairly harmless mystical allegory, but then I realized how powerful it has become as a driving force in realpolitik. When world leaders forget the compassion and political grace represented by the sayings of Christ, but use the Book of Revelation as a myth to live by, we need to worry.

The longest, deepest, widest indigenous prayer is that the Earth should endure, wending its own way as it always has, and that people too should swing in the Earth’s own harmonies. So say those who have dwelled longest on this kind Earth, knowing that the greatest love affair on Earth is the love of Earth.

But one small and very recent group of arrivals prays for the opposite, that this world should end so that a new off-Earth heaven can come into being. After the fire, smoke, and sulphur, this Earth will pass away, they pray. For them, what is most spiritual is outside and beyond Earth, a whiteout of the psyche, a tragic addiction to a weird and bloodless irreality. To me, the very idea of heaven is offensive to Earth.

Pornography hates and demeans women, so eco-pornography hates and demeans the Earth, portraying it as soiled matter, fit for burning. Pornography is an abuse of power over women, and eco-pornography is an abuse of power over nature. The trouble is that this small group of eco-pornographers has become very influential.

When it comes to dealing with climate change, we need wiser influences, and if we must have leaders, we need better ones. We need people who can deal with many ways of thinking at the same time; people able to deal with the complexities of psychology, law, natural systems, and diplomacy. We need those familiar with the nubby reality of a garden spade, who at the same time take for their song an older music. We need those who can understand the physics of the natural world and who can take for the ground of their myths the beauty of this Earth, this theater of irrepressible life. We need tribal elders.

The Hopi prophecies suggest a deadly fire burning the world and, crucially, see this as something to be averted. But the myth of those in power seeks this fire, prays for a tragedy. In answer to this tragedy, it seems to me now, mourning is not enough. Call her Gaia, call her Life, call her Mother Earth, she requires a risorgimento of spirited spiritualism, a kind of militant shamanism to challenge the hegemony of those in power, to reject this singular myth which, peculiarly among human cosmologies, sees the Earth as profane and thinks that paradise is elsewhere.

So this sad group waits longingly for their Rapture, heedless that the rapturous nature of this Earth is already paradise. For here, already, are the messengers of the innately holy: a thumbnail, a turtle, a joke, a pebble. There is heaven in the day’s eye, as that sweet flower the daisy remembers in its naming. Here are the real angels, in radish, twilight, and trickster, speaking of life, complicated, infinite, crescent and laughing, this Earth now, where life sweeps another comedic turn at every moment. We need a greater myth, and we have one — the sweetest, deepest songline of the Earth.

Jay Griffiths’s books include A Sideways Look at Time, A Country Called Childhood, and Savage Grace, originally published as Wild: An Elemental Journey, winner of the Orion Book Award.


  1. I agree that those desperately seeking heaven are overlooking the paradise under their feet, but I am troubled by the author’s simplistic formulation of the problem:

    “Pornography is an abuse of power over women, and eco-pornography is an abuse of power over nature.”

    The author implies that this “eco-pornography” is the work of Christians who want to go to heaven, but of course not all Christians believe in that form of the Rapture, nor are all Christians unconcerned about global warming.

    What’s more, as the author admits, the concept of the apocalypse is an idea found in cultures besides the Christian — Griffiths mentions that the Hopi also think the world could end in fire.

    Global warming is a problem for all of us. The intriguing aspect of this essay for me is not that Christians devalue the planet, but that more than one culture sees the potential for an apocalypse.

    Perhaps more than one human myth foreshadows our end, just as more than one human myth tells the story of God moving upon the waters.

    Wouldn’t that universality be more interesting than putting the blame for global warming on Christians?

    Keep in mind, I’m not a Christian myself…

  2. I don’t think he was blaming Christians for global warming..I think he is pointing out that a lot of us do not see paradise when it is right here…Jean

  3. As a former Fundamentalist Christian, I can say from my experience that the author was talking about the people I grew up with. For them, the nubby garden spade was proof of Adam;s curse to till the ground with the sweat of his brow, not the miracle of life and growth. For them, the nebulous heaven of constant praise would indeed be preferable to the idea of suffering on an unfeeling Earth.

    True, not all Christians feel this way, and I’m sure the author wasn’t referring to them, but to the vocal minority who want to sweep the slate clean. I sure don’t feel that way any longer, having thrown off the oppressive yoke of the hellfire brand of religion.

  4. “When world leaders forget the compassion and political grace represented by the sayings of Christ, but use the Book of Revelation as a myth to live by, we need to worry.”

    Doesn’t this say it all??? The very definition of “Christian” has become so perverted by the masses that true Christians, those truly living by Christ’s example, are buried under the myth.

    But aside from that, this peace truly does speak to the Earth as a Heaven that we need to protect. There is no better place. It is only here.

  5. Thank you for using the phrase Gaia in reference to earth. Those who chase rapture are sadly lacking in what I believe to be the true lesson in the metaphore of Adam and Eve. The “Garden of Eden” was heaven and man(Homo sapiens) chose to see themselves as separate and not a part of ‘Eden”. In so doing we have forever been trying to get back. The rapture is nothing more then pure denial of the beauty and harmony a truly spiritual person can find here on earth and be connected to god and all that is good.

    Great Article.

  6. It boggles my mind to think that we’ve been mass indoctrinated into supporting artificial ways of living…to the great benefits (yes, profits $$$) of religious sects….with their hoco-pocus scare tactics and disregard for the many co-existing forces and lifeforms that we should nurture and be proud to co-exist with..

  7. Great writing. I’ve always thought as a Christian, that we make our own heaven or hell right here on earth, so might as well treat earth as heaven. Some calling themselves Christians seem to think that their rapture brand of heaven will save them from an earthly hell they seem only too eager to further to its ultimate doom. This thinking I suppose is meant to allow all sorts of human follies under the guise of religion. We’ve seen this played out throughout history in various forms…but this time history may not have a chance to repeat itself.

  8. From ancient times humans acted nobly and ignobly in the name of god, finding justification for their actions in their religions. Too suppose this will change is unrealistic. Perhaps we will grow wiser, act to protect our world, and credit god. Perhaps. I doubt however religion will be the driving force for change. It is more likely religion will fuel the scramble for dwindling resources, fanning the flames as groups fight one another for survival. Those who survive will find solace in their beliefs comforted by the knowledge that god chose them.

  9. Just practice terramaterism (which has no official tenets, just respect for mother earth) and all shall be fine.

  10. I thought everyone already knew heaven wasn’t real…

  11. Bill McKibben, Laurel Kearns, Norman Wirzba, Sally McFague, Wendell Berry, Annie Dillard… the list could grow substantially… me. All “creation-care” Christians who understand that Revelations is about Rome; and that we are — above all — creatures.

    Biblical literalism and right-wing fundamentalism need to be confronted on this and many other matters. Conflating all Christians with them is not helpful.

  12. Powerful juxtaposing metaphors; heaven apart from earth or the earth itself as a heavenly place.

    Neither a reality in the here and now. The earth is a wondrous home, but no sanctuary, how can it be when all is part of an elaborate food chain?

    Heaven as a matter of faith or a form of perception – hope can carry us there, via a pathway of care for the earth and those upon it. It’s not easy, but it is much darker if your milieu gives no place to hope. Kindle any that you have and let it grow by acting upon it.

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