The Earth Is Not Our Mother
With the arrival of Earth Day comes the renewed charge to “Love Your Mother.” According to that platitude and those who own it, our mother is the earth. Loving “her” requires a high level of commitment to environmentalist causes. The Earth Day Initiative has even put together a website that lists fifty ways to love your "mother" by helping make sure that you’re embracing and using green energy. Even if I agree with some of the actions encouraged by those who celebrate Earth Day (and I do – note “some,” not all), I unequivocally reject the notion that the earth is our mother.
As a Christian, I believe that God is the Creator of the universe and all that’s contained in it. Furthermore, I believe that He created all things by the power of His Word. The creation account found in Genesis leaves little room for any other interpretation. If you want to quibble with me about how God's creative process played out or how long it took Him to do so, that's fine, assuming, of course, that you agree with me that God is the creator of all things, including a literal Adam and Eve. If you do agree with me on that point, then I submit that you, too, should wholesale reject the notion that the earth is our mother.
For starters, tagging the earth as our mother is tantamount to elevating the created to the level of the Creator. That's idolatry. No matter how allegorically the word "mother" is used, the obvious implication remains that the earth should receive some of the credit for the existence of humans—that the earth helped God, on some level or other, during His creative process. Robbing God of any amount of His deserved glory and credit while turning His creation into an object of worship should be a non-starter for all Christians.
The other obvious implication is that the earth possesses some level of authority over humans. The interesting thing is that the ancient Mesopotamian creation myths often presented the earth as having authority over humans, albeit a capricious and vindictive authority. Assyriologist Alexander Heidel pointed out in The Babylonian Genesis that "the Babylonian creation stories are permeated with a crude polytheism." That polytheism extended to nature itself, a form of pantheism.
Many of the ancient creation myths tell the story of angry and warring gods who imbued the earth with levels of divinity. Often, humans were painted as the objects of distrust and jealousy from the perspective of the gods, and nature (the earth) along with the gods were often at war with humans. This is why many of the cultic practices of the ancients involved sacrifices with the objective of appeasing nature. Humans were afraid of nature, yet understood that unless nature surrendered "her" bounty, they would most likely perish. Likewise, ancient humans believed that if nature didn't restrain "her" wrath, they would perish. Humans worshiped nature as a capricious god from whom life flowed. However, the book of Genesis completely reverses that idolatrous perspective.
In Genesis, nature is depersonalized. In fact, in a marvelously passive-aggressive swipe at the surrounding people groups, the writer of Genesis refused to name two of the ancients' gods—the sun and the moon. Instead, in verse sixteen of chapter one, Genesis refers to the sun as the "greater light" and the moon as the "lesser light." Concluding the creation narrative, the writer relates the words of God to Adam that he is to "fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth" (Genesis 1:28).
As opposed to the competing creation myths of the ancient Near East, the writer of Genesis makes the point that one of God's objectives is for man to use the earth, not the other way around. Nature is meant to help humans flourish. By subduing the earth, humans are able to build societies that have human flourishing at their center for the glory of God. Being made in the image of God has its benefits. For the record, only humans are made in the image of God—not trees, not glaciers, not bald eagles, and not even Labradoodles.
One of the consequences of the Genesis creation account is that humans are freed and encouraged to study nature and conduct experiments, to subdue it and have dominion over it. People groups that believed that the earth was divine were understandably wary about using nature for their benefit. For example, killing a deer for food or cutting down trees to build a lodging often required a corresponding sacrifice to thank and appease mother nature. That impulse greatly hampered scientific inquiry. Cutting down a tree simply out of the desire to sate your curiosity about how trees work is quite the hurdle to get over if you believe that the tree is divine on some level.
The earth has zero authority over humans. In fact, as Genesis reveals, humans have authority over the earth. To be sure, that authority is not total, and humans will answer to God for the ways in which we have chosen to subdue the earth and exercise dominion over it. God did not give us carte blanche to treat His creation however we see fit without any regard for the consequences. However, and importantly, Christians should be very wary about aligning ourselves with those who promote the thoroughly idolatrous and pagan belief that the earth is our mother. This is why I do not celebrate Earth Day.