Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Hoping for Divine Intervention

When the Founding Fathers laid out this now-great nation, I doubt they had any idea what it would have become. Still, they exercised amazing foresight in designing our system of governance. Benjamin Franklin tells us that "God helps those who help themselves." This advice flies in the face of recent calls for The Divine Presence to intervene in America's energy crisis by lowering gasoline prices.

While I can certainly understand the desire for assistance that comes with these tough times, it strikes me as inappropriate to have a pray-in at a gas station. How selfish can we be when it comes to our economy? While my religious views are complicated, at best, my upbringing was Christian, and I can not imagine something as offensive as asking God to intervene on my behalf at the expense of others.

What do these prayers sound like? Perhaps, if we were honest with ourselves, they would sound something like this:

Almighty God, for You all things are possible. Please intervene economically in Your divine and limitless wisdom to lower oil prices so that we, Your children, will be able to continue in our life of abundance and environmental degradation. It was you, oh Lord, who taught us that we were to have dominion over all the Earth. Oh Lord, please grant us the low gas prices which will enable us to continue to be bad stewards of your Creation. Lord, let it be Your will that we be able to get gas for less than $1.50. Without cheap foreign oil, we may be unable continue be wasteful of the resources entrusted to us, and use oil which might otherwise go to your less fortunate children. God, it was Your divine providence that enabled us to obtain the cheap oil requisite to trace our Manifest Destiny and spread forth vinyl siding and stucco over the woodlands of North America. For without Your bountiful gifts of cheap oil and cheaper land, we would have not been free to escape the forsaken urban environment. Oh Lord, through Your generous gifts, we the unworthy, were able to abandon our brethren minorities to a life of poverty and crime. And oh Lord, in Your infinite wisdom, You set us forth and provided us Hummers when our gas mileage was high, You widened our freeways when they were congested, and You set forth Divine zoning regulation to prohibit our relapse into an efficient urban society. We beseech You, oh God, to enable us, your humble servants, to continue in our American lifestyle. It is not in our nature, oh Lord, to sacrifice and take the unholy bus or the blasphemous subway. Oh Lord, please do not allow us to sink into the sacrilege of a shorter commute and deliver us from the temptation to purchase the pagan, fuel-efficient Prius. Let Your Will be done on Earth as it is in the Pearly-Gated Community in Heaven. Amen.
We do not absolve ourselves of guilt by praying in such a manner. Nor do we remove the urgency of action by petitioning God. Benjamin Franklin would have been ashamed to hear of people who pray for God to intervene in their unsustainable lifestyle without making changes to help themselves.

The fact of the matter is, that whether fossil fuels were put here by God or whether they are purely the product of natural processes, they are finite. We have chosen to use them in a manner which will exhaust them before the end of the century if we continue to use them as we do today.
If you believe that God intervenes in the world, perhaps these gas prices are His way of encouraging us to be better caretakers. Imagine what it must look like to the Creator. He gave us a pristine planet, a bountiful garden; and while He watches from the sideline, we are using all of the resources up, polluting the air and water, and continuing to live in a manner which creates massive economic and social inequity across the globe. (If you don't believe in a corporeal God, just imagine yourself as the observer.)

Prayer is a call for action. The actual etymology of the word "Amen" means 'so be it.' It means asking God for guidance before setting out on a task. It does not mean asking God to do it for you. I think Ralph Waldo Emerson hits the nail on the head when he says that
Prayer that craves a particular commodity, anything less than all good, is vicious. Prayer is the contemplation of the facts of life from the highest point of view. It is the soliloquy of a beholding and jubilant soul. But prayer as a means to effect a private end is meaningless and theft. It supposes dualism and not unity in nature and consciousness. As soon as the man is at one with God, he will not beg. He will see in prayer all action.
As humans, we have an obligation to take care of this one Earth. This responsibility comes not from a deity, but from the fact that we all share a small, small world, after all. Or, to quote Martin Luther King, Jr., "We may have all come on different ships, but we're in the same boat now." The people of this planet will sink or swim together, and right now, the West is in the best position to lead mankind into a sustainable future.

So, with these thoughts in mind, perhaps we should have pray-ins at gas stations. Perhaps we should say something like this:
Almighty God, to You the future is as plain as words on a page. Grant us the wisdom and strength to make the requisite changes in our lifestyles in order to glorify your Creation. It was not our intent to lay waste to Your garden, nor was it our intent to separate ourselves from Your less-fortunate children in our pursuit of happiness. Yet our addiction to cheap energy has had that affect. We now know that we cannot continue to live the same way we have been living, but the changes will not be easy. We ask for the courage to make sacrifices as your Son did for us. It was selfish of us to presume that our affluence was an excuse to escape from the byproducts of our industrialized society, of which this energy crisis is one. We ask you to provide for us a more selfless path so that we may be able to achieve a true Jubilee, a time when all your sons and daughters will break bread together in Your verdant garden. Amen

*Note: This prayer is meant to be non-denominational. I certainly do not presume to place one religion above another. There are many paths to God, including some that are not signed as such. If any religion/philosophy is glorified more than others in this post, it is Humanism, but without humanism (note, little 'h'), religion is meaningless. Breaking bread, in this instance, refers not to Holy Communion but rather to an international peace, when all may live together. The reference to the Jubilee is Biblical, but it represents, in this case, the equality of all people, as prefaced in America's Declaration of Independence.

No comments: