The Oil Spill and “Real Deathliness”

Efforts to put the Gulf of Mexico oil spill in a theological context are all well and good but honestly, I don’t think that comparing the disaster to abortion or reminding people that “the earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world” or asserting that it really is as important as abortion is going to cut it. The basic problem is that they don’t name “the real deathliness that hovers over us,” as Walter Brueggemann calls it, “the very fears and terrors that have been denied so long and suppressed so deeply that we do not know they are there.”

In the case of the Gulf, that’s not an admission that we’ve treated “the creation” abominably. It’s more than that, more than even recognizing that we are part of the problem. Every time you turn on your gas-guzzling Suburban Assault Vehicle, a baby pelican dies. We all know that. It isn’t even about “values,” as if we just had our priorities straight we wouldn’t be wrecking another beautiful, irreplaceable ecosystem. Everybody knows that our values are screwed up.

And that’s the problem. The deathliness that hovers over us is the sure and certain knowledge that we’re blowing it, and we have no idea how not to blow it. It’s all very nice to make fun of Tony Hayward and his yacht, to pin the blame on greedy executives or incompetent engineers or Obama or who-the-hell-ever we turn into today’s whipping boy. But the truth that everyone wants to deny is that the whole culture is sick from top to bottom. We’re all addicted to oil in ways we can’t even grasp, and nobody—nobody—has any plausible idea of how to break free from the system. There are plenty of ideas floating around, yes, but there are no easy answers to put into practice today. If there were, we’d be using them. That’s what we’re afraid of and what we can’t afford to admit even to ourselves.

So to my mind, this “Targum on Romans” does more to speak to the situation than all the pretty talk about “creation care”:

So here’s the sad truth, my friends:
       this empire of greed,
       this narrative of economic growth, 
       this whole house of cards is based on lies and deception.

This whole culture of consumption,
       this whole empire of money 
       is based on self-willed ignorance.

Creation proclaims a better way 
       because creation bears witness to a God of grace.
But we have suppressed this truth,
       engaged in denial and cover-up.

Refusing to live a life of gratitude,
       refusing to live a life of thanks to the God
              who called forth such a rich creation, 
       refusing to honor this Creator God,
       and embracing a culture of entitlement and ingratitude,
       we abandoned the God of light and embraced the dark.

Really, read the whole thing. It names the death hovering over our shoulders, and that’s a good thing.