June 15, 2007

Comments from Moderator Maril Hazlett

Carson and Controversy

Inspired by some of last week's comments, I finally got around to something I should have done long ago: I set up a Google news alert for "Rachel Carson." (You don't have to use Google for this service; many different online news and/or search engines offer similar features. All you do is type in your term, their search engine scans the web for relevant content, then delivers the compiled results to your email address on a daily or weekly basis.)

Reading through more of the Rachel Carson coverage was quite educational. It was also good for keeping in mind the larger cultural context of this RC Centennial Blog. As someone noted earlier, a lot of the anti-Carson material does focus on the myth that Silent Spring argued for the banning of all pesticides in all situations, in particular DDT.

This assertion is clearly contrary to the text of the book itself, where Carson constantly distinguished between pesticide use and misuse. Never did she deny that pesticides might have to be used where there was no other resort. This perspective has been somewhat lost, though - recognition of Carson as a moderate, reasonable voice, urging informed debate. She's not alone, I fear; on many levels moderation has steadily lost ground in recent years. Last, from my understanding of EPA's webpage on the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs), DDT is still allowed for combating disease vectors such as malaria.

Regardless. In the likely event that global climate change continues and disease vectors thus increase, I doubt this debate will go away anytime soon. And no matter the topic, I recognize it is always difficult to discuss complicated issues that will probably never be resolved to anyone's entire satisfaction - let alone carry out those discussions in moderate tones, within a civil discourse where opposing points of view hopefully stand a chance of finding middle ground. Hot button issues make avoiding extreme rhetoric even harder.

Always, Rachel

So, that said, let's talk about Rachel Carson, Dorothy Freeman, and religion, which is not a hot button issue at all, right? Right. My original, blithely idealistic plan for this week's discussion was to explore some of the recurring threads in the Carson/ Freeman correspondence, such as the nature of Life (I had evolution in mind, actually - another peaceful topic) as well their intense questions about religion and spirituality.

Pondering the connections between God, Life, and Nature was an underlying theme in Carson's writing (she often capitalized all three, as I have just done). In fact, this correspondence provides an excellent opportunity to reflect on the many different nuances of religion, spirit, faith, mystery, etc. - all of the many trailing threads wound up in the one big ball that we tend to know as belief.

Carson and Freeman's exchanges testify to how a reverence for nature can suffuse every aspect of a life. Both women had a strong original grounding in Christian thinking. As they developed their own connection, they continued to respect spirit in the diverse places that they found it, and welcomed its presence in their lives. Their annual Easter letters are marvelous examples.

I liked how a few folks contributed their favorite quotes to the discussion last week - along those lines, one of my favorite quotes on this topic is actually Carson quoting Albert Einstein to Freeman, while trying to put words to their own relationship. The passage from Einstein reads:

"'The most beautiful and profound emotion we can experience is the sensation of the mystical... To know what is impenetrable to us really exists, manifesting itself as the highest wisdom and the most radiant beauty which our dull faculties can comprehend only in their most primitive forms - this knowledge, this feeling is at the center of true religiousness.'"
As Carson added in her own words: "God has blessed me far beyond anything I deserved or dreamed of, by giving me you." (pages 67-68).

Environment and Religion Today

Discuss this or run screaming, your choice :) I am kind of kidding. As per usual, it really makes no never mind to me exactly what you all discuss, I like reading all of it, and it always makes me think.

Today, the intersections of environment and religion seem to be everywhere. Tom Dunlap, who hosted the blog in April along with Mark Madison, has a wonderful book called Faith in Nature, that talks about the historical role of faith in American environmental thinking and advocacy. On NPR a while back, I heard a fascinating story about the rise of the creation care movement, and Grist has been covering that topic as well. I have just discovered an anti-global warming, pro-energy-efficiency California interfaith group with perhaps my favorite name ever - Interfaith Power and Light. Last but definitely not least, renowned biologist E.O. Wilson has a recent book out, written in the format of an extended letter to a Southern Baptist pastor (Wilson himself was raised in the church), and titled The Creation.

Religion, environment.... hmmm. What, in general, is going on here? Any thoughts?


julie said...

Thanks, Maril. I'm enjoying the thread for Always, Rachel very much.

I'm also reading essays from Courage for the Earth, including Terry Tempest Williams' contribution, "The Moral Courage of Rachel Carson". Her comments are directly relevant to the environment and religion question. She says, "But perhaps Carson's true courage lies in her willingness to align science with the sacred, to admit that her bond toward nature is a spiritual one". And she quotes Carson as saying, "I am not afraid of being thought a sentimentalist when I say that I believe natural beauty has a necessary place in the spiritual development of any individual or any society. I believe that whenever we destroy beauty, or whenever we substitute something manmade and artificial for a natural feature on the earth, we have retarded some part of man's spiritual growth."

Also a believer in evolution, Carson could accomodate complex ideas and values into her expansive appreciation of life. Rigid partitions between religion and environment, evolution and faith, passion and reason, or pragmatism and hope, I think, come from a narrower frame of mind.

stephen williams said...

I like both Maril's quote about "the sensation of the mystical . . . ." and Julie's "But perhaps Carson's true courage lies in her willingness . . . to openly admit that her bond toward nature is a spiritual one."

For me a letter in Always, Rachel that links both of these ideas is the short two-paragraph letter on page 394 written on January 23, 1962 from RC to DF. In this letter RC shares a peak experience that includes a release and/or a realization of having created something benefical, with "its own life!"

The letter that follows on page 395 from DF to RC, also written on January 23, contains the offer of a "quiet bower" which Maril has discussed.

Well before the publication of Silent Spring, Carson gave a public lecture about her research to a gathering of Audubon folks. Here is a quote about this from a letter written from RC to DF on October 17, 1959 (page 287). It contains a foreshadowing of things of come, as well as a vivid reference.

"Oh -- one very surprising and rather amusing angle -- the President of the Michigan Audubon Society, as it turned out, was sort of Dr. Jeckle and Mr. Hyde. All unknown to anyone there, he proved to be an employee of the Dow Chemical Co. Of course, as soon as I had finished, he rose to his feet to challenge me. However, I think that I was able to take care of him, with some very able help from Mr. Barnes."

Forgive me if I am straying, but while on Silent Spring, here is a favorite quote from Elizabeth Kolbert's article last month in the New Yorker magazine. "As much as any book can, Silent Spring changed the world by describing it."

Herbert L. King said...

A few years ago, I attended an environmental conference in Seattle where a lot of local groups were represented in support of environmental issues. Among these groups was one that seemed unusual to me, a religious organization called Earth Ministry. I’d never seen a religious group identifying itself as an environmental organization. And it dawned on me that why should the two be exclusive? In fact, church congregations are a huge segment of the community that should be recognized and actively invited to the table. But all too often people tend to put religious groups into a “separate” category and look at it as if you can’t be in two categories at the same time.

In the case of organizations like Earth Ministry, it was a simple matter of finding biblical references about caretaking the earth with which they were able to draw parallels between their beliefs and moral responsibilities and those of the environmental movement. And the beauty of it is that the Earth Ministry is all-inclusive of all religions.

Though I’m not religious myself, I was so impressed with the approach that the Earth Ministry was taking that I made a contribution and subscribed to their newsletter, titled Earth Letter, which I still receive. The newsletter is amazing and often has pieces by guest writers such as Bill McKibbon, David Orr, Gary Nabhan, David James Duncan, etc.

I say religion and environmentalism do mix. In fact, they need each other.

Anonymous said...

A believer in racism, and communism, Carson has the blood of millions of people on her hands put there under the guise of helping what? a bunch of mosquitos that can be deadly without.......exactly what she argued for in one of her factless, error laced books?

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