The strange, growing appeal of anti-humanismWritten by Subby Szterszky
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The science fiction novelist Larry Niven once wrote, “There is no cause so right that one cannot find a fool following it.”
Here’s a modest corollary, of sorts: “There is no cause so strange that one cannot find a celebrity endorsing it.”
Such is the case with a video campaign called Nature Is Speaking, from an environmentalist group known as Conservation International. The videos feature the voices of well-known Hollywood actors personifying various aspects of nature: Harrison Ford as the ocean, Kevin Spacey as the rainforest, Penélope Cruz as water, Edward Norton as the soil, and so on.
Julia Roberts stars as “Mother Nature” herself, using an arch, ominous voice to intone threats against humanity. She denigrates us as an insignificant blip in natural history, assures us she’s destroyed species far greater than our own.
All the videos adopt a similar tone and end with the tagline, “Nature doesn’t need people. People need nature.”
There’s no question these short films are beautifully produced, combining gorgeous nature imagery with the charismatic talents of their voice cast. They make for compelling viewing.
The basic message: Nature is good, humanity is bad
Their message, however, while arguably a well-intentioned warning against the abuse of natural resources, comes off as rather insidious. Nature is good, humanity is bad. Nature was better off before we came along, and by implication, would be better off again if we disappeared.
This strain of anti-humanist rhetoric is nothing new, not even for Hollywood. Witness the big-budget film adaptation of Noah a few years ago. In director Darren Aronofsky’s environmentalist spin on the Genesis account, God judges humanity not so much for moral evil as for despoiling the earth. At one point, Noah even ponders murdering his grandchildren in order to end the human race so that nature can return to its pristine, pre-human glory.
When such sentiments are being embraced by members of the entertainment industry, it’s a fair bet they’ve already taken firm root in the soil of cultural consciousness.
Back in the 1970s, Canada’s own David Suzuki infamously described humanity as “maggots . . . crawling around . . . defecating all over the environment.”
“Mother Earth” as a living being – with rights
Meanwhile, influential naturalists such as James Lovelock and David Attenborough have promoted the concept that our planet is a living organism – in effect “Mother Earth” or Gaia from Greek myth – and that humanity is a plague or blight upon her.
Those on the most radical edge have gone so far as to suggest that plants, animals and the planet itself be afforded equal rights with humanity. Indeed they’ve argued that the human “herd” needs to be “culled” or even eradicated so that nature might regain its primordial health and vitality.
The seeds of these ideas have been strategically planted for years, and they’re now beginning to sprout up everywhere – in movies, advertising, documentaries and high-profile campaigns like Nature Is Speaking.
Secular materialism and self-loathing
It raises a perplexing question: Why all this self-hatred of the species, bordering on the suicidal and the genocidal? Moreover, how could such an unappealing philosophy gain a foothold in the public imagination?
As with all belief systems, the answers lie in the worldview at the core. Secular materialism teaches that the universe and everything in it, including humanity, is the product of meaningless random chance. The natural outgrowth of this assumption is that humans are nothing special. We’re a biological accident with no more intrinsic value than anything else in nature. The universe was here long before us and will be here long after we’re gone. In fact, considering the damage we’ve already done to the environment, it would be best if we left sooner rather than later.
The unavoidable truth of human exceptionalism
By contrast, the Christian worldview recognizes that humanity is unique in all of the cosmos. We have been fashioned by God in His own image and thus possess inestimable value and dignity. We have the privilege of being His representatives, the pleasure of enjoying His good creation and the responsibility of caring for it.
Secularists are quick to dismiss this concept of human exceptionalism as arrogance. To be sure, it’s not hard to find instances where this truth has been twisted to justify the selfish and wanton destruction of nature. Nevertheless, a death wish for the human race is an error of at least equal magnitude in the opposite direction.
Furthermore, the internal logic of anti-humanism, such as it is, crumbles like dry topsoil even under mild scrutiny. From the outset, the assertion that human beings are no different in kind from other animals is disingenuous at best. Alone in all creation, we are self-aware. We can communicate abstract ideas, create beauty, make moral choices, plan for the future.
Our human faculties echo loudly throughout nature that we’re in fact quite distinct from anything else in the world. The Earth doesn’t spin on its axis pondering its planetary rights. Rocks and trees don’t hold discussions on the nature of truth and justice. The family dog doesn’t wake up wondering if there’s more to life than going out, coming in, eating some kibble and lying back down.
Radical environmentalists are fond of pointing out that nature doesn’t care if we live or die. That may be true, but then nature presumably wouldn’t care if it died right along with us. In fact, since materialism believes there’s nothing beyond nature, there’d be no one else left to care either.
In other words, if humanity has no special value or purpose, then neither does the rest of nature. If it all goes away, where is the harm or the loss?
Nature and humanity each have their proper value
It is precisely the Christian worldview that affords both nature and humanity their appropriate value, in the mind and purposes of their Creator.
Jason Jones and John Zmirak have offered a well-balanced summary of this Christian perspective on environmentalism:
Surely there is room for conservatives to practice conservation. Surely there is space for Christians to champion the integrity and beauty of God’s creation in the face of man’s fallen will and its limitless quest for comfort, variety and instant gratification.
We are creators and stewards, uniquely made in the image of the Creator. At the same time, a created order pervades the biological world. We disregard both truths at our peril.
Sources and further reading
Paul Asay, Noah movie review at Plugged In, accessed March 10, 2015.
Mark Bauerlein, “Unscientific Obstinacy,” First Things, February 16, 2015.
Matt Cardin, “It’s official: The human race is earth’s disease,” The Teeming Brain, May 9, 2009.
Conservation International, Nature Is Speaking, online portal to the videos in the campaign, accessed March 10, 2015.
Louise Gray, “David Attenborough: Humans are plague on Earth,” The Telegraph, January 22, 2013.
Jason Jones and John Zmirak, “Julia Roberts as Mother Nature: She wants to kill us,” The Stream, February 15, 2015.
Sheila Liaugminas, “Why are humans spreading anti-humanism?” MercatorNet, February 21, 2014.
Shane Morris, “Stewardship, not extermination: Christian environmentalism is pro-human,” Summit Blogs, February 24, 2015.
Wesley J. Smith, “The rumours were true: Noah’s war on humans,” Evolution News and Views, March 28, 2014.
Wesley J. Smith, “Julia Roberts promotes ‘sub-humanism’,” National Review: Human Exceptionalism, February 15, 2015.
Wesley J. Smith, The War on Humans, online portal to the book and documentary film, offering a helpful introduction and critique of anti-humanism, accessed March 10, 2015.
Subby Szterszky is the managing editor of Focus on Faith and Culture, an e-newsletter produced by Focus on the Family Canada.
© 2015 Focus on the Family (Canada) Association. All rights reserved.
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