Is This Our Fault?

“I don’t think this is just about global warming,” said my friend as we sipped coffee together.

What will fracking do to the water table? Does extracting billions of gallons of oil out of the depths of the earth affect the stability of the rocks at the surface? How much of a hurricane’s force is directly attributable to carbon spewed from tail pipes and smoke stacks?

“People are quick to say this is all about climate change, but I think there is more to it than that,” he continued as he took a bite out of his “favorite dessert” at the coffee shop.

The ancients looked at both the natural world and the world they were creating – their temples and their cities – with equal awe. Mount Zion was God’s city, a citadel constructed with human effort but designed by the divine. And those “ships of Tarshish” the Psalmist talks of – it was the “east wind” that caused their demise. Our scriptures remind us that our “war horses,” no matter how mighty, cannot save us… But we have them all the same. Humans have long hedged their theological bets!

We have a burden thrust upon us today the ancients could never have conceived of. In the wake of Harvey’s destruction and as Irma’s category 5 winds wreak havoc upon the earth and with Central America arising this morning to a magnitude 8 earthquake, how much of this is our fault? And how can we be sure?

My friend was not trying to crawl out from under the burden of human responsibility; he was assigning potential agency to a source other than human. See how precarious things have become! As complicated as “sin” can be, the ancients were able to more quickly discern between “our fault” and “God’s judgment”. But no matter how modern, post-modern, scientific or enlightened we become, there lingers this theological explication for things, this tendency to continue to wonder if “our fault” and “God’s judgment” aren’t still in play together.

Of course, “God” has changed. Fewer people of faith envision a “man behind the curtain” kind of divinity than did our forebears. Still, my educated friend can’t help but ponder if the “spirit” isn’t reacting to humankind’s hubris. And as I opened the paper this morning (digitally speaking), and watched Harvey taking leave, Irma just arriving and the earth shaking under our feet, I must admit to wondering myself … How much of this is our fault?

Isn’t this question at the heart of the moral life? Philosopher Peter Bertocci wrote: “The moral life begins with reflective conflict.” We have the means to “think” about things our ancestors never had. “Thinking,” writes Bertocci, is “the process of relating ideas to each other to answer questions [and] solve problems …”

Those iconic words spoken from space ring in our ears with renewed relevance: Houston, we have a problem. And the real problem – the moral, spiritual – dare we say existential – challenge for our race and our time is: How much of this is our fault?


Mark Demers

Want to talk about sex, politics, spirituality? So do I. I grew up in a religious home in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Our country was reeling from assassinations and the devastation of the Viet Nam War. Looking for something beautiful, I got a degree in music, married the love of my life and had children. Looking for God, I then went to seminary. Looking for something that might transform the world, I became a local church pastor. Now, I’m always looking for people who want to talk about important things. I cherish conversations with emerging leaders, people who are antsy to try an idea they believe would change the world for the better. I’d would love to hear from you.