"Deep ecology meets fundamentalism," my agent pronounced when she read my new memoir, I Want to Be Left Behind: Finding Rapture Here on Earth. "And you must be a bridge. Find the common ground."
Oh, yes, the easiest thing in the world: Finding that middle path that all the politicians and mystics seek. I am the first liberal in generations among my Southern, conservative Christian family. Far-flung from them here on the Left Coast, I also firmly resist some of my relatives' End Times survival strategy: Expecting any minute to be Raptured up to heaven away from this "skewed" or "fallen" earth.
As one of my relatives remarked, "There are no drowning polar bears and melting ice caps where I'm going."
How did I survive fundamentalism and still love the earth? One way is through humor. I mean this book as a dark, divine comedy of family, faith, and country. My book begins on our backyard beach as my neighbor George and I sit watch over a newborn seal pup while his mother is fishing out in the Salish Sea. He is part of our local Seal Sitters citizen naturalists. George firmly believes in the Rapture and, like my family, would like to take me with him to escape Tribulations here below.
"Why are you so cheerful about the end of the world?" I ask him.
"We true believers have waited thousands of years for our reward," he tells me.
"You're a really good neighbor," I offer. "We'd all miss you if you zipped up to heaven. We'd say, 'Well, there goes the neighborhood!'"
Humor seems to me the highest form of intelligence; it also defuses fundamentalists of every stripe. Either on the Far Right or Far Left. As an environmental writer, I see parallels between religious End Timers and increasingly apocalyptic Greens. Original sin among fundamentalists is easily translated into pollution among environmentalists. In the Biblical story, we eat of the forbidden tree and are fallen; in the Green story, we cut down the sacred tree and are self-doomed. Biblical Armageddon parallels Mass Extinction.
The comedy and personal stories in this book have a purpose: To ask us all to take a step back from any dogma and listen to each other -- as if we were all one very diverse family. As if we shared the same home, or habitat. For example, sometimes my inbox feels like it's been invaded by Fox News from relatives telling me that climate change is "a liberal plot." On the other hand, I get Greenpeace alerts that the living earth is "under attack." Times like these I wonder, is there such a thing as a fundamentalist OR an environmentalist stand-up comic?
In the book I make a list comparing fervent environmentalists to fundamentalists and see they are often mirror images:
- Enraptured by doom
- Apocalypse Now
- Righteous Anger
- Holier than Thou
- Blame, shame, judgment
Fear and doom constrict our ability to imagine a future. Humor and openness to all opinions involves imagination. An antidote to all this doomsaying is finding what I call Reasons to Be Left Behind. On my website and blog I focus on what gives me rapture here on earth -- everything from music to other animals to food. All are manna in the wilderness. I want to make a bumper sticker that says "Apocalypse Never" or "In case of Rapture, can I have your car?"
The stories we tell ourselves have a way of coming true. My story is more about what my friend the literary ecologist Joseph Meeker calls, "The Comedy of Survival." In this new book I've come to see myself as a comic, or picaresque, character. Taking myself and the world less seriously, taking evasive action, and most of all adapting to a changing world. Fundamentalists of all kinds resist adapting because change is the enemy. To be lighter on our feet, on our world, and to find reasons to be left behind. That's my strategy for survival. It sure beats duck and cover drills, endless orange alerts, and terror as the only teacher. And it's much more fun.