I do not want to romanticised the indigenous peoples of America nor do I patronisingly claim to know their culture. However, it seems to me that theirs is most righteous struggle happening today: that the real battle for the soul of the world is happening at places like Standing Rock. Native Americans have known for centuries what we have forgotten: that living environments have an indwelling spiritual nature that goes beyond a reductive and materialistic vision of resources. They are not merely fighting for resources and homes, they are fighting for spiritual entities that live within those homes, entities that live in rocks and animals and underground streams. These entities do not operate within our laws of scientific discourse: they don’t speak the language of modern economies or human rights. Nevertheless, they hold the world in their balance, and if we do not protect them they wreak and invisible but deadly havoc everywhere.
Certainly the most important matter in these dangerous times is how to protect the ‘resources’ of the world. However, before this can be done we have to radically consider what we mean by the word resource. A forest, for instance is not just a collection of trees. It has more intrinsic value than anything that can be counted or measured — it is not just energy or matter: A forest is the container of a living spiritual entity. Until people live and know this in their bones they will be lost on the face of the earth — no matter if they live in the White House or under a bridge they will be poor.
‘Resources’ here is put into italics because it’s a problematic term implying instrumentality rather than stewardship. Not enough people have noticed the sinister implications of the term ‘human resources’ or rebelled against the idea managing people as if they were units of energy. Similarly, trees, oceans, minerals are not merely resources, but gifts of spirit and living intelligence.
The Hebrew Bible says that God gave us ‘dominion’ over the ‘lesser creatures’. I have heard others say the more accurate translation is stewardship: implying a relationship. In a positive relationship of stewardship we are ‘lifted up’ by the natural world; we do not not ‘manage’ but enliven (or degrade) the world. The world is not just stuff, just as food is not just vitamins and energy, but contains a transmission or a relationship between the one who prepares the food and the one who eats it. Consumers are consumed, eater are nourished. It’s easy to feel the difference, and to notice how barbaric our management metaphors are.
If environmentalists continue to look at the world as composed of mere stuff to be managed, they may be unconscious enablers of the very exploiters they fight against. Planting trees is in vertical lines does not made a living forest; there is a difference between a supermarket tomato with one that has been planted and raised with care. A sensitive person may notice that a generic supermarket tomato actually makes us more hungry. People are obese in America because they are starving to death for real sustenance, for the real tomato. This inner poverty makes people desperate and want to dominate and control the stuff of the world with a rabid and unconscious fury.
Therefore, the resource battle at places such as Standing rock isn’t just about material resources, it is about spiritual resources. The spirit of human beings is irreparable damaged in ways which we cannot measure if it treats rock, water, soil as anything something less than the divine face of creation. If it doesn’t give back to the motherland in equal measures than it has been given — if it gives Her rapacious death instead — it will receive the same.