Possibly a bit controversial this week, but it’s been niggling at me for a while now so I’m going for it!
For many paganism is about earth based spirituality and reverence for nature, which in turn manifests as a drive to live more naturally or, for some, return to nature. In the latter case, I’ve seen a great deal of utopian ideological rhetoric over what this might entail, but little realistic or practical strategy about how this could / should be achieved en masse*. There is also a notable tendency to lambast anything and everything that is considered sufficiently unnatural, another area where definitions vary greatly. I find this disturbing and perplexing since this same cry – “it’s just not natural” – has been used to prejudicially stigmatise people and practices across history. Gender fluidity. Homosexuality. Women reading. Women thinking.
A few weeks ago I saw a debate topic posted suggesting that, given the current overpopulation crisis, as pagans we ought to consider whether we should advocate against the administration of medical vaccinations – which are not natural – and allow people’s lives to run their (mostly shorter) course thus reducing the strain on our resources.
Well, setting aside the ‘tip of the iceberg’ and ‘slippery slope’ (or similar metaphor of your choice) arguments, it’s true to say that death is a natural part of life, possible the defining one since it’s about the only aspect we’re all guaranteed to share, and not something to be afraid of (unless of course you subscribe to a belief system that mandates it’s only the beginning of your judgement, punishment, and all the woes to follow). Certainly having a growing elderly population has created demands that we are increasingly unprepared to cope with. And filling our systems with chemical substances is still so relatively new that we cannot have certainty around all the consequences, immediate or long-term – sometimes things go wrong (unpredictability of reaction can be equally true of herbal remedies too though).
All fine and practical. Death is natural. If we go on historical statistics then living past the age of about 40 is not (excluding the Old Testament of course). And not so long ago that was our reality (and in some places still very much is). Now, though, we are not talking about accepting the inevitable. We would be talking about watching family, friends, the elderly, children and everyone else die of preventable causes. And not just die. Suffer. Potentially endure long, drawn-out illnesses with debilitating symptoms and degenerating capacity. Or surviving, and having their lives perhaps blighted by ongoing infirmity. Presumably, if we’re not giving them the chemicals to prevent the conditions we’re also not administering the chemicals that will alleviate them. And why? So we can get back to ‘how things are supposed to be’?
To me, the “if nature hasn’t provided it we weren’t meant to have it” refrain starts to sound like the “if God had meant us to fly He’d have given us wings” type of argument. The reality is that most of the drive of humanity’s creation and invention (including both art and science) has been to improve things for ourselves and each other. Homes, energy, transport, medicine, all so that we can have safe, healthy, more comfortable lives. Don’t get me wrong, we’ve made a ghastly mess of most of it for one reason or another – good intentions are rarely precaution enough. But we should be using everything we’ve learned and discovered to mitigate, or undo, the mistakes we’ve made rather than throwing it all away so that we can die a slow horrible death in a dark cave somewhere “as nature intended”**.
I think that working with the world around us needs to be about working with the world as it is, about redressing the imbalances that have been created or developed and not just ignoring or cauterising the parts that are not as we might wish them to be. Our very natures ARE what make us scientists and explorers and engineers as much as shamans and bards and witches and for me any viewpoint that is too extremist or exclusionary or prescriptive risks sacrificing as much of what makes us magical as what makes us a bane to the world around us. Unfortunately it’s unlikely that we can fix all our mistakes without making new ones along the way, but we should be very careful about what we purport to do for the sake of nature and what is natural.
*In utopian, or in fact dystopian, fiction, any sort of wholesale restructuring usually has to follow some cataclysmic event which neatly clears the way, usually involving extended chaos, casualties and destruction which is, presumably, not going to be a desirable route to paradise.
** Which I’m not sure about either – surely there’s just as much of an argument that we are as we are for a reason?