Let’s talk about you.
Have you ever called yourself “spiritual but not religious’?
Do you feel more authentic in the woods or by the ocean than in a church (or whatever building your people thought was Holy Town)?
Meanwhile, do you wonder why humans keep trashing the Earth despite dire warnings, clear evidence, and decades of environmental effort?
Well, pull up the proverbial chair, because:
You’re not alone. There are many millions of us who need Nature to feel whole. That’s what we talk about on the Big Chew Podcast*
- There’s a reason we feel like this. We’re part of Nature. We evolved here.
- Once I learned this reason (thanks to lifetimes of work by other people) it finally made sense
- why religion doesn’t cut it anymore
- why humans keep destroying their home, and
- why mainstream environmentalism can’t turn this ecocidal society around.
We have to change our story.
Stories are the operating systems of human cultures, and boy, do we need an update. We have to spin new myths using the incredible scientific knowledge we have now and didn’t have 100 years ago, let alone 2,000. This new story must tell the truth: We’re part of the Earth.
Here’s what cultural historian Thomas Berry had to say:
It’s all a question of story. We are in trouble right now because we are in between stories. The Old Story—the account of how the world came to be and how we fit into it—sustained us for a long time…But now it is no longer functioning properly, and we have not yet learned the New Story.
So what story is that? Why does it matter?
We humans started out, like everything else on Earth, from the dust of exploding stars. We’re part of an ongoing evolutionary ride that includes staggering beauty, catastrophe, long odds, shape-shifting, speed, lulls, shock and awe, tenderness—everything. This evolutionary epic includes how we went from the Big Bang to clouds of gas to millions of species and thousands of cultures. The story and everyone in it, including us, are playing an active role in that evolution.
But the old story has distracted humans for generations with outdated myths such as original sin, religious redemption, human superiority over and separation from Nature. When this story met the detached, reductionist science of the Enlightenment, bam! Those myths metastasized into the myth of progress–of infinite industrial growth on a finite planet. Even in “secular” cultures, this story holds sway; even in non-Western cultures, it is flooding in.
But if we can recognize how that old story does its outmoded, damaging thing, and if we can learn the new story–feel it, paint it, sing it, farm it, teach it—we can change how we live on our planet. Turns out what Earth has been doing all along tells us how we, too, should live as a species here. Time to listen up.
This new story also tells us how, through eons of evolution, we’ve come through scrapes and catastrophes, inheriting resilience and creativity. With this wisdom, we can, as deep ecologist and Buddhist scholar Joanna Macy says, finally “act our age.”
Some people, like indigenous tribes, religious mystics, and artists have intuited this story and lived it. But now it’s time to bring this story forward, especially since we have the science to explain it to Western minds that for centuries have seen Earth not as home, but as a dollar store.
The story can take us home—and maybe save our home—at last.
…So why should you listen to me?
I’ve been following this scent my whole life, so maybe I can save you some time. Nature was my first love and has been my most constant one. When I was a kid, a strict Catholic education channeled that love into a weirdly intense religious piety (my first career ambition was “virgin martyr”; I only understood the “martyr” part of that job description). As a teenager I finally realized that the time I’d spent on my knees wasn’t nearly as mystical as the time I’d spent with the trees and fields and frogs. I don’t think I ever really “got” the god guy—feared, sure, but never “got.”
I found nowhere to go with what I felt. So…
I spent decades reading religion and history and science to try and put things together. I studied theology and religious history during grad school. We’re talking stacks of notebooks and thumb drives full of notes. I went to “alternative” spirituality observances, too many of which involved antlers. I started writing and publishing about my search.
And then I stumbled on the new cosmology, aka “the Universe Story” or “the New Story.” Some pioneering Catholic nuns taught me to understand “deep time” and the Big Bang and evolution not only as science, but as a spiritual heritage.
How ironic! As a kid it was nuns who had indoctrinated me in the old story—how humans were made by a god to be separate from and superior to other creatures; how humans committed original sin, a mistake of such cosmic proportions that’s it’s been inherited ever since. How we required a bloody redemption to reach our ultimate reward in some blissed-out elsewhere, not here on Earth. Earth was our “vale of tears,” “given” to us as our waiting room.
Can this new story change how you think, feel, and act in life? It did for me.
I read more books and talked with cultural historian Thomas Berry, philosophers, Irish monks, scientists, and artists. (And because every idea needs a control group, I went to the Vatican and spoke to priests there. More on that wacky story elsewhere.) I learned a lot from all of them.
I’ve seen how people’s faces look when it first clicks that they’re living an epic with everyone around them. They look surprised, then thoughtful, and then their face opens up. “Of course,” they say. Then they want to know how this works in their lives.
How it works in everyday life? We need to figure that out. Together. On the Big Chew Podcast, that’s what we talk about.
We don’t have much time to brake this runaway thugmobile of a culture and siphon off its fuel: the old story of our separation from the natural world. We need to turn to the truth: that we’re all, everything and everyone, interconnected. If we’re quiet we can feel this truth in our bones. And even if we’re not quiet, there’s all that scientific data.
Here at Meet Your Myth and the Big Chew Podcast we’ll connect with people who are walking with this story into the future. Historians, artists, activists, scientists, kids, teachers…maybe you. I’ll ask you what you think. And what you might be inspired to do.
Let’s see what we come up with. How we live our lives when we know bone-deep that we’re all connected, doing an evolution, all stardust.
Let’s start something.
I’ve had a lot of different lives in this one, from 4-H kid on a rural homestead to stand-up comic in NYC to graduate student in writing at The University of Iowa and other turns. I live in northern Vermont with my recycled dogs and recycled partner. We (my partner and I, since the dogs don’t have the opposable thumbs) are building an off-grid permaculture farm in the town where his family goes back seven generations. It’s tons of work–but how many people get to do meaningful labor in a gorgeous place?
Sometimes it blows me away how incredibly fortunate I am.
*Here’s what the Pew Research Center reported in 2012 about “nones,” aka those who are religiously unaffiliated, in the U.S. alone:
…many of the country’s 46 million unaffiliated adults are religious or spiritual in some way…More than half say they often feel a deep connection with nature and the earth (58%), while more than a third classify themselves as “spiritual” but not “religious” (37%)…