What Is Hell? According To Ecopsychology, Hell Is Separation
Because we are all star stuff, and made in God’s image, we are part of nature. Nature is what has given us life, shown us love, sustained our ability to exist. It is also nature, that will take us out. In one sense, nature, or the natural response to our pollution and use of toxic fuel, is already taking human lives. Not just human lives, of course, but entire forests, species, ecosystems and more. People who study ecopsychology know that when we disown, or over-power nature, we put ourselves in a kind of hell. Our separation from our biosphere, our worst habits, create hellscapes, but also existential crisis.
Many people will just shrug at the brutality of nature, and of how red in tooth and claw the competition for survival is. However, that sheer brutality and competition has already been debunked in its ugliest form as Social Darwinism. Nature is also beautiful, and has created both consciousness and concept of love.
It is true that nature kills. Can you think of another god/religion/ideology that does not allow mortal death? Can you come up with another universal plan that offers many thousands of moments of abundance, sustenance and beauty? There is even a biological belonging that stirs our awe and reverence (at least there used to be) in nature. After many sustained days, sometimes tragic, but most days not-so-tragic, you reach a final day upon which you are alive one moment, and dead the next. You come to a time where you realize, that however vicious nature is during a disaster, or broken heart, there is only one death per being. Sure, that can be a very bad day, but it is just one day of your life.
But there is a new problem that our human species has never before experienced. The problem began when we stopped being nomadic hunter gatherers. It never really accelerated too much, however, until the industrial revolution. Moving indoors, losing touch with all our natural kin and belonging there, humanity slowly, but surely, exited from our belonging within nature, to alienation from, nature. And separation from all that sustains and protects us, is Hell.
It was not exactly that first taste of forbidden fruit — convenience and consumption — that tempted us into this state. It is more accurate to say that we had an abundant and perfectly sustainable world for ourselves until we began to number in the billions. Societal change happened slowly, we didn’t even notice we were leaving the forests and farms. We didn’t even notice so much that we were replacing them.
Then came man-made accelerated climate change, and we are alienated from our first mother. She seems angry, but I think it’s just that she is too hot and cranky. The more frequent fires, floods and ‘natural ’disasters we contribute too, do not just make us feel afraid. They also leave untold frustration and psychological trauma for many people.
We are entering our own hell
Ecopsychology offers a positive answer. Rather than doom/gloom predictions, understanding our true biology offers physical, psychological and even spiritual comfort. We are able, if we choose, to recognize we have power, significant power, to influence our own outcome. Yes, it is true we can not reverse climate change overnight, but we can do something similar to what the Greatest Generation did in the last mid-century. Rather than enter our own error-driven hell, we can stand up to corruption — in this case money and toxins in our government and energy systems — and we can influence outcomes. Poll after poll has shown people hate the divisiveness and discourse to which we have fallen prey. They love the chance to have influence, and they agree on the most important issues of our time.
Ecopsychology, as some have identified it, is not far different from Scientific Pantheism, or modern paganism. Let’s look at both of these religions.
Those who exercise faith in Scientific Pantheism see our biological evolution as inextricably tied to nature’s universe. However, Ecopsychology is not a religion. There is nothing within recognizing our biological belonging to the only true psychology we evolved with, that asks anyone to drop their Catholic, Muslim, Sikh, Shinto, or other faith. Rather, ecopsychology can work in the framework of any faith that recognizes oppression, exploitation and domination is sinful. The concept of sin, however much a throw-away term it may be for agnostics and atheists, too, can simply be understood as “taking more than your fair share.”
Paganism, too, does not necessarily alienate science, but it certainly does show reverence for nature. Paganism, for many people makes perfect sense, but with so many variations, skeptics tend to disparage the trappings, spells, and rituals. Nevertheless, there is no sacred scripture, nor human need or directive, to necessarily separate paganism from our human ecopsychology.
The world needs to unite. Now more than ever before, we are living with the effects of climate change. We will continue to experience epidemics, famine, war, and most of all refugees. Our common humanity can keep us safe if we insist upon calling upon the better angels of our nature.
Perhaps a shout out to re-connect to our shared evolution and ecopsychology is be the best way to get the hotter than hell world, out of hell, and into our mutual reconnection as Earth.