"Life's Moral Paradox" (excerpt) In the Absence of God—Dwelling in the Place of the Sacred by Sam Keen


To experience our lifescape as sacred also creates a moral paradox. How can we both revere and use the world? Whatever is seen as sacred is, at least in principle, inviolate. It ought to be hallowed, venerated as an end rather than a means. But clearly this is not always possible. If I am to survive the winter, my glorious, molten aspen may need to be harvested for firewood, and I may need to kill one of the graceful deer who so delight me during warmer months. Among traditional hunters and gatherers, the game animal upon which they depended for food was believed to have sacrificed itself during a successful hunt. The Bushmen of South Africa performed a ritual dance reenacting the kill and thanking the eland for its life. They believed that through this sacrament their prey returned to earth to sustain the herd.

In premodern times, shedding blood through hunting and warfare was considered a tragic necessity, requiring repentance and purification. The modern worldview tries-to resolve the moral paradox by turning everything in the nonhuman world into an object, to be utilized as we wish. But once we disenchant the rivers, forests, soil, and air, we end up destroying the network of life upon which we depend.

The proper task of religion is to remind us that, in spite of the tragic aspect of life that must feed on other life in order to survive, we should tread reverently on the earth and be compassionate to all sentient beings. We may not be able to speak convincingly about the transcendent God of traditional religion or of a kingdom of heaven beyond history, but we are not left without witnesses to the sacred. The Logos, the Word, the Divine Hologram that informs the cosmos—all things great and small—is still spoken in sparrow song, wind sigh, and leaf fall. An electron is a single letter, an atom a complex word, a molecule a sentence, and a mockingbird an entire epistle in the great ongoing saga. The ocean still whispers the song that originated with the big bang. Listen to the longing in your heart for love and justice, and you may hear the sacred word. To live in a reverential manner is not to surrender to authority, scripture, or institution but to create an autobiography in which we tell the stories of the unique epiphanies that have informed our lives.

No-thing in the world is sacred.
Every-thing is:
wonderful, not miraculous,
awe-full, not lawless,
graceful, not capricious,
sacramental, not supernatural,
abounding in epiphanies,
lacking any final revelation
of a divine purpose or plan.


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