The Tree-Hating Insane Inorganic Alien Trying to Destroy the Earth

ecology and nature

Several years ago, at the recommendation of a friend, I read Not in His Image: Gnostic Vision, Sacred Ecology, and the Future of Belief by John Lamb Lash. It was a very, um, interesting book. Actually I guess outlandish might be a better term, but it certainly held my attention.  In the weeks after I read it, I talked about it to anyone who would listen, because it was so provocative and downright odd, and made for fun conversations.

Basically, it argued that the god of monotheism aka Yahweh aka Allah aka Heavenly Father etc did not create the earth.  Instead, the earth, Gaia, a goddess herself, was somehow moved into a different plane of existence (I forget how Lash explained it) and ended up with all these creatures on and around her, trying to control her.  The most aggressive of these was an insane inorganic alien–yes, an insane inorganic alien; I’m not making this up–who showed up and starting announcing that he had created the earth and that people were actually created in his image, after which he set about trying to remake them in his image and turn them into insane inorganic creatures too.

To that end, he commanded those who worship him to cut down trees and get rid of groves.  In fact, the first line of the book was something like “The god of the Old Testament hates trees.”  (Sorry that I’m paraphrasing rather than quoting; I got the book from the library and can’t verify the exact wording.)

That was the part of the book that I found not just bizarre but truly insightful and useful.  I had taken an old testament lit class as an undergrad and read the entire OT on my own.  But it had never sunk in just how hostile Yahweh is to trees, to groves, to forest, to nature.  He may or may not be inorganic, he may or may not be an alien, but his hostility to all things arboreal certainly exceeds rationality.  It comes up over and over, as in:

But ye shall destroy their altars, break their images, and cut down their groves: Exodus 34:13

God, you see, lives not in forests or groves but on rocky mountain tops–that’s where Moses had to go to find him.  God can’t be evoked by the imagery of forests; instead, his imagery is fire, that which consumes and destroys the forest.

But despite that monotheistic hostility to sacred groves (heh!), a reverence for them was already built into proto-indo-European, the language that was the ancestor of the Hellenic, Romance, and Germanic languages, just to name a few–as well as a few languages of the middle east, including HIttite and Tocharian, but not the ancestor of Hebrew.  I follow several language blogs, and today one of them posted a bit about the etymology of the word temple:

The word ‘temple’ comes from the root ‘tem’, to cut – a forest clearing. The inspiration of those who made civilization’s first temples and churches all over the world, was the forest. You can see it in the pillars, the arched roofs, the decorated ceilings. For the gods walk in the forest.

That passage is from a memoir about life in the Lake District of England; the blogger verifies its accuracy:

The American Heritage Dictionary 5th edition, in its appendix of Proto-Indo-European roots, says *tem- had a suffixed form *tem-lo from which we get “Latin templum, temple, shrine, open place for observation (augury term < ‘place reserved or cut out’), small piece of timber.” It’s a gratifying connection.

Goofy, I admit, but I found it interesting and satisfying that despite the efforts of the old testament god to eradicate nature worship, vestiges remain even in the words we use for Mormon worship.

 

12 thoughts on “The Tree-Hating Insane Inorganic Alien Trying to Destroy the Earth

  1. This is a really cool connection — it’s sad to see that it generates less discussion than debating the Book of Abraham. But perhaps it’s because nobody disagrees with you on it…?

    It’s interesting to see how history repeats itself. The Bible records the Israelites suppressing other forms of worship (eg. destroying other faiths’ sacred groves) in the same way that protestants initially tried to dump some of the pre-Christian festivals that the Catholics had co-opted (like Christmas). Christianity represents a continuous struggle to graft this very alien (w.r.t. the Indo-European tradition) book of myths onto western culture.

  2. But perhaps it’s because nobody disagrees with you on it…?

    Or whether they disagree or not, no one’s identity is bound up in it. It’s pretty easy to discount the basic cosmology Lash lays out when you haven’t been told that your eternal salvation rests on finding a way to believe it.

    in the same way that protestants initially tried to dump some of the pre-Christian festivals that the Catholics had co-opted (like Christmas).

    Yep. My name is a case in point. A sprig of holly and a bit of snow is one of the most identifiable symbols of christmas–but it started out as a celtic fertility symbol. How that grafting actually took hold is a story I would love to see traced.

    Christianity represents a continuous struggle to graft this very alien (w.r.t. the Indo-European tradition) book of myths onto western culture.

    You’re absolutely right. And it’s all tied up in the imperialistic successes of first Rome, then Spain, then England. If the conquistadors hadn’t been followed by missionaries, would South and Central America be Christian?

    I don’t know if you can get this easily in Swizterland, Chanson, but something I really enjoyed a few years back was a series called “The Barbarians” by Terry Jones of Monty Python fame about how much more awesome than the Romans all the people the Romans defeated were. It was a lot of fun and quite informative. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Terry_Jones%27_Barbarians

  3. Well I’ve never read “Not in His Image”, but I have read the Book of Abraham . Lash’s book sounds, um, entertaining. Is this insane inorganic alien still around or just his crazy followers?
    Thanks for the info on the series, “The Barbarians”. I’ll have to go check it out. I’ve often wondered if nicer things would have been said about the rampaging barbarian hordes(and how did they handle the logistics of all that moving) if they weren’t, boo hiss, arian christians.

  4. Is this insane inorganic alien still around or just his crazy followers?

    Yeah, according to Lash, he’s still around, messing everything up and doing a darn good job of making everyone as miserable as he is. He won’t be satisfied until the entire planet is covered in asphalt and dead as he can make it.

  5. A sprig of holly and a bit of snow is one of the most identifiable symbols of christmas–but it started out as a celtic fertility symbol. How that grafting actually took hold is a story I would love to see traced.

    Absolutely!!

    I was thinking along these same lines during a recent train trip to Paris. With all of the trees bare for Winter, it was easy to see all of the bunches of mistletoe in the branches. Seeing this plant still green in Winter is part of our cultural heritage that has been preserved in Christmas traditions, one that Christianity has tried (and failed) to stamp out.

    That documentary sounds really fascinating — I have to check it out!! History is written by the victors, but there’s another side to the story.

    We actually get a bit more of it here in Europe, I think. I remember my history classes starting with “The Age of Exploration” — so for us Americans, history started about 600 years ago. French History classes traditionally started with “Our ancestors, the Gauls” (and in the “Asterix” comics series — which every practically every French person is familiar with — one of the main heroes is a druid who harvests mistletoe with a gold implement). And now my kids’ history classes actually start with the evolution of humans in Africa, and continue through the various waves of human expansion.

  6. We actually get a bit more of it here in Europe, I think. I remember my history classes starting with “The Age of Exploration” — so for us Americans, history started about 600 years ago.

    I guess it helps when there’s an easily identifiable event that marks a pronounced cultural change. I was once discussing British history with a British friend. He was astonished that I knew anything about various Roman invasions of England or the viking invasions in the fifth century, but I’d learned about them from studying the history of the language. Whereas British history was taught in schools as beginning with the Norman conquest in 1066.

    the real answer is to teach not only national history but world history and anthropology, which are pretty darn interesting anyway.

  7. Whereas British history was taught in schools as beginning with the Norman conquest in 1066.

    That surprises me. I thought the British started their history lessons at least as early as the arrival of the Anglo-saxons, and covered the adventures of Alfred the Great, etc.

  8. p.s. Not that I know British history or anything. It’s just that once, a long time ago, I was reading a book for Brits about how to speak French, and the author was commenting on the fact that the French use the term “Anglo-Saxon” to refer to the whole anglophone world. The author was warning to reader not mistakenly imagine that the French are talking about the time and culture of “Alfred the Great.” And I was like “Who the f is Alfred the Great? That must be some reference that British people are expected to understand.” lol

  9. There are bits and pieces they learned about, like Alfred, or Boudica, But a systematic chronological history of Britain began with 1066–at least for people who are over 30 now, my friend said. Perhaps it’s different in primary schools today.

  10. there’s a super famous story about Alfred the Great and some cakes he burned; James Baldwin wrote a version of it. http://www.readbookonline.net/readOnLine/9320/ But from what I understand, it’s sorta like how Americans learned that Columbus got backing from King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain and sailed in 1492. It’s the necessary bit of preparatory information that you just sort of have to know, but it’s not part of a systematic study of national history.

    Any British person want to correct or clarify anything we’re getting wrong?

    And ask Europeans sometime what year Columbus sailed and what his ships were named. It’s not necessary to their cultural identity, so plenty don’t know and don’t care. Whereas any American 2nd grader can tell you that.

  11. Surprised no one’s mentioned that Jehovah, in his Jesus incarnation, got pissed off at a fig tree that didn’t have any figs, and cursed it. Figs weren’t even in season, says the NT. Poor tree shrivelled away.

    Man, that guy really hated trees.

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