Easter Is A Reminder That Climate Change May Be Our Most Deadly Sin

Fairfax - Elizabeth Farrelly

I've never been strong on belief. Sin, virtue, damnation, eternity; none of it has had me altogether persuaded. But one question I can't walk round. Is climate change proof of sin? Not punishment; evidence. Is it final, irreducible proof (for us diehard boneheads) that that the seven deadly sins are exactly that?
Easter bears this question aloft like the sword from the lake. Easter is the loveliest of the religious festivals; nuanced, paradoxical, hauntingly mysterious. It has always been a seasonal turn-point, a "thank god" moment in Australia as temperatures fall back into the realm of the tolerable. But last month's news of a catastrophic climate-change spike – making that thermal relief increasingly improbable – underscores Easter's other role, as a profound and magical moral mnemonic. In short, voodoo.
Our ongoing inertia on climate change suggests that the problem is deep; not at root technical or political but spiritual, a direct consequence of the seven deadly sins run every bit as wild as the carbon we spew into the air. Easter, properly understood, is still the best antidote but its healing powers (since we're in Harry Potter land here) are neutralised by the patriarchal corporation – the church – that holds it captive.
Illustration: Rocco Fazzari
Illustration: Rocco Fazzari

Most religious festivals are Shakespearean comedies; simple, upbeat and celebratory. We try to tuck Easter, too, into this bunny-and-chicken basket, a pagan rite of spring accidentally shipped by history to the wrong hemisphere. But Easter belongs in autumn. Easter is very noir.
I mean sure, Easter celebrates life. But it pivots on the paradoxical necessity to life of death. Yes, its dramatic trajectory ends with the return to hope. But its power inheres in the week-long irony-entwisted plunge from hope (the palm-fringed Hosannas) through rejection and humiliation to fathomless despair. Like a Colin McCahon waterfall, the Easter story stores its energy in that straight, bleak, black, vertical drop.
For me it's this, the misery bit, that makes Easter compelling. Eternal life doesn't tempt me. I'm way more interested in this one, and the implied eternity of the planet in our care. Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? (My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?) The heartbroken cry of the man on the cross gives us Jesus at his most human, and his most here.
The radical openness so revealed, the plea wrenched against a black sky from the torn soul of a dying man, directly opposes the life-diminishing behaviours we once called deadly sins. If we could emulate it, even in small part, this openness would save us and our mothership, Earth.
People argue that Christianity's fatal flaw is making faith alone sufficient for salvation (whatever that is). They say this means you needn't do good; you need only believe. (Here they generally cite Pell, Baird, Abbott, Turnbull.)
But I think that's a misunderstanding. Jesus' radical openness – we're told he "emptied himself … and became obedient to the point of death" – is a Zen thing, like the poetic self-emptying that Keats called negative capability. It's a total trust that makes "sin" impossible.
Why? Because an "empty" self is all subject. Ego is all object, and sin is ego incontinent. Yet if you can even name the sins, it's likely via a 2002 marketing ploy by Magnum ice creams.
Under the tag-line "give in to it", Magnum offered Vanity (champagne), Envy (pistachio), Sloth (caramel), Revenge (raspberry), Greed (tiramisu), Gluttony (double-choc) and Lust (vanilla-strawberry). The church was miffed, but more for misplaced territorial reasons than because it should have been gluttonies 1-to-7.
Sins, after all, are only wisdom codified into portable, foil-wrapped pill-form. The seven deadlies act out our inner spoilt-brat, thus undermining long-term, big-picture wellbeing – such as planetary survival. How does it work?
Lust is the least. Now almost a virtue, a workout, lust is also the least obvious climate contributor, except insofar as it expands the population burden.
Greed (or avarice) is the most obviously implicated, since our insatiable appetite for stuff decimates planetary resources and sends carbon skyrocketing (yet even this is made a virtue by governments intent on economic growth).
Envy is greed's root and enabler. Envy, which makes us self-measure against others' achievements instead of our own evaluated need, is the core of all advertising, most consumption and vast proportion of climate-change.
Gluttony is almost a subset of greed. More people now overeat than under-eat and amputations from diabetes have risen (in NSW) 25 per cent in two years, yet still we genetically engineer broccoli to increase sugar content. Gluttony exacerbates climate-change by the growing, the transport, the food-science, the cooking and the tsunami-like consequences for health.
Those are sins of desire; sins, if you like, of commission. The rest – sloth, wrath and pride – incline us to boneheadedness, inuring us to exigencies that would otherwise drive change.
Wrath (anger, revenge) is the direct opposite of love or radical openness, making us close our hearts to humans and planet, both. Sloth seems innocent. Lying round in trackies? Pretty harmless, right? But its our persistent inaction on climate change that shows sins of omission are still sins.
Pride is the most interesting sin; ambiguous, insidious, destructive. Like lust, pride has become a virtue – I'm gay/black/racist/right-wing/fat and proud of it. But pride also lets us set ourselves above nature, seeing her as our plaything and our tool.
We all have our defining sin. Mine is mainly envy, with a touch of greed. But corporations also sin, and the church's sin is pride.
Many see pride (or hubris) as inherent in the shift from pantheism to monotheism: one god stands above the world, whereas many gods were embedded. But the church, with its chosen people-ism, its patriarchal rigidity, its systemic refusal to care properly for children, women or nature, has trapped Jesus inside a rigid cage of judgment, hypocrisy and cliche.
It makes you wonder. Perhaps, when the crowd welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem with Hosanna! (meaning Liberate us! Save us!) what they meant was: Please. Open our hard hearts! Fill us with radical empty. Save our lovely planet from the boofheads.

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