A new relationship with animals, nature and each other.

Reconciling Faith with Pessimism

Some noteworthy remarks by Chris Hedges on Bill Moyers weekly “Moyers and Company” show on PBS yesterday. They should resonate with any of us who are trying to do good for the animals in the knowledge that we will likely not succeed in saving the elephants and the gorillas, or in stopping the climate going berserk, or so many of the other looming catastrophes. Hedges explains what compels him to keep going.

Hedges left his job as a bureau chief for the New York Times after being reprimanded for publicly denouncing the 2003 invasion of Iraq. He’d been a war correspondent for years, covering wars in Africa, Serbia, the Middle East and more. In one of his books, “War Is a Force that Gives Us Meaning,” he writes about how addictive war becomes – to the people who fight on the ground, to the generals, to the political leaders and to the whole population as we cheer it on. Now he’s a committed social activist, looking hard at the future of our society, our planet, and our future … or lack of it.

Much of the interview with Moyers is about his new book, “Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt”, which is about poverty and desolation across contemporary America. But the conversation ranges into wider issues. A few choice quotes from their discussion:

There’s no way to control corporate power. The system has broken down, whether it’s Democrat or Republican. And because of that, we’ve all become commodities. Just as the natural world has become a commodity that is being exploited until it is exhausted, or it collapses.

About the coal fields of Southern West Virginia, the poorest communities in the United States:

When we flew over the Appalachians, and it’s a terrifying experience, because only then do you realize how vast the devastation is. Just as when we were in the war in Bosnia, you couldn’t grasp the destruction of ethnic cleansing until you actually flew over Bosnia, and village after village after village had been razed and destroyed.

And the same was true in the Appalachian Mountains. And these people are poisoned. The water is poisoned, it smells, the soil is poisoned. And the people who are making tremendous profits from this don’t even live in West Virginia.

… They no longer want to dig down for the coal, and so they’re blowing the top 400 feet off of mountains, poisoning the air, poisoning the soil, poisoning the water.

They use some of the largest machines on earth: these draglines, 25-stories tall, that are very efficient in terms of ripping out coal seams. But by the time they’ve left, there’s just a wasteland. Nothing grows. Some of the richest soil, some of the purest water, and these are the headwaters for much of the East Coast. You are rendering the area moonscape. It becomes inhabitable. these are the lungs of the Eastern seaboard. It’s all destroyed and it’s not coming back.

Hedges is not optimistic about the future, and Moyers asks him why, as pessimistic as he is about being able to turn things around, he continues all his social activism, even getting arrested at protests.

I come out of the seminary, and I look less on my ability to effect change and understand it more as a kind of moral responsibility to resist these forces. Which I think in theological terms are forces of death. And to fight to protect, preserve, and nurture life.

But you know, as my friend, Father Daniel Berrigan says, you know, “We’re called to do the good, or at least the good insofar as we can determine it. And then we have to let it go.” Faith is the belief that it goes somewhere.

But does it make any difference?

Well, that doesn’t matter. I did what I had to do. I did what I believed I should’ve done. And faith is a belief that it does make a difference, even if all of the empirical signs around you point otherwise. I think that fundamentally is what faith is about. And I’m not a very good Christian anymore. But I retain enough of my Christian heritage and my seminary training to still believe that.

… [When I was a war correspondent in Serbia], They’d block all the roads into the village, we’d walk in with our satellite phones, we’d file it, we never believed they weren’t going to do it again the next day. But somehow not to chronicle it, not to take the risks to report it, was to be complicit in that killing. And I think that same kind of thought goes into what’s happening here.

Moyers says that in a previous book, Hedges wrote: “We stand on the verge of one of the bleakest periods in human history, when the bright lights of civilization blink out, and we will descend for decades, if not centuries, into barbarity.”

I look at my youngest son, and his favorite book is “Out of the Blue,” with pictures of narwhals and porpoises and dolphins. And I think, “It is most probable that within your lifetime, every single one of those sea creatures will be dead.” And in so many ways, I feel that I have to fight for them. And even if I fail, they’ll say, “You know, at least my dad tried.”

We’ve deeply betrayed this next generation on so many levels. And I can’t argue finally, you know, given the empirical facts in front of us that hope is rational. And I retreat, like so many people in my book, into faith. And a belief that resistance and fighting for life is meaningful even if all of the outward signs around us deny that possibility.

Faith in that fighting for the sanctity of life is always worth it. … I think resistance becomes a kind of way of protecting our own worth as an individual, our own dignity, our own self-respect. And I think resistance does always leave open the possibility of change. And if we don’t resist, then we’ve essentially extinguished that hope.

The full show is here. And you can read a complete transcript.