Few People Will Die For a Pie Chart
by Gwin Pratt
The Rev. Gwin Pratt serves on the board of MNIPL and previously served as St Luke Presbyterian Senior Pastor. We at MNIPL are honored to share Gwin's writing with you.
I am continually inspired, refreshed, and challenged by Larry Rasmussen’s classic, epic book: “Earth Honoring Faith: Religious Ethics in a New Key”. There are many reasons for this: the lyrical writing, the inviting stories, the clear-eyed recitation of sciences’ grim facts about what is happening to the planet, the weaving of an interfaith quilt that witnesses to a common love of Creation held by all the faiths of Earth’s peoples.
It is this last one that animates me the most: the author’s foundational premise that, in the face of those dire facts given us by science, the great religious traditions of the world provide the only real hope for change, for actually acting to stop the carnage to the “Ground of our Being”.
In the opening pages of the book, Rasmussen remembers these words from a now famous lecture given by legendary scientist Carl Sagan. Referring to several photos of our solar system taken by Voyager I in 1990 in which a pale, blue dot appeared, Sagan said:
“That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever lived, lived out their lives. The aggregate of all our joys and sufferings,….every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilizations, …every young couple in love, every hopeful child, …every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every superstar,…every saint and sinner in the history of our species, lived there on a mote of dust, suspended in a sunbeam.”
Of course, it is commonly known that Carl Sagan named himself an atheist. Yet, one cannot read his words here and not find a shiver of the Holy running through us. Here’s how Rasmussen takes what Sagan said, and connects it to the Holy:
“Science is indispensable because it can tell us what is happening to our changing planet. Yet, few people will die for a pie chart.”
Something else is needed. He goes on:
“Something with more tenacity, commitment, and loyalty. Something with a reach deep enough to summon sacrifice; something that lays claim to cosmic meaning and locates us in communities that transcend our egos and surpass our modest moment in time; something that speaks to our longings and the mystery of our lives; something that offers renewable moral-spiritual energy for hard transitions; and something that keeps open the door of hope.”
“Few people will die for a pie chart.” Science by itself won’t move us. But, “something that speaks to our longings and the mystery of our lives” just might.
Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org, has emerged over the last 3 decades as arguably the most important voice and activist in both the naming of the whelming climate crisis, and leading a way forward in doing something about it.
Recently, McKibben spoke at the Break Free rally in Indiana. He said:
What we’re doing here is our biggest job here on this Earth. There’s lots of scary, bad news.
But, here’s the really good news…..for me, it’s new news. I wasn’t an activist, but a writer when I started. It wasn’t clear to me that we’d be able to stand up to the oil industry 5 years ago, and the Keystone Pipeline. I didn’t think we’d actually win. But you know, it turns out, when we fight...we pretty often do win!!”
Just look!: We’ve won at the Keystone, Northern Gateway, Enbridge, the big coal port in Washington state, the Kinder Morgan pipeline, we beat fracking in NY state and France and Wales and Ireland. When we fight we win…so we should probably fight more often!!!
Where have the resolve and resiliency and courage come from that we see in him? He has found something to give his life to. And it wasn’t just because of the pie charts of science.
McKibben was baptized as a Presbyterian, as an adult became a Methodist, and has described himself as a “Methodist Sunday School teacher.”
Recently, in the run-up to his Methodist denomination voting on whether to join the Divestment movement, Bill spoke to a Methodist church in Portland. He said:
The world God left us to take care of, the one that God pronounced “good,” is disappearing with lightning speed. That means it’s time to break with the easy choices and make the hard ones—as people of faith have so often been called on to do through history. Now is our chance.
Do you see? He has been touched by that “something that offers renewable moral-spiritual energy” that “keeps the door open to hope.”
My premise: While science is crucial to us in our work, it took something more than the pie charts to drive McKibben to “reach deep enough to summon sacrifice.” And it will continue to be true that that something might be spelled with a capital “S”. I like to believe that the Light which illumines the “pale blue dot” is more than a sunbeam. That it is a guide from beyond, a holy spotlight, a beacon calling us to our ultimate, and sacred purpose in life.
And, Yes, even something to die for.