Order and Chaos

I’m not a nature worshiper.

I’ve said this a few times before. I like nature and all, but it is not an object of devotion for me. Sure, the sacred is immanent in nature. But it is just as immanent in what we call the “artificial” or the cultivated.

Paganism is frequently depicted as nature worship, and I disagree with this assumption. The Romans gods celebrate engineering feats and the cultivation of philosophy and learning. These are hallmarks of what we classify as civilization, which is frequently placed at odds with nature.

See, the gods of Rome were beings that embodied the forces of nature. They were not worshiped or petitioned to celebrate nature, but to moderate it. To keep it at bay.

Raw nature is scary. There are hardships there. You struggle to find things to eat, and there are things that can and will eat you. Nature is chaos.

And the gods were petitioned to keep that chaos at bay, so that life might be easier for us. The gods maintain order.

And this is not a concept unique to Rome. The ancient Greeks and Egyptians held similar concepts. Such ideas are also found in ancient China. Civilization was not seen as some destructive force enslaving and ruining the natural world, but as a means of ordering the world around us so that we can survive free of the dangers of the chaotic world around us.

This order/chaos divide is a far cry from the natural/artificial divide that is now dominate. Because even the ordered world of the ancients was largely what we would consider “nature.” It preferred gardens, fields, orchards, and vineyards to the chaos of untamed wilderness, true, but the agricultural and pastoral societies still lived deeply in tune with natural cycles and processes. Even the “wilderness” of North America when the Europeans came was more often than not carefully cultivated to provide for easier gathering and hunting.

The real issue comes with how we define “nature.” Nature as a concept is a romantic notion, one that brings to mind pristine and peaceful wilderness where noble savages live in peace and robust health. This is contrasted to the concept of the “artificial” or the manmade, which¬† is seen as exploiting or going against the virtues of Nature. This ignores three simple facts: 1) The “natural” world is inherently dangerous, and doesn’t give a flying crap if we survive comfortable or die slow, agonizing deaths; 2) The “artificial” world has bestowed upon us many things that have proven greatly beneficial to our comfort, survival, and well-being; and 3) Humans are animals, and are a part of Nature, and as such any activity we undertake, no matter how complex, is “natural.”

And while it is nice to be in places surrounded by other growing and living things in a “natural” environment, for many people that is a privilege that they are not frequently afforded. And in many places in the world today, that divide is not significant, and people still live in exposure to and even fear of the unpredictability and brutality of the natural world. And more significantly, in many urban environments, people struggle to find order and safety in the chaos that can emerge from a poor, neglected inner city area.

Humans tend to crave a measure of order. We express this by organizing our environments to suit us, and we are far from the only animal species to do so. And it is this adaptability that has served us so well in our survival and evolution.

Worshiping “Nature” seems redundant to me. Everything around us and that we do is nature. Our very existence, and even our pondering it, is a part of nature. Nature itself is an artificial construct. So why would I worship a political concept instead of the gods and spirits in the world around me?