An embrace of end-times theology often coincides with less willingness to address global climate change, as reported in the June issue of Political Research Quarterly. Why adapt now for the sake of future generations, the thinking goes, if it’s all going to end soon? (Conveniently, in this scenario everyone goes all at once.) Even those who don’t buy stories of a second coming or the end of days or a final judgment (not to mention the Big Crunch or the Big Rip) have trouble thinking about making sacrifices for a future that neither they nor anyone they know personally will inhabit. As Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson recently rationalized, “What good is it to save the planet if humanity suffers?”
For many, life on Earth a century or two down the road can be as vague a notion as heaven is to humanists. But isn’t this the afterlife we should be thinking about? Isn’t getting people to really consider and care about what happens after they die—in a realistic, naturalistic sense—primarily a humanist issue?
Reading about the gallant efforts of environmental activist, humanist, and conservationist Charles Bruce McIntosh (profiled herein by Clay Farris Naff) gives weight to that argument. Folks in Nebraska call him Buffalo Bruce, and I must confess that every time I read his name, the old Beatles song about Bungalow Bill popped into my head. Incidentally, the two characters are nothing alike. John Lennon wrote “The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill” in 1968 when the Beatles were in India at the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s ashram. Mia Farrow and her sister Prudence were there, along with a wealthy American woman whose clean-cut, college-aged son arrived and took a group out on elephants to hunt tigers. Instead, a tiger attacked them and the young man shot it, posing heroically with the dead animal. Back at the ashram a scornful Lennon asked, “But wouldn’t you call that slightly life-destructive?” And then he penned the song. (“Hey, Bungalow Bill/ What did you kill/ Bungalow Bill?… He went out tiger hunting with his elephant and gun/ In case of accidents he always took his mum… .”) In a Playboy interview years later, Lennon said he wrote the song as satire about “a guy in Maharishi’s meditation camp who took a short break to go shoot a few poor tigers, and then came back to commune with God.”
It’s a colorful tangent, but it does help frame my point that naturalists and humanists should be on the forefront of questions about the afterlife on Earth, and critical of actions that can be characterized as “life-destructive.” Namit Arora, who in the issue at hand challenges humanists to oppose factory farming, would extend life-preserving considerations to include animals. Meanwhile, Frank Robinson’s look at future artificial intelligence moves beyond biological boundaries and Charles Creekmore takes us out into the zero-point field to ponder our existence. “Nature’s energy is the only thing I can depend on in a universe based on infinite and instantaneous change at every moment,” he muses as he contemplates deep space and urges readers to venture out and enjoy nature.
We know that adaptation is the key to survival, but, quoting the lads from Liverpool once more, we get by with a little help from our friends too. President Barack Obama wants to take the gray wolf off the endangered species list. Critics say it’s too soon. Surely it’s too soon to put ourselves on any such list, but humans would do well to adapt in some of the ways suggested herein, lest we someday find ourselves there.