Book review

A Call for Renewing Nature, Spirit, and Politics by TOM HAYDEN
(Sierra Club Books, 1997) Reviewed by Daniel Redwood

A passionate call for spiritual integrity and essential democracy.

Tom Hayden is a man of ambitious goals. From his early 1960s role in framing the Port Huron Statement, the founding document of Students for a Democratic Society, to his work opposing the Viet Nam War, from his Campaign for Economic Democracy to his election to the California Senate, Hayden has devoted his energies to political organizing, with social justice and participatory democracy at the core of his concerns. Now chairman of the Natural Resources and Wildlife Committee of the California Senate and a university instructor in ecotheology, Hayden has embarked upon his most challenging quest yet -- the renewal in Western culture of an ecological ethic based on a spiritual connection to the Earth and a sense of kinship with all life.

The Lost Gospel of the Earth is a most impressive work. It clearly is not a book he could have written in the early 1960s when, in the spirit of the time, he and his fellow drafters of the Port Huron Statement called for "the industrialization of the world" with nuclear power as the linchpin. To his credit, Hayden has learned a great deal since then, much of it from direct experience of nature. His stories of meeting a grizzly bear in Alaska and experiencing the energies at Ayers Rock in Australia bespeak a firsthand knowledge of nature that goes well beyond the current politics of environmental policy.

One thing that hasn't changed about Hayden is his ability to craft a detailed case for change built on widely shared beliefs interpreted in a new way. In The Lost Gospel, he delves deep in search of a Biblical basis for a kinship model for humanity's relationship with the environment, culling passages from Genesis, Job, and Psalms to elaborate a Judeo-Christian green ethos to counter what he calls the "lords of the universe" view that asserts scriptural support for human domination of nature. Exploring how other peoples relate to the environment, Hayden concludes that some religious traditions remain silent as the environment is pillaged in the service of material aims.

Thinking globally, but also thinking and acting locally, Hayden explores his home turf (Los Angeles and his native Michigan) and his Irish heritage, seeking deeper understanding. He recommends that each of us "rediscover the creation story of our immediate place" and that together we revise the creation story of America, "which began some 10,000 years ago when our ancestors first learned how to live in this land." In the chapter "The Lost Gospel of Our Native History," he applies the term "native" with refreshing inclusiveness, using it to refer not only to Native Americans but also to the Irish, Mexicans, Africans, Asians, and white Europeans, all of whom have ancestral traditions of kinship with the Earth.

Hayden avoids the common pitfall of viewing Christianity, with its focus on ascension, as having nothing at all in common with Earth-based native religions. His eco-spirituality creatively blends the two. If there is a flaw in The Lost Gospel, it may be that Hayden's vision is so broad and far-reaching that the action steps he proposes seem small and incremental in comparison. He laments that the environmental movement has not yet produced the equivalent of Martin Luther King's "Letter from the Birmingham Jail," or brought forth a leader like Cesar Chavez, blessed with both moral authority and a gift for political organizing. Hayden has done his best to fill the gap, and his book will inspire others to do their part.

Daniel Redwood, a Virginia Beach, Virginia, chiropractor, is the author of A Time to Heal and Contemporary Chiropractic.

Copyright © 1996. The Light Party.

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