Not too long ago I sat in a small park called Wadsworth Falls listening to the roaring—and at the same time, mind-quieting—waterfall that gives this park its name. I was not the only one humbled and calmed by the loud rush of water. There were two Jews (wearing yarmulkes) reading from the Torah, perhaps soaking in God’s mystery and power as manifested through nature.
But is Gaia’s power God’s power? Some would argue that God created Gaia, so creation is God’s and therefore this natural beauty is a manifestation of God. While I certainly don’t want to pick a fight, is it not right to simplify this? As Franciscan Friar William of Occam famously argued, in hypotheses “entities should not be multiplied unnecessarily.” Does it make more sense that God created Gaia and then Gaia created us (through millions of years of evolution—even if in God time that equals just six days)? Or can we simplify this to Gaia self-organizing from the early lifeforms that grew on Earth (as Gaia Theory suggests), in turn creating a stable environment for more complex life to be able to thrive, and over millions of years, mammals and eventually hominids developing? Admittedly both sound far-fetched, even fantastical, but we exist, so we need some sort of explanation, and the simpler one, non-dependent on a superhuman being, seems to make far more sense.
But whether God created Gaia or Gaia self-organized, the awe-inspiring power of the falling waters I watched belong to Gaia. Nature invokes beauty, fear, smallness in us; joy to be part of something so beautiful and alive and present to experience it. Ultimately, Gaia is alive. And whether created—like you and I by our parents—or whether She manifested through 3.5 to 4 billion years of life coming together—like you and I through the process of evolution—Gaia must be understood as at the center. It is Gaia that provides us breathable air, drinkable water, and food to live. It is Gaia that is now ignored and misunderstood, and under perilous threat.
To put God at the center means that Gaia is not. At the worst, She is then made disposable—a source of resources to have Dominion over (even though in reality we die if She dies or even changes in a way that can no longer sustain us). At best, if not at the center, Gaia is valued because of Her relation to God (as creation). But that puts her as an equal (or even below) ‘man’ who was created in God’s image. Which will not do.
Gaia is what makes life sacred, what makes us even able to consider the sacred and profane, to be awe-struck at lightning strikes illuminating the dark sky, roaring waterfalls, and radiant sunrises and sunsets (it is Gaia’s atmosphere that makes for such beautiful colors in the sky).
That, of course, is not to say that Gaia is at the center of the universe. There are most certainly other planetary beings out there, but as children of Gaia, permanently tethered to and nursed by our mother, we must recognize Gaia’s central role in life and our cosmological story, and recognize our permanent duty to care for Her.
And that is also not to say God cannot be worshipped alongside of Gaia—for those that feel God still is the creator of the universe (it is important to be welcoming of other traditions to help Gaianism grow)—but reverence of and care for Gaia must be given priority, as God’s greatness cannot be manifested if humans go extinct, and certainly will not be on a dead planet.