How an environmental activist surrendered to Jesus
English environmental activist and author Paul Kingsnorth thought Christianity was a rotten religion – until he was 'fetched' by Jesus.
For many years Kingsnorth was closely associated with the anti-globalisation and environmental movement. Until he became disillusioned and retreated with his young family to the Irish countryside.
“I've had enough shouting,” he said. “We can’t organise ourselves out of the environmental crisis. The core of the problem cannot be solved with different politics, a better climate treaty or cleaner technology. We are in the middle of a great extinction wave and heading for an abyss. Corona brought us to a standstill, but now we are doing everything we can to get the growth machine going again. We have no limits.”
Kingsnorth decided to cultivate “little places of life, character, beauty and meaning” and to start “listening to the earth.” That sounds spiritual, and it was meant to be, Kingsnorth says. “Ever since I grew up, I’ve had a strong sense that there is more, something behind nature, a creator, or natural forces that wanted to say something.”
For more than five years he practised Zen and studied the teachings of the Buddha. But something was missing: love. “I felt an abyss in myself. I had previously filled that void with sex, fame, activism, and now with meditation, but it remained. I didn't want to admit it at first, but I wanted to worship something bigger than myself. Not a Christian God, no, certainly not.”
Kingsnorth joined a Wicca circle. “Wicca is a modern witchcraft tradition, composed of ancient religious practices and symbols. Everyone who joins becomes a priest of the great nature goddess and the horned god. We did rituals in the forest, at full moon. For many people it is a game, a dressing up with cloaks. But if you go deeper into it, you discover that occult magic is not fake. I have really seen things happen through spells and magic circles that we conjured up. There are forces in nature that you can open up to. But they're not all good forces and you can't control them either.”
In the beginning of 2020, Kingsnorth began to experience something strange. “I dreamt about Jesus giving me a message. People around me started telling me about Jesus. He popped up in books I read, in emails I got. Christ on my left, Christ on my right. It was unnerving, I didn't want that at all. I was a pagan priest! Christianity was the last thing that interested me. I was... haunted.”
One evening, as his wiccan circle was about to begin a ritual, Kingsnorth suddenly felt jet-lagged. “Overwhelmed by a force that was preventing me from entering the temple, and I knew by whom.” After a few of these intense experiences, there was only one thing he could do: bow out and become a Christian.
That was a strange sensation, because he had never taken Christianity seriously. “I saw it as a tiring, corrupt religion. A collection of moral rules, to please God. I didn't know that Christianity in its root is something else. That it is the story of people's rebellion against God, and of Christ who restores the relationship, through humility, poverty and vulnerability. This Christ came to get me, that's how it feels now.”
Kingsnorth did not come to conversion through rational consideration. “I was overwhelmed, as C.S. Lewis writes, ‘by the steady and inexorable approach of someone I was trying very hard not to meet’. The more I learn about it now, the more that Christian story resonates with everything in me. Magic is no answer, because magic, like modern science, is ultimately also about control, about how you can make nature bend to your will. What I had not realised is that the only way out, in the end, is through humility. Surrender to the Creator.”
During the corona pandemic, Kingsnorth was baptised in the freezing Shannon River by a Romanian Orthodox priest. “In an Orthodox church in Ireland, with mostly migrants, I found an ancient faith.”
Kingsnorth discovered that the message of Christ has nothing to do with power and politics. “We must wash each other's feet, not colonise the earth. Christ challenged power, not with revolution or activism, but with sacrifice. Philosopher and activist Simone Weil from the 20th century put it this way: he who takes up the sword perishes by the sword; he who lays down the sword is crucified.” That is the choice we face, says Kingsnorth, in this world of growth and belief in progress. “We have rigged a machine that destroys everything – our seas, our forests, our cultures and our relationships. We can fight the machine on its own terms, with power politics or activism, but then we might become what we are fighting. The other option, according to Weil, is the way of the cross, of sacrifice, of radical humility, as we can read in the Sermon on the Mount.”
For Kingsnorth, following Jesus means “living more simply, using less technology, giving away more, rejecting power politics, loving your neighbour. And by neighbour, I don't just mean the neighbour that lives next to you, but also the forest nearby. I think Weil is right and that we have to choose between these two options: it is rebellion or surrender, domination or service, the machine or the cross. After 25 years of writing and campaigning, this is what remains for me.”
Some of Kingsnorth’s friends are disappointed in his turnaround. “I engage in conversation, but I did not choose this rationally. A power has come into me and it has taken the abyss away. And the striking thing is, I know several people who have experienced something similar. I really feel that the Spirit is moving in the world, especially in this time of crisis.”
Adventists at the forefront of creation care
The Seventh-day Adventist Church is among the fastest growing Christian denominations around the world, with over 21.4 million registered adherents.
This is related to the church’s “total member involvement” strategy that encourages each member worldwide to find ways to share Jesus with friends and communities. With exceptional success, as Joel News reported earlier.
Less known is that the Adventists are also at the forefront of creation care. Many Adventists are convinced that giving up meat and animal products is an intrinsic part of the Christian lifestyle. Denominational research found that this conviction is especially strong in South Asia where 80 per cent of members are vegan or vegetarian. In East-Central Africa this is 42 per cent and also in North America over half of Adventists are vegetarian or vegan. Some Adventists reduce meat (32 per cent) or choose a pescatarian lifestyle (11 per cent) as an alternative.
The health benefits of giving up meat and animal products, alcohol, and tobacco are obvious. Over 80 per cent of Adventists agree the practice promotes spiritual growth and longevity. Today’s church doctrine calls for healthy living to glorify God. Adventist pioneer Ellen White declared with prophetic fire in 1890: “He who will abuse animals because he has them in his power is both a coward and a tyrant. The day comes when judgment will be pronounced against those who abuse God’s creatures.”
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