E. O. Wilson is perhaps the leading environmental and evolutionary scientist of modern times. Not only is he the leading defender of biodiversity, but he invented the term. He also invented the science of sociobiology. He is the world’s leading expert on ants and ant societies. He is a retired professor at Harvard, but continues very active in writing at age 82. His autobiography, Naturalist, describes a truly blessed life of significant contributions to the world, despite some severe attacks that have been made upon his views. He is a prominent scientist but is not too proud to get down on his knees to look at an ant.
When I met Wilson in 2004, he shared his view of religion with me. He considered Christianity to be merely the surviving remnant of an ancient tribal religion whose function was to give some tribes a justification for exterminating the others. In this, he was consistent with the views he expressed in his book Consilience, in which he unites all fields of knowledge into a coherent whole and in which religion plays no part.
I was therefore surprised when, just two years later, he published The Creation: An Appeal to Save Life on Earth. He wrote it in the form of a letter to a fundamentalist minister, and he emphasized the numerous reasons that scientists and religious conservatives have for joining together to save the Creation. If God made all of the species, whether miraculously or through evolution, should not God’s followers want to save them from extinction?
I was surprised again when in 2010 Wilson published his novel Anthill, about an Alabama boy who grows up to be an environmentalist and a lawyer who successfully saves a biodiversity hotspot by working within, not against, the legal and economic system. At some points in the novel, Wilson reaffirms the common ground that scientists and religious conservatives have. But at the end of the novel, it is three religious conservatives who chase down and try to kill the environmental lawyer. They spew invectives that show just how much they hate God’s Creation.
So I have gotten two partly-contradictory insights from Wilson about the possibility, or not, of environmentalists finding common ground with religious conservatives. I regret to say that I agree more with Wilson’s 2010 ideas than his 2006 ideas. I have come to believe that religious conservatives really do want to destroy as much of God’s Creation (as they consider it to be) as possible. And I believe that some of them, just like the ones in Wilson’s novel, are ready to use violence to do so.
This comes partly from my own experiences with Oklahoma rednecks. Most of them look like they have been injecting steroids, look as if they are ready to beat to a pulp anyone who disagrees with them, and they boast about their guns. While they may pose no current threat, they could become very dangerous the moment we have societal collapse and chaos, a situation that is not hard to imagine. Although most Oklahomans are not like this, I have met people in Oklahoma who are just like the ones in Wilson’s novel.
I am glad that there are some religious conservatives who love God’s Creation, but I believe that most religious conservatives will ignore them or consider them to be hateful apostates to the true religion of destroying the natural world. I think that Christian environmentalism has no hope of success, because their opponents within Christianity have two weapons that Christian environmentalists do not: hatred and guns. And what else could you expect them to believe, if they are convinced that God is going to destroy the world anyway, and soon, possibly this year?
I enjoyed Wilson’s novel, because I enjoy all of his insights. I have to admit, however, that it is not a well-written novel. He passes up many opportunities for interesting developments of plot and character. It gets exciting in the last few pages, but most readers other than devoted Wilson fans like myself will have given up by then. There are nice parts, especially the story of the wars between ant colonies, told from the ants’ viewpoint. If you love nature, and are willing to overlook structural defects of a novel, I recommend Anthill. It may leave you very disturbed about the danger posed by religious conservatism in the United States.
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