A while back I visited an exhibition of photographs by the renowned photographer, Ansel Adams. I still struggle to properly compose a photograph and learned much from observing how Adams composed his pictures. I observed something else too: In this exhibition, not one Adams photograph depicted any man-made object. I later discovered that he had photographed a freeway interchange, an old adobe ruin, and a few other man-made objects but they were few and far between. It was clearly noticeable that Ansel Adams preferred to photograph nature untouched by man.
I believe that if I could travel back in time and stroll into the Tabernacle that Moses and Israel built in the desert, I would have made exactly the opposite observation. Most of what I could see would be man-made. For instance, even the ark of the covenant, though constructed of wood was to be entirely overlaid with gold. (Exodus 25:10-11) The natural wood was quite invisible. Though wood may be shaped, planed and polished, it still resembles the tree from which it came. Gold, however, is never seen at all were it not for man’s industriousness in mining it, refining it and shaping it. Wherever one looked in the Tabernacle as well as in its successor, Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem, the worshipper was surrounded by evidence of human creativity rather than nature.
I confess to being personally disappointed by this since one of my most meaningful morning prayers was uttered on the deck of the small boat which my family and I were sailing up Princess Louisa Inlet in British Columbia about twenty years ago. Afloat upon tranquil deep waters surrounded by towering, snow-capped mountain peaks, I felt that I was in God’s cathedral. Yet, I knew that though it is indescribably joyful to pray in such beautiful natural surroundings, it was important to worship God and not His natural wonders. In fact, the Hebrew word for nature, TeVA, isn’t even mentioned in the Torah. We learn that God created land, water, animals, people, and all the universe in detailed specificity. But of the abstract idea of nature, not a mention.
It is not only pagan cults that worshipped nature. Many religious groups place their worship shrines in forests or upon mountain tops. Not by accident, Solomon’s Temple had to be situated in the heart of the busiest and most bustling city of its day. Today’s popular cult of secularism also worships nature. In a totally inappropriate attempt to goad three nature-worshipping secularists a few years ago, I irreverently recommended turning the Grand Canyon into a garbage dump. I jokingly explained that it would hold all of America’s rubbish for the next five hundred years, thus solving a major urban problem. Their resulting anger, verging on violence, was not pretty. I learned my lesson: don’t mock other people’s religions.
A sheltered inlet is more natural than a sparkling marina. A lush forest is more natural than a factory. But developed harbors and industrial areas are just as valuable. We need to restore balance. Recognizing that man-made objects are also holy would be a start.
God wants us to overcome nature, both our own and that of the natural world. Gobbling one’s food is natural, so is relieving oneself wherever one happens to be. Both these behaviors are quite common in nature. Humans are to overcome their natural tendencies and replace them with a higher order of behavior. We are also to try to improve on nature, and the currently popular notion that somehow untouched nature is of a higher value than improved nature is a mistake. A skyscraper is as eloquent testimony to God as is a mountain. Perhaps it is more as it reveals the unique creativity He imparted to man. Believing the opposite is both a consequence of secularization and a return to primitive pantheism.
Another consequence of our culture’s slide into secularism is a rejection of money as yet another instance of human interference with nature. Wicked, uncaring people turn empty land into single-family dwellings, they build factories, and dredge harbors. They perform these sinful acts of evil using a devilish tool called money and they are motivated in these actions by insatiable greed for that very thing.
The truth is that just like skyscrapers, harbors, and factories, money is compelling evidence that humans are not just another species found on the surface of this planet. No animal has ever contrived anything resembling those structures and certainly no animal has devised a currency.
Our claim upon money depends on our willingness and ability to improve on nature. Gold must be extracted from the earth; trees must be fashioned into homes and furniture; oil must be pumped and refined for fuel and thus because of man-made creativity life for all is improved.