Toads, Jellyfish and Little Millenialist Heresies

Nature documentaries have the unpleasant after-effect of making me want to hyperventilate into a paper bag. It can be a bit overwhelming to look around our home planet and realise just how badly we’ve messed it up. And then I received just one more reminder how much silly heresies have played their part in ecological disaster and discrediting the Faith.

I watched a doccie about the Cane Toads that they introduced into Australia in the thirties in order to help cope with a cane beetle problem. These toads were known to eat the bugs in South America, so scientists got 100 of them to see whether they would be able to save Australia from sugar-crop losses. Unfortunately the toads couldn’t be bothered to eat the bad bugs up in the sugarcane when there were easy-to-catch good bugs on the floor. Declaring the experiment a failure, the scientists responsibly killed the alien species off, and used pesticides. No, of course not. They turned around and walked away, assuming that something else would clean up their mess.

Predictably, nothing did, and the toads found that they quite enjoyed Australia. You see, these toads are highly poisonous. When you squeeze them, white poison drips from their pores. Their tadpoles are poisonous. I think even the eggs are poisonous. In South America, snakes and Caiman have developed an immunity to them over time. But in Australia, everything that eats them dies; birds, snakes, fish, even larger animals like pigs. And so the toads have swept across Australia killing so much of the diverse and amazing wildlife found there and nowhere else.

This week I watched another show about jellyfish. It showed why the Box Jellyfish is such a successful killer. Along its amazing tentacles are millions of nematocysts: poison cells with spring-loaded needles that shoot out at bullet speed when activated, injecting the victim. Now, snake poison usually has one or other effect, either to destroy cells or blood or the nervous system. Box Jellyfish poison does it all, which makes it nearly impossible to create an antivenom.

Another jellyfish has been discovered that is able to kill humans, very painfully, as it turns out. The kicker is that this little guy is only a centimetre or two across, and so nearly invisible to us in the open water. Before it was captured and confirmed to be the culprit by a scientist, victims of its sting reported not seeing anything in the water, and so the pain, stomach cramps and (sometimes) death were attributed to a ‘syndrome’.

A third kind of jellyfish in Japanese waters is up to 12 feet across. It used to only bloom every forty years or so, but in the last few years, there have been regular blooms, with tonnes of these jellyfish turning up in fishing nets instead of the desired catch, which they had already eaten.

All of these jellyfish are growing exponentially in numbers and being found in regions to which they were previously unknown. Why? Because they enjoy areas rich in plankton, and, unlike fish, they don’t need much oxygen to survive. And where do you find such habitats? In the heavily polluted ‘dead-zones’ that our industrial rivers have produced, such as the Chinese Yellow Sea. Furthermore, changes in water temperature and chemical composition function as ‘shocks’ that are catalysts for jellyfish to bloom. So, once again, pollution has meant that we’ve killed off fish populations and provoked far-too-frequent growth of jellyfish swarms, which in turn predate upon unnaturally high numbers of the fish that had managed to survive human abuse.

So it’s safe to say that I’m more than a little downhearted about what we’ve done to God’s world, and how difficult it is to make even the slightest reversal of any of the thousand-upon-thousand problems of the kind I’ve just mentioned. And so I was downright angry yesterday when I read this:

Was a fundamentalist Christian like George W. Bush trying to hasten the Second Coming by the war in Iraq? That might sound paranoid, but then James Watt, secretary for the interior in the Ronald Reagan administration, happily approved cutting down swathes of forest on exactly that basis. “He said: ‘What’s the point, the Second Coming is imminent, why conserve now?’ ” recalls Dennett. [From http://www.witness.co.za/index.php?showcontent&global%5B_id%5D=21282%5D

Now, I’m not taking a shot at premillenialists. If you believe that the Second Coming is predictable, that’s your call. I’m rather more convinced that ‘no one knows the day or the hour’, and that our job is to always be vigilant and to ‘keep watch’, because the day will come ‘like a thief in the night’.

What is unacceptable is the belief that God will take responsiblity for our messes and will fix the problems that we’ve caused with our greed and stupidity. Some Christians actually rejoice when they see the disaster that is our world, because they’re sure that means that Jesus is waiting in the wings. God tasked us with stewardship of the Earth — we were supposed to improve it — and he judges his servants by their faithfulness with what they’ve been given. How is Millenial carelessness going to be judged on that score, even if Jesus does bail us out before our resources and ecosystems collapse and millions die? 

When Thessalonian believers quit their jobs to wait for the Second Coming and became a financial burden to everyone else, Paul told them to get off their backsides and work, or else starve. Christians are always looking for ways to ‘baptise’ their sin and ignorance so that they can call it faith, and we’ve done it again in allowing the Second Coming to be an excuse for greed and irresponsibility. We are now heirs to a planet that is coming to pieces because we have not balanced our take with what the earth can afford to give. And once again there is a clear finger pointing at a destructive Christian heresy that we failed to stamp out. We’re all responsible for that.

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