CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews/31 Aug) — I grew up in Bukidnon, a land-locked Province of Mindanao, where about 70 percent of the land area has an altitude of 500 meters above sea level. My “sweet Bukidnon home,” as the song goes, is gifted with “lovely mountains high” and grand forests. This initially explains why I love to climb mountains as part of enjoying God’s ecological gifts. The joy of climbing mountains nurtures my homegrown love for nature and strengthens my present ecological advocacy.
I am privileged to have climbed the peaks of Kitanglad and Kalatungan, two of the great mountain ranges in Bukidnon that serve as home to diverse wild plant and animal species. I thank my nature lover colleagues in the media apostolate for having been given the opportunity to climb Mt. Kitanglad (9,511 feet above sea level) with them in 2003. It was my first significant “romance with nature.” In the following year, we climbed Mt. Dulang-dulang (9,649 feet above sea level), one of the high elevation peaks in the Kitanglad Mountain Range, which is considered the second highest mountain of the Philippines.
The same group visited in April 2005 the beautiful waterfalls of Mt. Kalatungan, which is about six hours walk from Sitio San Guinto of Barangay Bacusanon, Pangantucan. Recently, in April 2014, some members of the original group decided to climb Mt. Kalatungan (9,265 feet above sea level) via Barangay Mendes—the northern side of Pangantucan municipality. The joy of reaching the peak of the mountain pushes us to sustain this interest as long as our health would allow.
From a distance, these great tropical mountains of Bukidnon simply look beautiful and refreshing, a scenery that could spontaneously evoke our aesthetic sense of joy and gratitude. However, as we get closer to the fascinating forests and dare to walk the challenging trails, we begin to realize that these mountains actually arouse a mixed feeling of terror and delight.
Let me highlight a bit the terrifying experience of mountain climbing. The immensity of the thick forest allows us to experience the wild aspects of enchanted nature which may awaken our instinct of self-preservation and capacity for survival. We experience this, especially, when we are under the gloomy shadows of gigantic trees. We feel so appropriately small when we are in the middle of the vast overwhelming mountains.
Looking at the bigger picture of our country, we can safely say that we are not completely strangers to the wild forces of nature. In fact, throughout its geological history, our country has been struggling against the terrifying wildness of nature due to our dangerous geographical location in the Pacific Ring of Fire. We experience that, aside from the threatening earthquakes brought about by active volcanoes, an average of 20 tropical storms hit the Philippines annually and around nine of them cross the land.
Today, more than ever, we are increasingly alarmed by the abnormal forces of typhoons and other ecological calamities as part of the undesirable effects of climate change. Arguably, the formation of stronger tropical storms that regularly strike our country is one of the bad ecological effects of the human-induced global warming. The presence of anthropogenic elements that abnormally alter the chemical composition of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere pushes nature to unleash its wild forces. Our experience of the wildness of nature reveals to us the dark side of the evolving cosmos.
How do we deal with the unfolding wildness of nature? Thomas Berry (1914-2009) reminds us that our historical mission as human beings is not to control or annihilate the wildness of nature. “Something in the wild depths of the human soul finds its fulfillment in the experience of nature’s wild moments.” Accordingly, what we really need now is to regulate the uncontrolled human activities that irresponsibly turn the natural wildness of the Earth into ecological catastrophes. We can still mitigate the human causes of ecological tragedies even as we strengthen our adaptation measures vis-à-vis the “new normal” situation.
It is unfortunate that many proponents of modernity tend to control nature with the use of science and technology. As we know, this anthropocentric attitude is a residue of the Enlightenment philosophy. We may recall that Francis Bacon (1561-1626) treated the Earth as a Mother to be subjugated, even to the point of pressing her to reveal her secrets. His contemporary, Rene Descartes (1596-1650), also arrogantly proclaimed to “render ourselves the masters and possessors of nature.” Both modern thinkers, as well as their followers today, compel us to tame and domesticate the Earth, as though the wild component of nature is necessarily undesirable. Consequently, modern proponents uncritically presume that human beings have a well-meaning mission to conquer and colonize the Earth.
Many people today subscribe to the modern ideology that tends to control nature under the pretext of stewardship. This is especially common among Christians who naively argue that this sense of stewardship is in keeping with the divine command to “subdue the Earth” and to have dominion over non-human creation. In effect, this distorted sense of stewardship has made us believe that wild nature is undesirable and less valuable unless and until it is touched by the exploitative labor of human hands.
From the perspective of English scientist James Lovelock, the modern assumption that human beings are called to tame and domesticate the wild nature appears to be highly pretentious and “flawed by unconscious hubris.” It is clear to Lovelock that the Earth, as a super-organism, has a natural capacity to regulate itself as recorded in the evolutionary history of life on Earth. He warns us not to exaggerate the importance of our human intervention, as though the Earth will not survive without us. He presumes that the Earth could regulate itself better than what our “technological fix” could offer to repair the damages of ecological crisis.
The foregoing critique seems to support the emerging religious perspective on creation. Many contemporary theologians feel the need to creatively retrieve the biblical attitude of respecting the wildness of nature, which duly recognizes “chaos” as originally part of God’s creation. The famous biblical scholar Richard Bauckham affirms that “God’s act of creation involves restricting the waters of chaos.” Moreover, in his commentary on the Book of Job, Bauckham points out that “God did not abolish these forces of chaos” but “just kept them within definite boundaries.” In that case, the wildness of nature may be seen as a constant manifestation of the presence of the primordial chaotic elements in creation. To survive, we should creatively dance with the wild rhythm of the evolving cosmos even as we journey towards the fullness of creation.
My limited experience with mountain climbing convinced me that we need to recognize the intrinsic value of nature—including its wild components. The emerging Deep Ecology movement affirms that the natural world is there for its own sake, not only for the benefits of humanity. Hence, as we climb mountains, we must overcome the disposition of a conqueror or colonizer who tends to control nature in the name development. That anthropocentric disposition does not respect the non-human inhabitants of the wilderness and would not allow us to experience what Rudolf Otto (1869-1937) calls mysterium tremendum et fascinans—the terrifying yet fascinating presence of a mysterious Other. Like mystics, mountain climbers should respect and treasure the unspeakable element in their encounter with wild nature that civilization cannot provide. Indeed, the joy of encountering the wild nature is essentially part of becoming truly human.
(MindaViews is the opinion section of MIndaNews. Reynaldo D. Raluto is a Roman Catholic priest of the Diocese of Malaybalay. He teaches systematic theology and serves as Dean of Studies at St. John Vianney Theological Seminary, Cagayan de Oro City)