Putting God to the Test

Harry Welty

Deep sea amphipod full of industrial goodness.
Deep sea amphipod full of industrial goodness.

The devil tested Jesus as he fasted in the wilderness for 40 days. The devil told him that if he jumped from the highest pinnacle of Jerusalem’s temple the angels would catch him and bear him away to safety. That would certainly have been a lot more impressive for Israel than one more Roman crucifixion.

Jesus didn’t take the bait. In Luke 12 he tells the devil “…Do not put your Lord God to the test.” 
I can’t help but wonder if we today aren’t putting God to another test by trusting that modern industry’s angels will save us from ourselves. Two of Tinsel Towns most hallowed movies spelled out the as yet unrecognized threat. 
In 1946 the Christmas classic, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” George Bailey is offered his freedom from suffocating, Bedford Falls, by a friend about to make millions in the postwar plastic’s boom. But dutiful George sacrifices his dreams to save his beleaguered little town from the parasitic plutocrat Mr. Potter.

And in 1968’s classic, “The Graduate,” Mrs. Robinson’s husband passes on the single magic word “Plastics!” to college graduate Benjamin Bradley while his wife swishes her feet languidly in the pool. It would be left to someone other than George or Ben to produce our plastic throw-away necessities.
Oh, how they have accumulated. Six years back I was astounded by the plastic trash spreading out to the horizon on the Navajo reservation north of the Grand Canyon. Forty years earlier on a family drive west I’d seen the occasional rusting car behind their hogans but otherwise the desert had been pristine. 

I saw more of the same last year in the desert around Bullhead City, Arizona. And that debris paled compared to the of heaps of uncollected trash I snapped pictures of in Palestine’s share of the Holy Land. It was manna from hell. Anyone wondering where the Pacific garbage patch,” double the size of Texas, came from has only to remember the Hollywood classics. It came from the business opportunities dangled in front of George Baily and Ben Braddock.

The glory of the unending rows plastic bag weather vanes pinned to the barbwire fences along our nation’s highways rests in their utility. They are stubbornly resistant to decay even as the elements tatter them to shreds. The smaller they become the easier it becomes for their remnants to be flushed into the sea where the littlest scraps go sight unseen. And the bigger pieces? Stinging Portuguese man-o-wars that blow across the ocean have nothing on plastic bags. They are woefully outnumbered. 

Whatever its’ size, plastic becomes empty meals for everything from krill to blue whales lodging in everything’s gut, until death does it part. Passing from gut to gut it eventually rains down and create a carpet of indigestible industrial sediment on the ocean floors. Then its consumed by the cousins of terrestrial wood lice that hide under our patio stones. Of course, you don’t have to go six miles down to find plastic. It washes up in the guts of dead whales, it balls around sea turtles and it collects on sea atolls next to the carcasses of dead albatrosses who ate plastic filled fish.

Plastic is but one of the environmental horsemen of the apocalypse. One of the horsemen is concrete which prevents the Earth from soaking up rain water. Another is insecticide which may explain the plummeting populations of Earth’s insects. The horsemen include drugs we humans excrete and survives water filtration plants to alter the gender of fish, frogs and reptiles that live in it. And prosperity itself plays a part. Fish populations are declining precipitously in an ocean exploited by the newly middle class of Asia and Africa. The “Sixth Extinction” is on. Ah, but our windshields are no longer so heavily bug splattered in late summer. That’s a plus.

There is no guarantee that when Antarctica melts the ice will dilute our problems away. Half the world’s population lives near the sea next to their sea level landfills. I’ve watched vast flocks of seagulls and vultures circling Florida’s 228 foot-tall Mt. Trashmore where every day 3,500 to 10,000 tons of trash are dumped. It’s one of Florida’s highest points but when the water rises its contents will erode into our grandchildren’s ocean. 

The churches that preach the “prosperity gospel” still think we live in George Bailey’s world. Their pulpits don’t explain that their prosperity might simply be the devil’s assurance that God will send angels to catch us when we fall from prosperity. It’s not so much God putting us to the test. It’s us testing God.

Harry Welty is a local eccentric and perennial candidate for public office in Duluth who also pontificates on his blog: www.lincolndemocrat.com.