Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Darwin to 'Avatar': Religions Go Natural; and a Jewish Holiday Helps Young People Reconnect to Earth

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Darwin to 'Avatar': Religions Go Natural; and a Jewish Holiday Helps Young People Reconnect to Earth

Article excerpt


Yes, Bobby Drashin says, he wanted to help those nine children learn how to properly plant pansies last Sunday.

"It was more than just 'here's the stuff, dig a hole,' " Drashin said about the gardening lesson he gave the kids at the Chabad house in Ponte Vedra Beach.

But it was much more than just planting.

"There's something mystical going on," said Drashin, 62, who's become passionate about growing trees and plants since retiring from a career in advertising and journalism. "I tried to communicate that awe and mystery to the kids."

Tu B'Shvat, the Jewish holiday celebrating trees, was the occasion. The kids at Chabad at the Beaches were being taught all about the festival, which begins at nightfall today.

Drashin said the holiday reminds him that "you really see God in it when you're growing things."

As societies around the world have become more Earth-conscious in recent decades, holidays like Tu B'Shvat have become vehicles for communicating the sacred aspects of nature.

Those keeping tabs on the trend say the box office success of "Avatar," in which an alien race is connected physically and spiritually to their planet, shows that society is embracing nature-based spiritualities. The development is being greeted warmly or with caution, depending on the perspective.

Nature-related spiritualities have become increasingly widespread and influential as environmental consciousness has spread worldwide, said Bron Taylor, professor of religion and nature at the University of Florida.

The movement began with Darwin's theory of evolution, which for some proves a link between human beings and other species, said Taylor, author of the newly released "Dark Green Religion: Nature Spirituality and the Planetary Future."

"What we are finding increasingly is a blending of spiritualities of belonging and connection to nature with contemporary science," Taylor said.

The trend, while welcomed by some, raises concern for others who see it as an erosion of orthodox faith, Taylor said.

The Jacksonville-based Florida Baptist Witness newspaper published a column recently urging Christians to be aware of the "Animistic world view" contained in "Avatar."

"Nature is not a living entity in the way that is pictured in this movie," guest columnist Freddy Davis wrote. "Man does not have the kind of integral and interactive connection with nature in the way that this film depicts."

Taylor said religious conservatives are right to feel threatened by the movement, which is also behind a rediscovery of environmentally friendly themes within world religions like Christianity, Judaism and Islam, Taylor said.

"There has been a great deal of soul-searching in the major traditions about environmental responsibility," Taylor said. …

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