Earth Etude for Elul 9: Fear God, Love Earth

by Andy Oram

The terrifying spread of COVID-19 has also led to a spike in gun sales in the United States, causing an estimated increase of anywhere from 70 percent to 501 percent in different areas. Less notice has been given to bicycle sales, but demand here has also accelerated somewhere between 121 and 700 percent. 

A bicycle is an optimistic approach to the pandemic. Perhaps buyers recognize that public transportation is risky and either don’t own a car or don’t want to burden the streets with one. They may have more leisure time for touring, or may be trying to replace a physical work-out after the closure of their gym. Bicycles show a respect for the Earth, the people in it, and the physical health of the rider.

Gun purchases represent an adaptation as negative as bicycles are positive. I am not opposed to gun purchases in principle: guns can be useful and sometimes necessary. But as a reaction to the pandemic, they are not only irrational but deleterious.

Americans are buying guns out of fear. They tell news sites that they anticipate the collapse of basic civilizational functions such as food supplies. Obviously, they also fear what their neighbors would do in the face of that collapse.

But fear paralyzes. Lurking behind guns, people lose their appreciation for the acts they could take to sustain the structures and systems that in turn sustain them. These structures and systems include the extensive roots of plants, the rich swells of the sea, the swarms of creatures completing the cycle, and the workers who prepare food for consumption. Gun owners may be capable of love for the Earth, but their fear can crowd out this consciousness, leaving only consciousness of the risks they face when life-giving systems fail.

The Jewish tradition has a response to this fear. Kabbalah centers this response on the injunction found throughout Jewish texts to fear God. If we focus all our fear on God, we overcome the everyday fears of hunger, pain, and violence. After all, what is really worth fearing? Shouldn’t we worry more about the potential disappearance of life on Earth than any of our everyday fears?

In short, fear of God frees us from the fears that drive us to irrational and deleterious behavior. Embrace the fear of God and you don’t need a gun to fight a virus. With fear of God, you may even learn to love the Earth.

Andy Oram is a writer and editor in the computer field. His editorial projects have ranged from a legal guide covering intellectual property to a graphic novel about teenage hackers. Print publications where his writings have appeared include The Economist, the Journal of Information Technology & Politics, and Vanguardia Dossier. He has lived in the Boston, Massachusetts area for more than 30 years. His poems have been published in Ají, Arlington Literary Journal, DASH, Genre: Urban Arts, Offcourse, Panoply, Soul-Lit, and Speckled Trout Review.

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