Friday, August 21, 2009

Nature Deficit Disorder

There has been a sea change in our culture in the past sixty years. This change has affected the ways in which science is able to strengthen faith, particularly for our young people. Contributing mightily to the change was the onset of television at mid-century, the social ferment which began in the 1960s, and the plugged-in electronic era of the last two decades. This is far from a complete catalog of causative factors in the societal sea change.

Corresponding with these changes has been a retreat from natural play, particularly in the outdoors, by our children. Richard Louv in The Last Child in the Woods—Saving Our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder, has skillfully described the problem. In the introduction to his book, Louv says natural play for children seems like a quaint artifact, and intimacy with nature is fading.

Our church leaders and Christian educators have not been particularly successful waging the battle for the minds and hearts of our young people using the terms of discussion set by our contemporary society. There are other battle venues where Christian parents and educators could be more successful in their efforts to teach children a world view that would bring them closer to belief in the reality of God. Immersion in nature is one of those significant venues. Of course, there are many other benefits.

The book of Proverbs uses “My son” many times, suggesting the importance of the mentoring of a parent or parent figure for a younger person. In those times child-raising parents did not face the same instructional challenges we face today. Children and adults now spend enormous amounts of time cloistered indoors, watching movie DVDs, television, video games, or on various electronic social networks. Children of Bible times had far less to occupy themselves indoors. Those children were outdoors, perhaps learning the nature lessons of Job 36-41 along with their work and play. Before 1950, our children were experiencing adventure, natural phenomena, and wildlife outdoors, learning how nature works and how living things behave--creating, savoring, and enjoying. Almost any person past retirement age could confirm the adventurous outdoor dimension of their childhood years.

Richard Louv refers to “the contribution of nature to the spiritual life of the child, and therefore to the adult.” He quotes Paul Gorman, director of the National Religious Partnership for the Environment, an ecumenical group: “The extent that we separate our children from creation is the extent to which we separate them from the creator—from God.” Gorman also states, “The purpose of creation really is to bring us—children and all of us—closer to the creator.”

My experience points to nature as a powerful means of affirming the reality of God. Nature is not God, as some might claim. However, nature reveals many qualities of the Creator, suffused as it is with beauty, order, and design. Nature is tangible, not abstract. Other evidences of God’s reality may not be so tangible, such as the evidence of historical revelation. Therefore, we should take full advantage of our children’s positive responses to the tangible evidences for the Creator’s existence in nature, along with their experience of healthy enjoyment.