Why arguments based on what is 'natural', in food, medicine, and society at large, are appeals to a false idol - our oldest, most persistent superstition. In this sparking and mind-expanding essay, a scholar of religion shows where that ancient delusion came from and how we can at last break free of it.
Without our realising it, a single, slippery concept has become a secular deity throughout the modern industrial world. We make terrible sacrifices in its name: of our money, our health, and our planet. That deity is nature itself.
From supermarket shoppers to evolutionary biologists, from atheists to pastors, from Alex Jones to Gwyneth Paltrow, we are all prone to the intuitive faith that life should be lived 'naturally'.
But nature can't teach us how to live. If we try to stick to its imagined commands, eschewing human artifice in pursuit of Edenic purity, we jeopardise the environment, our health, and our society (we also waste a lot of money on pots of weird slime). It is time to accept our profound responsibility to shape the world of which our technology and our selves are wholly a part.
Alan Levinovitz is an assistant professor at James Madison University, Virginia. His writing has appeared in the Atlantic, Slate, Salon, Wired, The Believer, and The Millions.