Recycling Is Garbage

Maybe she’s right. Maybe parents and children correctly see the intangible value of recycling lessons. But as children pursue their moral education, as they learn to ponder the fate of the earth, it wouldn’t hurt for them to also study, once again, that recycling scene in “Pilgrim’s Progress.” If Bunyan were an administrator in today’s schools, he might call it a lesson in prioritizing. The thrifty muckraker, intent on his compost pile, doesn’t notice a figure hovering overhead, offering to trade him a golden celestial crown for his rake. This scene is observed by the pilgrim, who consults a helpful guide named the Interpreter.

“This is a figure of a man of this world, is it not, good sir?” the pilgrim asks.

“Thou hast said the right,” the Interpreter replies, “and his muck-rake doth show his carnal mind.” The Interpreter points out the waste on the ground and sadly explains that, for the muckraker, “Things here are counted the only things substantial.” The muckraker has forgotten that there is more to life than hoarding natural resources. His recycling has become the most primitive form of materialism: the worship of materials.

“Earthly things, when they are with power upon men’s minds, quite carry their hearts away from God,” the Interpreter says. The pilgrim cries out in horror.

“O! deliver me from this muck-rake.”

A version of this article appears in print on June 30, 1996, Section 6, Page 24 of the National edition with the headline: Recycling Is Garbage. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe

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