The Icelandic Forestry Service is encouraging people to hug trees while social distancing measures prevent them from hugging other people …. Forest rangers in Hallormsstaður National Forest in East Iceland have been diligently clearing snow-covered paths to ensure that locals can enjoy the great outdoors without coming in too close a contact with other guests, but can also get up close and personal with their forest friends. “When you hug [a tree], you feel it first in your toes and then up your legs and into your chest and then up into your head,” enthuses forest ranger Þór Þorfinnsson. “It’s such a wonderful feeling of relaxation and then you’re ready for a new day and new challenges…. People should take their time, Þór says, to reap the full benefits of their tree-hugging. “Five minutes is really good, if you can give yourself five minutes of your day to hug [a tree], that’s definitely enough,” he says.”3
It seems that Ranger Þór is promoting tree-hugging for some kind of emotional-therapeutic benefit. Egocentric show-offs might try tree-hugging just to gain attention (for acting silly in public). However, Ranger Þór is endorsing tree-hugging to “feel good”— perhaps to distract some from their feelings of disorientation or worry, as the world changes threateningly in perilous times.
This seems goofy, yet not as extreme as tree-hugging done by those who venerate and embrace “ancient trees.” Those people act as if ancient trees are mystical-spiritual “grandmothers” whose wisdom and love somehow emanates upon those humans who reverently embrace them.4 But for nature-worshippers, religious tree-hugging is for absorbing “ancient wisdom”, an animistic substitute for seeking wisdom from God.5 Substituting nature for God, of course, is idolatry.6 Actually, nature worship, whether pantheistic or polytheistic, is nothing new—yet nature worship has not gone extinct either.4,7 It is idolatry to gratefully “adore” them, as if they deserve credit and thanks for blessing us with air, fruit, nuts, and wood; it is equally looney to confess one’s sins to potted plants, an inane and idolatrous misplacement of moral accountability.7
But the folly of nature-worshippers should not distract us from appreciating the value of trees—and thanking God for making trees.1
So, go ahead and take a nature hike—with family or by yourself—and appreciate God’s Creatorship as you look at His many marvels of creation, including the trees.8 But reserve your hugs for your family and friends.
1. Johnson, J. J. S. Arbor Day: Planting Trees in April. Creation Science Update. Posted on ICR.org April 24, 2020, accessed May 4, 2020.
2. Critics of Genesis have tried to use so-called “annual growth rings” to discredit the Bible’s accuracy, suggesting that tree rings require more post-Flood time than the Bible reports—but this notion fails when real science refutes the supposedly annual character of tree growth rings. Dr. John Morris notes: “But how valid is the assumption of one ring per year in a climate where tree-growing conditions are variable? … Scientists have observed that numerous ‘normal’ conditions can produce an extra ring or no ring at all. Weather was fingered as the most ‘guilty’ culprit. Unusual storms with abundant rainfall interspersed with dry periods can produce multiple rings, essentially one per major storm. Thus, the basic assumption of tree ring dating is demonstrably in error.” Morris, J. 2012. Tree Ring Dating. Acts & Facts. 41(10): 15.
3. Kyzer, L. 2020. Forest Service Recommends Hugging Trees While You Can’t Hug Others. Iceland Review. Posted on IcelandReview.com April 10, 2020, accessed May 4, 2020.
4. In years past, this author has served as onboard lecturer (ecology, geography, and history) for four different cruise ships touring Southeast Alaska, visiting coastal areas previously dominated by Alaskan Native tribes (including Tlingits, Haidas, and Tsimshians). Even now animistic tribal religions are sometimes expressed by tribesfolk who adoringly hug ancient trees (called “grandmothers”) in efforts to gain arboreal wisdom and ancestral “love.”
5. James 1:5-7.
6. Romans 1:21-25.
7. Compare Johnson, J. J. S. 2016. Norse and Germanic Mythology. In World Religions and Cults: Moralistic, Mythical and Mysticism Religions, vol. 2. B. Hodge, R. Patterson, eds. Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 271-288. Also see Johnson, J. J. S. New York Seminarians Worship Plants. Creation Science Update. Posted on ICR.org January 7, 2020, accessed May 4, 2020.
8. Not all Icelanders are promoting tree-hugging; some simply recommend taking nature hikes in accordance with whatever opportunities you may have, in light of present circumstances. See Ćirić, J. 2020. Iceland’s National Parks Prepare to Welcome Local Tourists This Summer. Iceland Review. Posted on IcelandReview.com April 29, 2020, accessed May 4, 2020.
*Dr. Johnson is Associate Professor of Apologetics and Chief Academic Officer at the Institute for Creation Research.