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"Had we but world enough, and time..." *
Practical and Theological Ecology2/09/2007 01:37:24
Whether to address a problem theologically is an open question in the secularized world, because now it is possible to say that there are areas of life that religion is not relevant too. This is of particular concern in areas like evolutionary biology and Middle East politics, where the contributions of theology often seem to have only made existing problems more difficult than they might "otherwise" be. On global warming, the public language is still up for grabs. There are religious groups working to make it a religious concern and secular groups that don't really bother. My sense though is that if religion is taken slightly more broadly than we are sometimes used to, as the lines of connection between a culture's "absolute concern" and its day to day behavior, the environment must become, in this broad sense as well as in narrow sectarian senses, a religious issue.
It is true that ostensibly the problems and solutions to the environmental crisis look positively profane. It is caused by the overextension of human greed and expansionism, by industrial economics and the triumph of short-term thinking. The solutions, also, seem to have little to do with things like praying and theological speculation: waste less, build with attention to sustainability, invest in non-polluting sources of energy. These are pretty plain to see. So why aren't we doing it?
The crafting of motivation, I suspect, is a particularly religious problem because it means making intuitive the counterintuitive connection between a metaphysical conviction and human behavior. The way one group of people understands God causes them to own two dishwashers, while the way another group understands God brings them to avoid killing animals. Through religious training, ritual, and belief, a community can craft its way of life so that it reflects what it understands to be the desires of God.
First, I suppose, an environmental theology begins with the belief that the world is worth saving, that there is a sacredness to the world. This is a sensible idea that should be welcome in most human religions because to a large extent it is nearly always there. If there is any uncertainty, now is the time for theologians to ask, because now is when we really have the opportunity to mess up big time by destroying the earth and damaging its capacity to sustain us. If the sacred givenness of the earth makes sense, great, we have something to work with. If not, stick to more practical reasons for saving it.
Second, connect that reaffirmed belief with some sensible, effective practices. Educate clergy so they can preach on environmental matters. Bring in speakers. Demonstrate to people the sacred importance of creating sustainable workplaces and homes and give them the ideas and tools they need to do so. Sustainability is a whole way of life, and as a result, the whole community needs to do it together, supporting and encouraging one another. That is why it needs to be religious: because it concerns the whole way a society functions and the set of values it takes to heart when making decisions. Best of all, the discipline, and the austerity, that sustainability expects should be at home in many familiar religious traditions. It is a kind of Franciscan voluntary poverty and Muslim jihad. Sustainability shouldn't take whole lot of austerity, just a little that anyone can manage, particularly with a community and a sacred framework. At the same time, while forcing people to be more attentive to the way they live their daily lives, a movement like this might reinvigorate a spirituality of the everyday, the sense of God that normal people experience in normal lives.
Really it seems to me that protecting the environment needs to be taken up as a sacred duty because that is exactly what it is. How amazing that this doesn't seem to be common knowledge or common teaching. It is so basic, and something so easy for us all to agree on. Then again, maybe the reason we don't even bother with it is just that: there really isn't much to argue about.
re:Practical and Theological Ecology - 2/10/2007 23:59:31
re:Practical and Theological Ecology - 2/11/2007 00:00:15