Friday, May 11, 2007

Would Jesus vote green? VI

Sorrow
Once we move beyond systematic denial of environmental destruction, we reach the second common response: sorrow.

Upon coming to accept (at least some of) these claims as true, we are filled with sadness. It is sad that human action (and inaction) continue to cause so much destruction and senseless waste. This is a natural and right response, since we’re really losing things of that are of great value. In particular, I find the rate of extinction very sad, because while most other forms of environmental damage are reversible, (sometimes only in the very long term), with the extinction of a species, once it’s gone, it’s gone for good.

It is not only the animals and plants that suffer from our environmental irresponsibility. Humans suffer too, especially those too poor to move and too marginalised to have a significant political voice. Poisoned rivers, degraded soil, more frequent and more severe extreme weather patterns – these and more cause incalculable human suffering too. This is far more serious than not being able to water your garden or having to pay a little more for electricity.

Sorrow at what is lost and sorrow at what it costs those least able to afford it – this response resonates with a deeply Christian way of viewing the world. We only grieve the loss of what is valuable. Fundamental to Christianity’s take on the environment is that the world God made was good, very good. Grief is the natural correlate of love, when the object of love is harmed or threatened.

And our sadness also accords with a second basic Christian belief: there is something deeply wrong with God’s world. The beauty is marred. There are cracks in the abundant diversity. The health of the planet is threatened by a global disease.

The Apostle Paul teaches that to follow Christ, to be filled with his Spirit, is to grieve over the plight of creation, to groan in shared pain, to be discontent with the fractures in the world. Following Christ is not a recipe for a mindlessly happy escapism; we follow the one called the man of sorrows.

Yet grief alone is insufficient, not least because despite our best – or perhaps our worst, or simply our mediocre – efforts, despite pollution, soil degradation, climate change, the squandering of finite resources, mass extinction, despite all this, the world remains a good gift from God, filled with delight and things worth celebrating. Unless we take the time to stop, notice, enjoy and give thanks for all that surrounds us, we lose the very reason to grieve because we lose sight of the goodness of this gift.
Series: I; II; III; IV; V; VI; VII; VIII; IX; X; XI; XII; XIII.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

There seems to be the idea of nature = gift from God, but advanced civilization and economies are human creations and mostly to be measured by their ill effects. Why not celebrate God's gift of widespread wealth and health and PEACE (if you can believe it) unseen in millions of years of humanity's history. This rapid expansion has come at a ecological cost, but we are more able to compensate then at any other time of environmental change or mass extinction in history. The fact that you care about species extinction and not what you are going to eat this week is a privilege a gift from God given by means of civilization. Sorrow and concern are perhaps appropriate temporarily but in fifty years will seem to be simply the fad of the day. Like carrying on about the loss of the Dodo bird. It's just disproportionate to reality.

byron said...

Human culture and industry are a mixture of gift and rebellion, not always easily distinguishable. The wealth and stability of the few is often at the cost of suffering and conflict amongst the many The history of the 20thC doesn't seem to me to indicate peace unseen before in human history. While great prosperity is indeed a gift and there are many blessings for which I am thankful, I often wonder whether many of our present means of wealth generation will be seen as short-sighted by our children. I care about the creation that God has made because I care about civilisation, prosperity and peace (as well as for other reasons).

The fact that you care about species extinction and not what you are going to eat this week is a privilege a gift from God given by means of civilization.
Good point. I am indeed thankful that I have the luxury of caring about where my children's food might come from.

Massive grief over the loss of a single species may seem disproportionate, but have you looked seriously at the present rates of extinction worldwide? Try here.

we are more able to compensate then at any other time of environmental change or mass extinction in history.
What do you mean by compensate?

Anonymous said...

On compensating, I meant that we will preserve more species(or their DNA for the future) and more of our own species through any climate change event than was possible at any other point in history. There may be large populations that move or change lifestyles slowly but they won't likely die. We have machines, crop engineering, interior a/c, storm shelters, space vehicles, communication equipment, computer forecasting, etc. Neolithic man in the Ice Age had no chance like we do. We will cope.

The 20th century was episodically massively violent, but it was possible to kill so many people because domestic peace and prosperity had created large populations. Life before civilizations was "nasty, brutish, and short" as Hobbes said. You very likely would have died in childhood or been murdered in tribal warfare through 99% of humanity's history. I have read various studies which show violence/crime/war as a whole is in huge decline. But like climate change stuff, its all just statistics, I'll admit, albeit about the past not the future.

byron said...

Anon - thanks for your reply. If the present ecological crises (and I am speaking more broadly than merely climate change) are indeed caused by humanity, then our ability to cope better than neolithic humanity seems a little like saying that it's better to crash into another car at 100 km/h than it is to bump into someone while walking, because the car has seatbelts and airbags. That is, the scale and scope of the problem is itself a result of our technological success.

I am not comparing civilisation to pre-civilisation. I am not advocating a return to any previous stage of human civilisation. I am simply saying that our great successes have come at a huge price, and one that is worth being sad about. Please do read some of the articles at the link that I gave in my last comment.

I have read various studies which show violence/crime/war as a whole is in huge decline.
I'd be interested to see these if you could link to them.

Mikhaela said...

A non-trend following commenter Byron!


Perhaps the "drought" has broken??

Dave Lankshear said...

Yes, the trend has changed!

Anon - thanks for your reply. If the present ecological crises (and I am speaking more broadly than merely climate change) are indeed caused by humanity, then our ability to cope better than neolithic humanity seems a little like saying that it's better to crash into another car at 100 km/h than it is to bump into someone while walking, because the car has seatbelts and airbags. That is, the scale and scope of the problem is itself a result of our technological success.

OK, I admit it, you are better at this than me... that was a great reply.