Thursday, July 01, 2010

The heart of the problem with industrial society

"It is no longer possible to believe that any political or economic reform, or scientific advance, or technological progress could solve the life-and-death problems of industrial society. They lie too deep, in the heart and soul of everyone of us. It is there that the main work of reform has to be done - secretly, unobtrusively."

- E. F. Schumacher, Good Work.

The heart of the problem is the problem of the heart. It is in the selfishness and greed, the pride and stubbornness, the lovelessness and apathy, the gluttony and presumption of our hearts that ecological problems have their roots. Yes, ignorance has played a role. Good goals have been pursued with unintended consequences. But the ways in which they have been pursued, the priorities this has reflected and the unwillingness to change when the harm has become clear, are all matters of our basic orientation to ourselves, to life, to our neighbour and ultimately to God. And it is here in the heart that the real battle lies. Of course social structures, ingrained habits, and official policies are not unimportant, but unless there is a fundamental change of heart then other changes will be cosmetic (this is not to say that sometimes structural change might not proceed and contribute to a change of heart, simply that unless change is wholehearted, it is unlikely to last or be effective). And here again the gospel of Jesus Christ is good news, because in it we find healing for wounded hearts, courage for faltering hearts, focus for straying hearts, wisdom for foolish hearts and joy for tired hearts.


Anonymous said...

I'm not sure I agree with the premise.

If ecocities and New Urbanism are adopted, and the 'industrial ecosystem' perfected with clean energy, closed loop waste systems, super-recycling of all products, etc... might it not be that citizens of an ecologically sound society are not still selfish, godless gluttons?

It also seems that a lot of the damage society has done to the environment has been done so by largely 'Christian' societies.

Again, there are right wing Christian groups building their palatial churches and celebrating their 'God-given' fabulous lifestyles. And I'm not just talking about TV evangelists either, but the 'average' Western middle class Christian consuming their 'fair share' of 'God's bounty' (and who knows how we arrived at having that and not the African farmer that grew the coffee, etc?)

Conversely, some of the most passionately green eco-warriors I have met, while nice enough human beings, are also the most godless people I've ever met.

So to me the problem is an interaction between public policy, education, technological choices, city planning, and also but not entirely the stubborn greed of the human heart.

If I thought the only ecological solution was also a spiritual solution, I'd give up on activism right now.

byron smith said...

Dave, I agree and have affirmed that activism is important. I have clearly said that social structures and official policies cannot be ignored. I just don't think that a fear-driven ecological responsibility has the staying power to keep society going for more than a panic-stricken dash.

Notice, I do not assume that this work of reform is complete in Christians nor unstarted in godless pagans. It is a task common to all of us, simply one that requires the good news of grace to be able to sustain. That is my claim.