Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Scared yet?

Regular readers will have noted the increased frequency with which I’ve been posting links related to the various ecological and resource crises facing contemporary industrial civilisation. Examples can be found here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here.

Some readers have expressed in comments or in private some concern over these posts. They wonder whether (a) I have lost hope for the world (b) whether drawing attention to such information encourages others to lose hope (c) whether drawing attention to such information is a distraction from the good news about Jesus or its replacement with an ecological gospel. In short, am I scaring people unnecessarily? Have I become an alarmist or fear-mongerer?

I write about these things and provide links because this is the world in which we live and love, where feelings of fear, guilt and impotence are both common and have some basis in reality. To ignore this fact is to remain disconnected from where people are at (and from trends that I believe are only likely to increase as the years go on). There is no virtue in ignorance. Yet our situation and these feelings are not beyond the scope of God's redemptive action in Christ. Articulating why the good news of Christ is good news today amidst ecological and resource crises is a significant part of my purpose in writing this blog.

Does this mean I think we shouldn't be scared of the threats that face us? No and yes. Many of us need to be far more alarmed than we currently are, to wake up from our comforting illusions and be roused from our apathy and confront the bleak realities of our present situation. But for those who are already paralysed by fears and cannot bear to hear any more, we need to hear again the words of the risen Christ to his friends: fear not. We need our fears put to death, not so as to leave us unfeeling and untouchable, but so that they can rise as a deep loving concern that shoulders the burdens of our neighbour's fear out of compassion and joy.

And so anxiety is indeed a common response to taking these threats seriously, as are anger and despair. Indeed, I think that a healthy response to our situation involves (for many people) some intense grief. Recognition of the scale, complexity and intractability of our predicament often means the "death" of certain cherished images of the future. Grief over lost futures can be quite real, even if the futures imagined were never really ours to claim or expect in the first place.

While the particular shape and challenges of our situations are novel in various ways, the wisdom of relinquishing idealised futures is perennial: "And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?" (Matthew 6.27). This doesn't mean the silencing of the voice of concern or prudence, but the transformation of our fears from a paralysing contraction of the self in a fruitless quest for security to an expansive love for neighbour that seeks to preserve what can be kept, to grieve what will be lost, to discern what we ought to have abandoned long ago and to discover a treasure that does not fade.

How is such a transformation possible? This is where Jesus Christ has good news for us today.

7 comments:

Peter Lockhart said...

Keep up the good work Byron. I am reading "Requiem for a Species" at the moment and find the links and post you share very helpful. In the end our hope is in Christ but the proclamation of the good news comes with the hard edge of judgemnent for where we are getting it wrong. This blog got a mention in last Sunday's sermon as I preached on greed as idolatry (Col 3) suggesting that our whol culture, its economy and social relationships, are built on a denial of identity as redeemed and hidden in Christ, and the notion that coveting is good - advertising trains us to covet. Thanks for the work that you do.

Peter

One Salient Oversight said...

Just because we believe and preach the Gospel doesn't mean that shouldn't tell that idiot standing on the railway tracks that a train is coming.

Ian Packer said...

Thanks for you post, Byron. I think we need to be more concerned about these matters even if sometimes we (ourselves, our households, our churches, our wider communities) can't see what to do in short term that is more than a pointer in the direction to go. The 'machine', the 'system', whatever, sometimes feels too big. So I take heart in the 'Fear not'. Yet I am concerned that some hear the 'Fear not' as 'Don't worry about it, it'll all work out somehow'.

byron smith said...

Peter - That is a very interesting book. I've meant to blog more about it. I put up three quotes back here, here and here, but felt I wanted to engage with his final chapter (which is the most interesting of all, and most directly relevant to my work), but haven't yet done so.

OSO - Indeed, though the your metaphor makes it seem like jumping off the tracks is relatively easy and straightforward. Also, rather than saying "Just because ... doesn't mean we shouldn't..." I think we can be much stronger and say "Precisely because ... means we should ....!"

Ian - More concern without knowledge of what to do seems to itself be one of the fears many commentators have of talking about these matters (i.e. of fostering an enervating anxiety), yet I want to argue that the fact we don't have "solutions" (and that such solutions may not even exist) doesn't mean sticking our head in the sand is healthy. If we are going to die, it is better to know about it rather than live on in "blissful" ignorance. Despite the preferences of some, this is true personally (knowledge of a terminal and untreatable diagnosis is better than ignorance of it), and socially.

Your concern about "fear not" turning into "forget about it" is precisely one of the things I'm hoping to address in some of these posts (both past and future). The gospel is not liberation from fear and guilt into a life of unthinking selfish indulgence, but liberation into love and service of neighbour, which may well involve shouldering their burdens; out of joy and peace taking deadly seriously the deadly threats we all face (not just to our physical lives and our society, but also the threats to our souls and churches from burdens of paralysing fear and guilt).

gbroughto said...

this is true personally (knowledge of a terminal and untreatable diagnosis is better than ignorance of it), and socially

which is why what you post has such integrity... and those who applauded your faith and courage while ill cannot really turn around and accuse you of merely peddling fear and doom regarding our ecological illness.

Similar challenges. Similar questions. Same faith. Same courage. One Lord

byron smith said...

Thanks Geoff. It's true that being sick has shaped my approach to these matters, which is probably not surprising, because it was while I had lots of time recovering that I really began to get a grasp on the scale of the problems we face globally. Personal and corporate fears began to echo each other and trying to develop good responses to one gave me insight into the other.

jm said...

Byron, if you really want to scare people you could point out this report.