Friday, January 19, 2007

The End of Suburbia IV

Peak Oil: denial (continued)
Way back in November, I was writing on Peak Oil (and here). You might think that my recent condition has distracted me from this issue. In one sense, yes, it has. But as I reflect upon it, I think there are many similarities between having cancer and facing the possibility of Peak Oil. In both cases, there is a limited resource (Oil, time) in which there is uncertainty over just how much might be left, the dead end possibilities of denial, blind optimistic 'faith' (which is really no faith at all), getting distracted from the main game, or despair.

Blind faith
In my previous post, I argued that blind faith in the market or God's protection were inadequate responses. Instead, Christians are liberated from fear and so can face the truth, whatever it might be found to be. The truth is not easy to find on this question. Competing experts telling us different things. Of course, it is possible that even the appearance of dispute can help one side or the other. Yet what to do in this case?

A distraction?
Some Christians might consider such things a distraction, from the real issue of preaching the gospel. In one sense, yes, it is quite possible for secondary concerns to make the church forget its raison d'etre: witnessing to Christ crucified, celebrating his resurrection and awaiting his return. However, it is not the case that 'secondary' concerns mightn't themselves become a cause of unfaithfulness when ignored: much of the church in Nazi Germany considered Hitler's Aryan clause to be a distracting non-gospel issue.

For those who start doing a little research and find the stats convincing, a fourth common response is despair. The future seems bleak and hopeless. Globalised civilisation, addicted to cheap oil, mightn't survive in anything like its present form, and what is left may be so unrecognisable that those who survive (which may only be a small percentage of the world's present population on some estimates) find themselves in a post-apocalyptic landscape desperately scrabbling for bare necessities in a post-industrial neo-tribalism. Even if such a worst-case scenario doesn't play out, there are enough variations holding out the prospect of major social upheaval and suffering to make any imaginative observer pause and consider other civilisations whose short-sighted greed ended in their own destruction.

Scarcity is not the problem
However, for the Christian, despair is not an option. Because despite appearances, scarcity is not the problem. Our first parents, faced with a whole garden of goodies, nonetheless came to believe that God had shortchanged them by denying them the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen 2-3). However this image is to be interpreted, the sting in the serpent's questions was the nagging fear that God was not generous, was not good, had not provided enough.

A theological 'solution'?
But of course, we, like them, live in a world with ample resources to provide for our needs. The problem is that we have artificially inflated our needs to include cheap transport, easy energy, comfort and inordinate and ever-expanding wealth. And so the primary theological 'solution' to Peak Oil is thankfulness, which is the key to contentment. Listen to the Apostle Paul: I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. (Philippians 4.11b-13) And again: Of course, there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment; for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it; but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these. But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. (1 Timothy 6.6-9)

There is much more to say about Peak Oil than this, but here is where I suspect a theological response ought to begin: with thanks for our creator God's abundant provision of a good world and an admission that our needs are more readily met than we often suspect. The problem is our selfishness, greed and shortsighted focus on ourselves to the detriment of the larger body - whether of the church, of humanity, or of the entire created order.
Series so far: I; II; III; IV.
Ten points for the town in which these ubiquitous little bikes dominate the streets.


Mister Tim said...

Interesting post - food for though.

As for the Vespas - were they in Rome? (also, they're usually characterised as scooters rather than bikes)

Mister Tim said...

I love the thought that our respone should be thankfulness for the glorious abundance of God's provision to us and a contentment flowing from that. However, how do you then balance contentment with the need to do something about the oil situation (which you identified in your first paragraph)? We could be content while the world burns around us, but that doesn't really help fix the situation.

Andrew said...

Since Tim has named Rome and you suggested the scooters were in a 'town' I'll put in a vote for Florence.

We discussed that section of Philippians in Bible study on Wednesday evening, which has challenged me about the way in which praise of God, rejoicing in Him (and thereby thanking him) is a way by which I can cultivate contentment. (Something I need!)

I think it is really important that Christians are able to demonstrate contentment in the midst of rampant consumerism so that we can actually point to a more modest way of life. I can't get around how shaped I am by the culture of want I am necessary enmeshed in. But cultivating contentment, and thereby lessening our consumption, is actually doing something. I'm sure there are also more direct political means towards possible solutions, but the root problems run deep in our being and need to be named.

byron smith said...

Yes, scooters - good point. Though not Rome - not sure I'd call it a town (as andrew says).

But yes, thankfulness is only the start of a response, which must include searching for the truth of the situation and possibly then asking some hard (maybe very hard) questions about the effects and sustainability of our present lifestyle. I just wanted to put these thornier questions in the right context - reminding us that our present standard of living is no God-given right and that grumpiness at God for being stingy is not the place to start.

Andrew - ten points. Firenze indeed. Amazing town. Amazing number of scooters.

byron smith said...

Sorry for another non-Oz pic...

Andrew said...

Amazingly hot town when I was there! And I was sleeping in a tent. Yikes!