In the middle of the 17th Century French philosopher René Descartes challenged us to think about our thinking! In particular, he divided life between the things we can quantify and measure (mathematics, logistics, etc.) and the things we cannot (superstition, religiosity, and so on). In the course of time this focus of thought enabled the rapid development of the measurables through science, rationality and, later, technology.
This kind of judgement lies behind the kind of world we now live in – where everything is valued by data, knowledge, statistics, formulae and so on. It is for this reason that we judge so much according to its financial impact and why we tend to value ourselves by our calculable and quantifiable possessions. The natural outcome of all this is our grossly consumerist, materialistic and acquisitive society.
However, this view is particularly unbalanced because it gives little regard for the non-measurable aspects of life – beauty, art, Nature, love, wisdom, feelings, faith. Together, these constitute what we know as ‘spirituality’ – that which makes us tick, gives us meaning, motivates and enthuses our lives…
Some people therefore talk of the ecological crisis as a spiritual one. They point out that by reducing life to its component parts through scientific analysis, we are not able to hold a picture of the connected whole. Furthermore, we accept uncritically the view that everything evolves through competition and conflict. The ‘nature red in tooth and claw’ mentality is applied to everything, conveniently forgetting that evolution is also dependent on cooperation and an immensely complex web of mutual and collaborative relationships.
So, the task for green activists today is not only to campaign on issues such as divestment from fossil fuels, plastic pollution or loss of biodiversity, it is also to question the values which underpin our culture. This leads us into speaking out but also speaking up. Speaking up for the benefits of life which cannot be given a price or cost; speaking up for communities which live more sustainable and resilient lives; speaking up for sharing and collaborating in the face of common threats.
I was intrigued by the slogan used by independent candidate Kerryn Phelps in the recent Australian government by-election – ‘rather than spread fear, give courage’… How much better than planting seeds of anxiety, discord and hatred.
The Christian gospel has always been countercultural. From its beginnings it opposed imperialistic Roman theology with its cult of the Emperor god and its oppressive militarism. It stood out against the exploitation of women and children, the abuse of debt and unjust taxation, the exclusion of the vulnerable.
Now it needs to stand up to counter the exploitation of the planet, the abuse of wealth and the needs of future generations. In so doing it says ‘enough is enough’– there must be limits to materialistic abuse. There must also be a bringing together of the measurable with the non-measurable.
To change the culture today we need to fuse together the just need for daily bread for all, with the ‘more than bread alone’ needs. To ignore the former invites injustice and poverty; to ignore the latter leads us to a world that devalues the deeper hunger for creative love.
The purpose of the Church is to promote ‘Godness’ but it can only do so through promoting goodness. We value the material but require the non-material. We need the earthly, but we also need to earth love.
Autumnal best wishes
‘We are waiting for God’s intervention, but God is waiting for our collaboration’ – – John Dominic Crossan