Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Right Thought: How We Think about the Natural World

God be in my head, and in my understanding; God be in mine eyes, and in my looking; God be in my mouth, and in my speaking: god be in mine heart, and in my thinking; God be at my end, and and my departing.   - John Rutter (b. 1945)

This is the second installment in an eight part series that offers information and tips related to climate change and the environment.
The SEC's Eightfold Path of Environmental Action is a companion series to a video that is scheduled to be launched in 2019.

Part of the reason we have failed to preempt climate change and address environmental degradation may be due to the perception of ourselves as being outside of nature. By looking at ourselves through the lens of our connection to creation we are more likely to act in a way that minimizes our impacts. Seeing nature as something extrinsic to our self image may have contributed to our propensity to use nature rather than protect it.

For Anglicans the call to stewardship is rendered explicitly in the Fifth Mark of Mission, "to strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew life on earth." Historically Scripture has sometimes been interpreted to justify humanity's dominance over nature. specifically Genesis 1:26-28.

And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.

And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.

Many scholars and theologians have tried to contextualize these passages. Robert Gottfried examines this notion in an article titled, "Dominion Over Nature and Environmental Crises - Time for Another Look". He asserts that Scripture calls us to care for and cultivate nature.  He points out that the verses in Genesis that precede the above citation.

"The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it" (Genesis 2:15).  Gottfried elaborates on this and surrounding passages.

"In Genesis 2:4-25 humans must care for (abad) and cultivate (shamar) the Garden." Gottfried writes. "The former word means “to serve,” even to the point of "being a slave to.” The latter word, often translated “to keep” or care for, also means to watch or preserve. When God gives humans dominion, then, God charges them to slavishly watch over and care for the community of creation as its servants."

From this point of view Scripture is like an umbilical cord connecting us to creation. Christianity and other faith traditions call us to care for and cultivate nature, while the absence of faith and the rejection of God may lead some to feel disconnected from nature and this can give rise to environmental neglect and abuse.

The atheists disconnection from nature is explored by Ilia Delio in the book, "The Unbearable Wholeness of Being: God, Evolution, and the Power of Love."

"Modern atheism is less about the death of God than the death of the human person as human, that is, the absence of the human person from the cosmos story as significant to that story. The decentering of the human person has given rise to inexorable desire, but the results have been disastrous: war, economic injustice, environmental crisis, and corrupt political power. By not being “at home” in the cosmos, the human person has not been “at home” as human. The rise of nihilism and alienation attributed to the death of God more aptly reflects the death of the human person as human. The centered, relational human person of the Middle Ages mutated into the peripheral, functional individual of the Enlightenment, divorced from nature." 

The disconnection from nature may be at the core of our environmental crisis. Conversely, the connection to nature, whether through faith or not, is a major factor contributing to our environmental stewardship efforts.

Eightfold Path of Environmental Action.
Right Speech - Effective Environmental Communications.
Right Understanding: Knowing the facts about climate change
Right Thought: How we think about the natural world

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