The sun rises and the sun sets, and hurries back to where it rises.
The wind blows to the south and turns to the north;
round and round it goes, ever returning on its course.
All streams flow into the sea, yet the sea is never full. To the place the streams come from, there they return again.
The Need for Theology
For people of faith, theology should come before action. They need a framework in which to understand current events in the context of their relationship with God and their spiritual life. In this chapter we look at how theology can help everyone understand what is taking place, and how they should respond, as we move through the Age of Limits.
Theology is to do with seeking truth through God’s word (theos, God and logos, Word). It aims to find and understand truth based on a belief that God exists, is personal, can be known, and has revealed himself. Theology aims to find out what God is teaching us, how we are to understand the world in which we live, and what are its rules and standards. We then move toward God, both as individuals and as a society. An understanding of theological truth is reached through prayer, reading the Bible and in service to others. It should also incorporate a reconciliation between religious faith and scientific rationality, one of the central themes of this site.
Unfortunately, for many people the topic of theology has developed an élitist image. It is perceived as being one of the liberal arts, studied by academics in seminaries and universities — not something that is relevant to the people attending church every week and serving the citizens in their community. It is often seen as being an intellectual diversion that is neither relevant nor interesting to the ordinary person of faith. Theologians are jokingly perceived as those who wonder “How many angels can dance on the head of a pin”. That phrase has itself become a metaphor for time-wasting and irrelevant debate. That perception needs to change.
When I started writing the book Faith in a Changing Climate a friend at church, who is very aware of the issues described here asked, “Where is God in all this?” Basically, his question was a version of the perennial, “How can an all-powerful God of mercy allow people to suffer?” In the context of the book and this site the question would be, “How can a good and all-powerful God have created humans to be so clever, yet also to be so stupid and short-sighted?” We are entering a time when society as a whole will be asking questions such as these. Which means that the church needs to have a response if it is to provide leadership. The starting point for such an effort is to develop an intellectual and spiritual framework — in effect, a theology for our times.
This perception of a need for a spiritual component in our lives is widespread. Indeed, many of the people who write about Age of Limits issues recognize that, even though they themselves may not hold religious beliefs, there is, nevertheless a spiritual and moral component to their work. For example, one of the leading writers to do with Age of Limits issues is Chris Martenson. In his post Living with Integrity he says,
My ultimate diagnosis of what’s going on in the United States culture and . . . probably in other cultures . . . is that they lack integrity. Now, integrity isn’t simply “Oh, I don’t lie”. Integrity means that your actions are for the greater good. Sometimes there are acts of integrity which actually are not optimal for you; they’re optimal for the larger society around you.
Integrity is thinking out seven generations. Integrity is saying that beauty matters in our life, and that when we take out a species, we’re taking away something extraordinarily beautiful. Maybe we shouldn’t just spray fungicides across thousands of acres in a single go. Maybe we shouldn’t spray herbicides across millions of acres in a single go. We don’t know what these herbicides are doing and fungicides and pesticides beyond the immediate use we’re putting them to. They have all these ripple effects that go on and on and on. And we don’t know what those are.
So integrity would include a sense of humility. Full integrity is saying “I don’t know”. We should be saying more of that. And integrity would include listening more carefully and deeply. Integrity would mean that we are operating in a way that is right for the other species around us, including humans. That we strive to do things that are right and good.
That part of ourselves that’s calling for our hearts to be involved in the world and to believe in something that’s larger and more profound than ourselves is really an essential concept. And everything about our current culture is cheap, demeaning, unfair. It’s not building towards the directions that I think any of us can really believe in, and we know that we have to go in a new direction.
One of the church’s leaders is Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury from 2002 to 2012. He has been an important voice in the environmental movement. But even he can be, shall we say, obscure, when it comes to theology.
A doctrine like that of the Trinity tells us that the very life of God is a yielding or giving-over into the life of an Other, a ‘negation’ in the sense of refusing to settle for the idea that normative life or personal identity is to be conceived in terms of self-enclosed and self-sufficient units. The negative is associated with the ‘ek-static’, the discovery of identity in self-transcending relation.
The urgency of climate change and the other issues discussed at this site require a theology that is more relevant to the person sitting in a back pew and who is wondering why it didn’t snow this winter.
Elements of an Age of Limits Theology
Before taking action to address the predicaments we face, it is important to develop an intellectual and spiritual understanding of what is happening. In other words, a theological foundation is needed. Three suggestions for theological discussion are provided at this site. They are:
Although theology can seem obscure and irrelevant, there have been times when theologians responded to the crises that their society faced, and developed a new way of thinking about life and spirituality. Examples of this type of leadership are: