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.
Need for Theology
The faith community is increasingly aware of climate change and the damage that it is causing. However, the community's response is often patchy and unsystematic. People of faith pursue worthy projects such as recycling, the installation of energy-efficient air conditioning in their places of worship and by modifying their personal lives, say by driving less.
What is needed is a context into which all these activities can be placed and evaluated. At the Sutton Technical Books site we evaluate technical options and the likely effectiveness of those options. At this site we are more concerned with the spiritual and moral aspects of climate change. What is needed is an intellectual framework for these considerations, and for determining what the best path forward may be. In other words, we need a theology for understanding climate change, and then deciding how to respond.
It is great that the faith community is responding in so many ways, but it is important that they think about the bigger picture, ask questions such as,
Is climate change really such an important issue?
If so, how does it relate to other issues that we care about — for example, working with refugees?
Are we doing the right things? Could our actions actually be counter-productive?
How do we define success?
How do we support others?
What do we do if we as a society fail to control climate change?
Above all, “Where is God in All This?”
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 also 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. 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, theology has developed something of 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 who attend church every week and who serve the citizens in their community. It is can be seen as being an intellectual diversion that is neither relevant nor interesting to the ordinary person of faith and those who sit in the pews toward the back of the church. 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. This perception needs to change.
Rowan Williams (1950- )
For example, one of the church’s leaders is Rowan Williams, who was 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.
A person attending church may wonder what the above statement has to do with the fact that it didn’t snow this winter.
Chris Martenson (1962- )
The search for meaning, and the desire for integrity goes, of course, well beyond the faith community and the church. Indeed, many of the people who write about climate change and related 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, in his post 'Living with Integrity; Chris Martenson 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.
The true meaning of life is to plant trees, under whose shade you do not expect to sit.
Many times in the past theologians theologians needed to develop new ways of thinking in response to changing circumstances. The way in which they responded provides valuable guidance for us now. Some of these theologians included,