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1. Understand and Tell the Truth

 

“You are a king, then!” said Pilate.

Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”

“What is truth?” retorted Pilate. 

John 18

 

Three Elements


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:

  1. Understand and tell the truth (this one);

  2. Accept and adapt; and

  3. Live within the biosphere.

 

Element 1. Understand and Tell the Truth

In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act. 

George Orwell

 

We live in an era of fake news, wishful thinking, political promises, cherry-picked factoids, truthiness and endless advertising, thus making it very difficult for anyone to provide an honest and unflinching answer to Pilate’s question that we see quoted at the top of this page. As we see in the discussion to do with Augustine of Hippo was very strict about the need to tell the truth, regardless of the consequences. He did not accept that even white lies are legitimate.

 

If we are to understand the truth as to what is going on in our time, church leaders need to have a grasp of science, technology and systems theory. This means that we need to work on overcoming the divide that we have created between science and religion. The church has often resisted the findings and insights of science. Men such as Galileo Galilei and Charles Darwin were roundly criticized and even physically threatened by the religious institutions of their time. The church has tried to maintain that it is the custodian not just of spiritual truths, but also of knowledge as to how the physical universe works. Eventually, of course, science wins and the church has had to back down.

 

We saw how Augustine divided the world into two cities — that of man and that of God. But he did not maintain that the City of God was a physical place. He understood that it was a spiritual city only. However, over the course of the succeeding centuries the church created a physical model with living people here on Earth, Hell below, and Heaven above. As the stars moved through the “celestial heavens” they created “music of the spheres”. Even now, we look “up to the heavens”. The image is ingrained.

 

We can see this confusion between physical and spiritual realities in the response of some Christians to climate change. Some may accept that the climate is changing but that those changes are natural and that “God is in control”. Consequently, they maintain that we do not need to change our lifestyles since we are not responsible for what is taking place. Other Christians may say that they “do not believe in climate change” — not realizing that climate change is not a matter of belief or faith, it is a matter of scientific observation. The role of belief is to develop a proper response to the changes that are taking place. Moreover, such an attitude verges on fatalism, which is to be avoided.

 

The theology of the future will have to recognize that, regardless of the problems that we face, we cannot simply forget or ignore the successes of science. The church will need to incorporate into its theology understandings to do with resource depletion, climate change, population overshoot, and living within the biosphere. It will also need to come to grips with some of the stranger insights of science in areas such as quantum mechanics, and the potential for intelligent life outside own planetary system. Church leaders will need to be educated in the principles of science. They do not have to be experts in science — that is unrealistic. But they do need to understand the broad conclusions to do with issues such as peak oil and climate change. And they need to understand how these topics relate to one another.

Understand the Truth

One of the themes of our work is that understanding the nature of truth in our complex society and culture is very difficult. There are so many factors to consider, and they all interact with one another in ways that are not extraordinarily difficult to identify and understand. Yet we have to do the best we can, otherwise we may come up with responses and solutions that are ineffective, or even counter-productive. (The example of the Episcopal Renewable Energy Statement that we discuss provides an example of what I am talking about.)

 

Tell the Truth

Telling the truth goes beyond fibbing or lying. It means sharing our understanding as to what is going on with others, even if doing so is challenging, or if it makes us feel uncomfortable. Telling the truth may also mean that we have to engage with people we like and trust — people who are committed to environmental and social justice movements. Yet our judgment may be that these people are pursuing solutions or responses that will not be effective.

Ourselves

Finally, telling the truth means that we have to be honest with ourselves. The issues we face are so profound and frightening that we are tempted to push them out of our minds. Either we ignore them altogether, and go on with our normal lives. Or else we concentrate on taking actions, without thinking of the bigger picture.

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