Nature services, technology and grace

Why do so many persist in seeking technological solutions to our environmental problems, whilst denigrating social solutions, or allowing nature to do what it does best? This article from the frequently excellent Contraposition blog explores some of the reasons: like it says, nothing new, but a good summary of the debate in one place. One example is quite striking: our attempts to mimic nature through artificial means often make headline news, even if what we’re achieving is quite modest by nature’s standards.

The article ends as follows:

However, it’s this last issue that I think hasn’t really been addressed or resolved yet—how to make this new kind of permaculture-oriented struggle (likely as meaningless, in the sense of Camus, as the one that it seeks to replace) feel more worthwhile to people and societies who have, for a very long time, defined themselves by a “progress”-driven struggle against nature. It’s the challenge of replacing this long-held drive to commodify not only nature, but also other people in the process, that will require not only thought, but action that seems to not yet be a focus of those thinking about these issues today.

I entirely agree that this cultural issue is a major challenge, perhaps the biggest single one. It’s something that EF Schumacher, Ivan Illich, and many others have warned us of for decades, but with little effect on the majority. But what can we say theologically?

The most obvious point is that the breakdown of relationships between humanity and nature, and between human and human, is exactly what we are told happens as a result of the Fall, or or human sin. Exploitation of the weak and powerless is far from a new problem. The solution is the redemption of all through the cross (Colossians 1:15-20), but this has to be thought of properly, and there are two traps we commonly fall into where our theology has become infiltrated by our culture.

The first is seeing the human-God relationship as dominant, to the exclusion of all else. Some strands of Christianity seem to have reduced the Gospel to largely personal ethics, with the only other humans that count being family and church, and nature just being “stuff” that God gives us. Seeing a three-fold relationship (God, human, creation) is necessary to restore our attitudes to what they should be.

Together with individualism comes the second, taken from economics. Only transactions count, preferably those with a financial element. I’ve been preparing for a youth weekend away with the overall theme of “giving” and realising how alien the idea of God’s grace is to modern society: everything else we have to pay for or earn in some way, so it’s hardly surprising that so many struggle with the idea that God’s salvation (and his creation) come to us for free out of his love.

Fixing these isn’t going to be easy, but at least if we come at things from a more correct theological viewpoint, the church has the opportunity to influence the wider world for the better.

All ideas I’d like to think through at greater length in time.


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