Sending the tradition on its way

The following is an excerpt from my book, Convergent Knowing: Christianity and Science in Conversation with a Suffering Creation

There is a saying one hears now and then – in various places – when travelling and seeking directions from the locals: “Oh, you can’t get there from here!” While the weary traveller is not likely to enjoy hearing that she must turn around and begin the journey anew, and from a completely different starting point, there is solace in knowing that she will soon be on the right path. This book takes the religious tradition of Christianity as that weary traveller who beseeches the aid of a local citizen to help it arrive at a world that is both environmentally sustainable and just for all creation.

Imagine the scene: cognizant that the Christian tradition is currently on a path that is too focused on uncritical obedience to past wisdoms and literalist accounts of scripture, and noticing that Christianity seems uneasy with an Earthly route to begin with, you, the local, respond politely, and instruct Christianity that it, well, “can’t get there from here.” You suggest that it turn around, and proceed in a far more Earthly direction, one guided, in large measure, by science. The tradition queries your instructions, declaring that it couldn’t possibly be on the wrong path, because this is the route it has taken since it began its journey.

You point out to the tradition that the world has changed in many ways in the past half-century, and that as far as life on Earth for many Earthlings is concerned, the situation is dire. The oceans of the planet are becoming more hostile to life, with heat and acidity levels nearing or at dangerous levels. Already, you say, humans have brought upon climate change, the sixth-largest rate of species extinction in Earth’s history, changes to the global nitrogen cycle, the destruction of a good portion of Earth’s fresh water, and the pollution of just about all parts of the planet’s surface.[i] You remind Christianity that these problems are the product of a modern industrialized economic system and anthropocentric worldview that see the planet as merely an object to be used for human convenience. If it continues on the present course the tradition would perpetuate the “uncreating” of life that currently marks its complicity with this environmental crisis, something you know Christianity does not wish to do.[ii] But it is not just the environment that Christianity must consider. Taking into account not only dollar per diem figures, but also the deprivation, social exclusion, and lack of participation of a good portion of the global human population, you point out that poverty rates are deplorable. The dignity of countless humans has been trampled by economic forces that are deaf to the cries of the poor. Moreover, you point out, the environmental problems that you outlined above will only exacerbate the social and economic problems facing the majority of humanity.

So, you set the tradition onto a surer path with a new starting point: the threatening anthropogenic global environmental destruction and the growing inequality and persistent poverty afflicting the majority of human beings on the planet. But first you impart four pieces of cautionary advice: first, along the journey, make sure the tradition maintains a close and prolonged association with science, and conserves a willingness to follow the evidence about the universe that science unveils, wherever it may lead; second, acknowledge a blurring of the epistemological boundaries between Christianity and science; third, remain focused on the liberation of not only the human, but the other-than-human, whereby subjects participate as agents in their own freedom from oppression; and, fourth, to the extent possible, include the voices and concerns of the entire Earth community, and multiple ways of apprehending reality, in its journey.

With all that information in hand, you send the tradition on its way. Will it take your advice seriously? Indeed, why did you stress such a starting point for the tradition? Are all your cautionary suggestions necessary? Surely, there must be a simpler route? To find out answers to these questions, read on.

[i] Mitchell, Alanna. Sea Sick: The Global Ocean in Crisis. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 2009; Rockström, Johan, et al. “Planetary Boundaries: Exploring the Safe Operating Space for Humanity.” Ecology and Society 14, no. 2 (2009): 1–32. Accessed 1 September 2012.

[ii] The term “uncreating” comes from Cynthia Moe-Lobeda, Resisting Structural Evil: Love as Ecological-Economic Vocation.

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