Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Forget Jesus? Life, death and meaning in the cosmos

This picture and quote from Lawrence Krauss is taken from the Pantheism group on Facebook. I wouldn't pretend to fully understand Pantheism (ancient or modern) but in general it is an attempt to see nature as in some sense sacred and understand ourselves as connected to the rest of existence.

The above quote is nothing new; Carl Sagan was saying this sort of thing ages ago. Life depends on death (like it or not), be it of stars recycling the very material in our bodies (above quote), or the process of evolution (apologies to my Christian friends who don't believe in it) or at the very least making room for species and individuals alive now.

In this sense we can see we are connected to the rest of reality. Of course, the writer of Genesis 1 could also see that, all animals are living creatures (nephesh), with animals and humans created on the same day. There are of course multiple threads about creation running through the Old Testament; both humans as being simply a part of creation (Psalm 104) and humans as being God's image and priests serving in the creation-temple. One doesn't need to be an atheist or a pantheist.

Of course the aside of Krauss that we can "forget Jesus" is not derived from his science at all, and is representative of the new atheism. One can hold both that death and change is a part of the natural fabric of reality (even if it is to be in some sense overcome eschatologically) and that Jesus' death is significant for human existence and cosmologically - it is just that science cannot inform the later and Krauss oversteps the mark.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Sacred nature?

I recently had a discussion with a fellow Christian who not so much lamented as commented on the stance of ethicists he knew, including puzzlement I think it was at the idea that we might hold nature as sacred. This is a first post in a series thinking about this.

I'm going to ask three basic questions:

  1. What do we risk as Christians if we view nature (or better still creation) as sacred?
  2. What do we gain if we do?
  3. What do we miss out on if we don't?
1. What do we risk as Christians if we view nature (or better still creation) as sacred?

 One of the concerns that I imagine strikes some Christians is that we risk idolatry. Idolatry is the worship of something created rather than the creator, and Paul is very clear in Romans chapter 1 both as a critique of Greco-Roman culture but also of the failed history of Israel (echoes of the Golden Calf if not their prolonged love affair with Baal and Asherah) that this is what leads to sin.

One might argue then that seeing nature as sacred will lead to seeing it as divine, hence idolatrous. At the very least the concern will be that we will worship God through nature, breaking the commandment not to make a graven image. This represents an ontological confusion between God and creator and an overemphasis on divine immanence.

It might follow then that we insist creation/nature is beyond touch, which leads to a form of protectionism and exclusion of humans and their activities. This is a big stick against development in the underdeveloped world and as a general philosophy as led to the mistreatment of indigenous groups throughout the world who rely upon the natural world for grazing, firewood, medicine and homes.

Some might also argue that we loose sight of heaven, which is said to be our proper home. We are just passing though this world and so see it as sacred is to confuse heaven and earth. We lose a sense of the impermanence of the world and its corruption under sin.

One might also wonder then if creation is sacred why "natural" disasters are allowed! Does God desecrate his own temple?

I guess I feel some sympathy with all but the last one being confused (in my opinion).

2. What do we gain if we do?

It seems to me that we gain quite a bit if we adopt the view that nature is sacred. We can properly identify creation as belonging to its creator, and stress immanence where a Deistic slant has overly stressed transcendence. We bring God closer to his world, and make him the player in all that occurs rather than being detached. We show that God loves what he has made, enough to (partially) inhabit it.

We do justice to passages that speak of Heaven coming to Earth and God's will being done on here as in heaven (Lord's Prayer). We avoid rampant dualism and elevate ourselves properly as God's image at the same time as elevating creation to its rightful dignity without losing sight of what the Image of God (imago Dei) means.

We gain a powerful narrative for creation care and what it means to be a nation of priests in all of our priestly functions, including to till and tend. This reading of Genesis 1 deals with the strong language of rule in vv26-28 and shows that while etymology is important, context is even more so.

We gain a strong apologetic and a seat at the table of ecological discourse, for we have something unique to say.

3. What do we miss out on if we don't?

It seems to me that if we do not hold out God's creation as sacred we loose our voice in ecological pragmatism or pagan idolatry. We capitulate to the Enlightenment idea of nature as machine - and we can see where this has led us. We lose any distinctive in speaking in the ecological space. Note that while relevance is not something to be chased in theology (that's the cart before the horse), we will lose any sense of relevance in the issue.

Finally, I think we lose access to one way to worship God, and a powerful apologetic and evangelistic tool by appeal to common grace, beauty and awe.