A materialist theology of nature

Whereas deep ecology did not yield many insights into the relations between humanity and nature, ecoMarxism - by its attention to the conditions of production - offers a conceptuality for consideration of these matters. Further, the issues of the 'mastery of nature', natural limits and scarcity are also considered by Marxism. We noted also the stress in the work of James O'Connor on the importance of the state as the mediator between capitals and nature's economy. That is, under contemporary conditions, it is the agency of the state which regulates access to nature: to give some examples, permissions for strip mining and new roads, and the setting ofpermissible levels ofpollution, all fall within the provenance of the state. The theme of resistance to capitalist processes of accumulation was also discussed by reference to the construction ofspace and place: are some places cultural sites of resistance to expansionist capital.?

From the vantage point of a social or practical materialism, ecosocial-ism inquires how matter is produced in a particular social context. That the matter of nature is being degraded is not disputed. What requires elucidation is the social and economic processes in and through which such degradation occurs. Should we then say that natural limits are merely some externally imposed 'necessity' that mask an economic process? Are these limits therefore only social limits? Or should we say, by contrast, that there are important natural conditions (the otherness of nature) to economic processes that capitalist development will respond to by developing through crises? For a political theology of nature, this issue must be faced in order to avoid the air of unreality that characterises much ecothe-ological discussion. Consider the following programmatic statement by Larry Rasmussen on the task of ecotheology: 'Substantively, conversion to the Earth means measuring all Christian impulses by one stringent criterion: their contribution to Earth's well-being.'56 In the context of this chapter, any contribution by theology to the well-being of the Earth must indicate the ways in which the well-being is being threatened if any conversion to the Earth is not to be merely voluntaristic and abstract. Such voluntarism and abstraction are evident, so I shall argue in chapter 8, in the popular affirmations in ecotheology of stewardship and the value of nature.

56. Larry Rasmussen, 'Eco-Justice: Church and Community Together', in D. Hessel and

L. Rasmussen (eds.), EarthHabitat:Eco-Injustice and the Church's Response (Philadelphia: Fortress

The matter is made yet more complex by the fact that Christianity will wish to affirm the abundance of a creation whose source is the loving purposes of a good God. Does reference to abundance invite sustained scepticism towards notions of scarcity and natural limits.? Or can the issue of abundance be adhered to theologically while at the same time accepting that social limits are always natural limits. To give an indication of the difficulties here, what are the relations between Harvey's denial of natural scarcity and the Christian commitment to abundance, and how should these relations be determined theologically? If, on account of its independence - real yet circumscribed - from God, the theologian wishes to stress the finiteness of creation, how should such an emphasis be related to O'Connor's claim that capitalism accumulates through processes of underdevelopment, as well as development? If the overriding criterion is well-being of the Earth, can the well-being of nature be affirmed at the expense of humanity without detailed consideration of the ways in which nature's well-being is being denied? A materialist theology of nature will need to develop responses to these questions.

Which is not to say that the socialist ecologies presented in this chapter are beyond criticism. First, there remains a sustained reluctance in these Marxist theories to specify the otherness or independence of non-human nature. Of course, there are legitimate concerns here: does the positing of nature as independent play into the hands of neo-Malthusians? Yet materialism ofa social and practical sort requires such an account ofthe material interactions between humanity and nature in order fully to theorise the relations between humanity and non-human nature. When speaking ofhuman-non-human relations, a comprehensive materialism will wish to speak not merely of a first nature and its relations to a second nature. Instead, the schema is tripartite: (1) nature independent of humanity; (2) the natural conditions of human life; (3) the cultural or social sphere of human life.57 The ecosocialist positions reviewed so far have focused on the second and the third areas. As we have seen from the discussion of ecofem-inism, however, a political account of the liveliness and subjectivity of nature is vital for a full consideration ofnature.

A liberatory materialism will thereby analyse the structures of human-nature interaction by way of this tripartite schema. Suddenly, Grundmann's sniffy point about naturalism appears unpersuasive. Recall his claim that to hold to nature as 'for itself' is to maintain a

57. I am drawing on John Clark, 'The Dialectical Social Geography of Elisee Reclus', Philosophy and Geography 1 (1997), 117-42 (123), as well as the ecosocial ontology presented in chapter 2.

religious - that is, false - viewpoint. However, the issue now is: can a materialism be developed that supports and develops the tripartite schema set out in the previous paragraph.? That is the vital question: the proof of a liberative materialism is its capacious ability to encompass the tripartite schema. In my view, such a materialism can be developed by theology: I offer the outlines of such a theological materialism in the next chapter. In other words, the relevant test is the 'materiality' of one's materialism, rather than whether or not a materialism is religious.

Such materiality may follow Benton's proposal to understand human interaction with nature in three ways: the transformative, the eco-regulative and the extractive require and shape different modalities of interaction. These modalities each require different structures of interrelation, different sorts of technologies and thereby different types of human action, and are supported by different construals of the movement of nature.58 Our most difficult issue resurfaces: what is the conception of nature operative here? And what might a political theology of nature have to offer such a discussion? To this question I turn in the next chapter.

Connected with the first point is, second, the matter of a philosophy of nature as a proper basis for a normative theory of human social life.59 An important strength of Marxism is its power to explain the emergence and persistence (in contradiction) of capitalism. However, it is less persuasive in its account of the normative political life of humanity. In a commentary on the political theory of Marx, David McLellan has noted important contributions in the area of agency, relation of the state to civil society and the analytic power of the concept of class.60 However, this is not to make a contribution to the area of political theory which seeks to articulate the political structures which might be both liberatory and sustainable in relation to non-human nature. To discern social and economic movements and structures is necessary but not sufficient. What is also required is an account of the tendencies, liberatory and oppressive, of the political life of humanity. And the determination of liberatory and oppressive must be made in relation to some account ofnon-human nature.

Involved here are normative claims on the relation between humanity and nature towards the construction and inhabiting of good space and time: that is, towards liberatory accounts of place. Cultural resources are

58. We may note that Shiva's account of the mediation of nature by women, discussed in chapter 4, draws almost exclusively on the eco-regulative modality.

59. Ely, 'ErnstBloch, Natural Rights, and the Greens', p. 138.

60. David McLellan, 'Politics', in D. McLellan (ed.), Marx:TheFirstioo Years (London: Fontana,

required which might be brought to bear on the attempt to overcome the alienation of capitalist society from non-human nature in the form of its natural conditions of production. In the work of O'Connor and Harvey, we saw that the emphasis is placed on how to think of the operations of the political economy of capitalism. Yet, even if O'Connor is correct in his insistence that the interests of workers need to be foregrounded, the important matter of the cultural resources which might be brought to bear in support of the pursuit of these interests needs development. It may be true that, through the second contradiction ofcapitalism, a path to a socialist society may be discerned. However, the cultural resources which remind us of the importance of sociality, often sustained through the qualities and pleasures associated with place, need specification. In addition to libera-tive political and economic analyses, anti-capitalist movements need op-positional cultures to sustain the analyses and undertake practices which support and anticipate an anti-capitalist end-state. In sum, in which directions should communities of hope develop cultures of place in memory and sensibility.? I return to this matter in a discussion of eucharistic place in chapter 9.

Third, the difficult problem of the political representation of nature emerges in consideration of O'Connor's view that the state functions as the contemporary mediator between capital, civil society and nature. Such a position contrasts strongly with Bookchin's stress on the community as municipality as the central political locus. Without doubt, the contemporary state functions in the way described by O'Connor. Does the contemporary state function democratically, however. Should the contemporary political task be to control the state and thereby control the ways in which the state grants access to nature. Or should the political task be to drain the state of its power in favour of different arrangements in political authority? The political representation of nature is thereby raised. As we have seen in the consideration of Bookchin's confederal municipalism, the representation of nature is indirect. However, nature should be granted a democratic standing and democratic participation encouraged. Both are needed ifthe processes that develop well-being are to be participatory and inclusive, and if the notion of the political is to include the nonhuman. How should this be thought? I address this matter further in chapter 8.

Ecosocialist insights are informed by an understanding of nature as temporal and social: the holism proposed in these views stresses the interactive relations between humanity and nature through time. Such interaction is understood materially: by an analysis of the practical ways in which humanity transforms or regulates or extracts nature. The matter of the independence of nature is less well theorised. How might a political theology of nature take forward such readings in political ecology and yet also hold true to its own concerns.? Part III of this book, 'The triune God and un/natural humanity', offers a response to this question.

Part III

The triune God and un/natural humanity

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