Against the reenchantment of nature

A stress on nature as space persistently invites the Romantic interpretation of the re-enchantment or resacralisation of nature. That is, natural relations are persistently preferred over un/natural relations: human ends are to be found in nature. The attraction of the re-enchantment of nature lies in its rejection of the theme of the 'salvation' of nature by humanity. 'Saving nature' describes a hubristic and unsustainable programme that denies the extra nos of nature.10 Given that, at first sight, re-enchantment

9. Cited by Rasmussen, Earth Community, EarthEthics, p. 273. The phrase is originally by F. C.


10. Of course, we are also invited, by the blandishments of the Nature Company and the

Body Shop, to contribute in a rather different way to the salvation of nature: through consumption.

appears opposed to saving nature, why, from the perspective of the resurrection of the God-body, is hope in the re-enchantment of nature to be rejected as false.?

To answer this question, and before addressing the issue of the resurrection of the God-body as internal guide to un/natural relations, we must first establish what is meant by the phrase, 'the re-enchantment of nature'. In one sense, we have already attended to this theme: deep ecology and one strain of ecofeminism are attempts to re-enchant nature. The tendency here is to invoke nature, within a specific conceptuality, for the interpretation of human-nature relations. The weaknesses of these approaches I have already rehearsed: the naturalism of deep ecology deconstructs into an anthropocentrism within an authoritarian logic (chapter 3); cultural ecofeminism problematically proposes 'direct connections with nature'11 (chapter 4).

However, an important strength of the theme of the re-enchantment of nature is its promotion of 'deep feelings of connectedness' with nature.12 Such sensibilities do, indeed, function in criticism of the rhetoric of 'saving nature'. In a discussion of Martin Heidegger, David Harvey forcefully makes this point: the stress on 'dwelling' in Heidegger's later writing, together with the importance of 'dwelling' in the construction of'place', indicates the priority of home, and associations of home and place, in thinking on the human predicament.13 Indeed, Heidegger employs his argument in criticism especially of Cartesian notions of geometric space, thereby questioning the preoccupation with the mathematical denotation of space. Furthermore, in giving priority to dwelling, Heidegger questions the primacy given to material satisfactions to be wrought out of nature in advance of attention to 'aesthetic' matters of place.14 To amend a dictum ofBrecht's, Heidegger rejects the commitments captured in the phrase, 'Eats first, aesthetics later'.

Nevertheless, Harvey acknowledges that Heidegger's position cannot be accepted as it stands. Indeed, in line with the commitments of his earlier work,15 Harvey interprets the works of Marx and Heidegger on nature

11. See Charlene Spretnak, 'Ecofeminism: Our Roots and Flowering', in Diamond and

Orenstein (eds.), Reweaving the World, pp. 3-14 (p. 13).

12. Neil Smith, 'Nature at the Millennium: Production and Re-enchantment', in B. Braun and N. Castree (eds.), RemakingReality: Nature at the Millennium (London and New York:

13. Harvey, Justice, Nature and the Geography of Difference, pp. 299-302.

14. Martin Heidegger, 'Modern Science, Metaphysics, and Mathematics', in D. F. Krell (ed.),

Basic Writings: Martin Heidegger (London: Routledge, 1993), pp. 271-305; Martin Heidegger,

Being and Time (Oxford: Blackwell, 1962), pp. 122-48.

15. Harvey, The Condition ofPostmodernity.

as dialectical oppositions in the struggle between modernism and postmodernism. Although Marxism, as he acknowledges, has stressed capitalism as totality to the detriment of the adequate theorisation of locality, yet the Heideggerian affirmation of the re-enchantment of nature also requires criticism. Marx and Heidegger are names which stand for traditions of inquiry which need to be related to each other if the complexities of space and place under capitalism are to be adequately understood.

Doyen of left theoreticians of nature, Neil Smith, also struggles with the tension between space and place. Here the tension is explored in the relation between the social production of nature - which includes the debunking of the natural - and the otherness of nature. For, as Smith notes, a stress on discursive nature plays into the hands of an environmental managerialism. As constructed by social interests, nature here is already shaped for administration by human beings: amenable, that is, to appropriation by the accelerating demands of capitalist accumulation. The otherness of nature is the contrast position: Smith writes of 'the emotional appeal. . . from experiences of nature', citing along the way the claim made by Donna Haraway that, in short, we cannot not desire nature.16 But how, Smith asks, can this desiring be thought which leads to neither 'save the world' managerial environmentalism nor Romantic escapism.? Here Smith finds himself unable to answer his own question: it may well be that the ideology of nature is too strong to permit a re-enchantment which avoids political terrors. Yet, if the energies which support the idolatry of nature could be refashioned, he concludes, would that not make for the beginnings ofa liberative re-enchantment ofnature.

Regrettably, no such reservations about the re-enchantment of nature mark the work of theologian Sallie McFague. In recent writing on spirituality, she coins the term, 'super, natural Christians', which clearly indicates the direction of her thinking: the end of humanity lies in care of nature.17 The two levels which we have been investigating - the production of nature under capitalism and the connection to place - are not present in McFague's argument. Indeed, as we might suspect, her argument is stronger on the theme of connection with place, especially the

16. Smith, 'Nature at the Millennium', p. 280. Smith cites Haraway's Simians, Cyborgs and Women as the textual reference; however, a more likely source is Donna Haraway, 'The Actors are Cyborg, Nature is Coyote, and the Geography is Elsewhere', in Constance Penley and Andrew Ross (eds.), Technoculture (Minnesota and London: University of Minnesota Press, 1991), pp. 21-6 (p. 25). In turn, Haraway cites Gayatri Spivak as the source of the remark!

17. Sallie McFague, Super, Natural Christians: How we should Love Nature (London: SCM Press, 1997).

relation of humans to animals. Nevertheless, little indication is given on how this relates to the wider uses of nature. At the point of moving beyond the local, McFague offers a form of sacramentalism which seeks to understand the diversity of natural forms in God. However welcome such a development is, its theological cogency is not obvious: ecological thought seems to provide all the resources. There is no sense in which the forms of nature need to be redescribed in theological perspective. Indeed, Christianity's mainfunctionseems to be to relieve the humanselfofits anxieties and direct the human eye to the poor and the outcast, including nature.

Yet such a view repeats the errors of the 'Enlightenment Christianity' which McFague criticises elsewhere in the book. In McFague's interpretation, Christianity is presented as an 'enlightened' moralism: we really should pay attention to nature; we are implicated as part of nature; we should mend our ways. To make such a statement, however, you do not need a concept of God. Furthermore, the matter of the relation between the local and the global is effectively occluded in McFague's account. The reason for this is, I think, that McFague adopts the ethical stance, also to be found in deep ecology, of'moral extensionism'. Yet the weaknesses of deep ecology are evident in McFague's work also: Christianity buttresses and promotes a form of transpersonal identification as we come to understand ourselves as part ofnature. The anthropocentrism which underpins this view is all too obvious: consider only the claim to unmediated access by the human to nature which such an argument presupposes.18 What is more, it is precisely the wrong sort of anthropocentrism: for the theme of the social production ofnature is left out ofthe discussion.

At issue is not, then, the re-enchantment ofnature. The natural world is not to be regarded as sacred or as disclosing some numinous presence of God. The reference is too wide: nature, in Christian tradition, should not be seen as sacramental; instead, sacraments refer to particular signs, such as the eucharistic bread and wine. 'The fallen creation is no longer the creation of the first creative Word', argues Bonhoeffer. Therefore: 'The creation is not sacrament.'19 Yet the reference should not be construed too narrowly: for the capacity of the bread and wine to mediate the presence of God turns upon the orientation of all creaturely order towards God, in the unity of God's acts in creation, liberation and redemption.20

18. I have tried to indicate the anthropocentrism in McFague's account in my 'Nature in a World come of Age', 356-68. A reading of McFague's other books - Models of God and The Body of God - would, I think, support such an interpretation.

19. Bonhoeffer, Christology, p. 53.

20. Pannenberg, Systematic Theology, 11, pp. 137-8. The term 'liberation' is mine.

In line with the commitments of this book, what is required instead is an emphasis on the socialising of nature. For the common realm of God, nature and humanity needs to be addressed from the perspective of the resurrection of Jesus Christ: God's commitment to 'the commons' persists even through death. The resurrection is concerned with the reordering of that which is social, and the disclosure of such society. Indeed, Christian tradition invites us not to construe the matter in terms of body and presence, but in terms of the actions of the God-body in sociality.

How does this perspective permit us to think of the connections between humanity and nature so that we may speak theologically, and thereby politically, of the production of nature and the connection to place.? We return to the central point of this book: the Gospel does not re-enchant; neither does it only secularise. Rather, the Gospel socialises. To participate in the dynamics of creatureliness - which is the blessing of God - we are required not to re-enchant or resacralise relations between humanity and non-human nature, but rather to socialise these relations. What does this mean.

Ecological degradation cannot be addressed only from the perspective of the local. The ecological relations between humanity and non-human nature require analysis to disclose the global production of nature under capitalism. None the less, how place is socially constructed yet engages sensibilities is also vitally important: the particularism of social struggle over uses of nature, and the social energy which such particularisms provide, cannot be denied. Indeed, such energy needs to be shaped in the direction of the global. Put differently, to stress the production of nature is to move in the direction of explanation by reference to anti-natural relations. To move in the direction of place is to stress the matter of natural relations. Yet, throughout this book, I am proposing a theological alternative: un/natural relations in a common realm.

Such a perspective is helpful in thinking through the relation between the production of nature and locality, the relation of space and place within a political theology. For the construal of place must be referred to the fellowship of the common realm. And consideration of the social production ofnature under capitalism cannot be separated from the histories and cultural memories of peoples. The resurrection of the God-body invites the socialising of ecological relations: to refer place to fellowship; to refer space to active subjects living in friendship in the common realm.

The same point may also be put paradoxically. The true understanding of ecological relations is not to be found in the construal of place, but neither is it not to be found there. The true understanding of ecological relations is not to be found in the interpretation of the totality of space, but neither is it not to be found there. Thus un/natural relations refer us both to the natural associations given with place and the non-natural relations given with space. In the perspective of the resurrection developed here, both sets of relations are denied yet reaffirmed in a new dispensation: oriented towards one another because joined and clarified in the reordering of sociality which is the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The re-enchantment of nature thereby raises an important point: how are the relations between the global and the local, space and places to be thought in a political theology.? I have argued that the re-enchantment of nature contributes inadequately to a theological understanding of fellowship. The blessing of fellowship is conferred through the true practice of sociality. Un/natural relations, as energised by the Spirit, are the 'mechanism' of the conferral of such blessing in which these relations are understood as orderly, preservative and excentric. One way of reconsidering these issues theologically is to attend to the ways in which the eucharist construes place.

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