Common realm

According to Ferruccio Rossi-Landi, there is an important relationship between what he calls the natural sciences and the spiritual sciences: both have a tendency to work with a reified notion of the natural.1 Both sciences, Rossi-Landi continues, are non-dialectical: one privileges space over time, the second interior space over the public realm. Both are 'static'. Here lies the difficulty and challenge for a theology ofnature. For a connection, restrictive and damaging, may be noted between the non-dialectical theori-sation of space and religious interiority. A theology of nature must present nature as temporal as well as spatial, thereby as engaged with and other than humanity. Likewise, the Christian faith must, through the engagement with non-theological disciplines, perform a constructive argument in the public realm towards an ontology of nature. The presentation of a conceptuality that would support a dialectical reading of nature and the public character of the Christian faith is the aim of this chapter.

The theological explication of the conceptuality of the common realm of God, nature and humanity requires an account of the creaturely relations of humanity and nature before God in engagement with other, non-theological, accounts of the interrelations of humanity-in-nature. Such a theological explication must consider carefully problems of definition, hermeneutical issues, method and metaphysical matters. That is, the way forward must be by careful attention to the definition of nature operative at any point in the argument, the understanding of modernity in which the argument is conducted, the relation between theology and

1. Ferruccio Rossi-Landi, Marxism and Ideology (Oxford University Press, 1990), p. 317.

non-theological disciplines and the continuities and discontinuities posited between humanity and nature.

The theological concept of the common realm of God, nature and humanity specifies a particular context of relations in which to interpret nature. First, nature here means that which is objectified and domesticated in modernity as other than humanity. The concept also makes clear that nature and humanity are both creaturely; that is, they are other to God. Thus the concept of the common realm permits a series of relations to be presented to theological attention: the presence of God which establishes - and is the source of - the reality of humanity-in-nature; and the separation of humanity and non-human nature. The concept of the common realm of God, nature and humanity is thereby an acknowledgement ofour modern circumstances: the understanding ofnature has become detached from humanity and God. The concept of the common realm of God, nature and humanity is thus a concession to the modern interpretation ofnature: the physical world is usually understood as that which is other than humanity.

Second, the concept of the common realm claims that humanity and nature are understood properly only in mutual co-explication with the concept of God. This co-explication is difficult to achieve because one outcome of the modern separation of nature from God and humanity is the presentation ofnature in various sorts ofscientific description. These descriptions are culturally dominant, yet also somewhat indigestible theologically. So the common realm carries the commitment to theological engagement with non-theological, hegemonic interpretations ofnature. As Carol Christ has noted: 'Because the disjunction of divinity, humanity, and nature is deeply embedded in the words, God, humanity, and nature... [t]he three terms in the triad "God, man and nature" must be rethought together.'2 Such a process of rethinking towards the healing of humanity

2. Carol P. Christ, 'Rethinking Theology and Nature', in Irene Diamond and Gloria Feman Orenstein (eds.), Reweaving the World: The Emergence ofEcofeminism (San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1990), pp. 58-69 (p. 61). Indeed, a close analogue to the common realm is to be found in ecofeminism: the stress on a web of life understood with reference to spirit or the sacred presses towards a notion akin to the common realm: see, further, Paula Gunn Allen, 'The Woman I Love is a Planet; the Planet I Love is a Tree', in Diamond and Orenstein (eds.), Reweaving the World, pp. 52-7; Starhawk, 'Feminist, Earth-based Spirituality and Ecofeminism', in Judith Plant (ed.), Healing the Wounds:The Promise ofEcofeminism (Philadelphia: New Society, 1989), pp. 174-85 (pp. 174,182). In some cultures, human societies are understood by analogy with certain ecosystems: 'the forest as a community has been viewed [in Indian civilisation] as a model for societal and civilizational evolution', Vandana Shiva, Staying Alive: Women, Ecology andDevelopment (London: Zed Books, 1989), p. 55.

and nature will thereby require attention to those disciplines which treat of nature in the modern sense.

In such manner, political-ideological interpretation in the theology of nature directs attention to the society of God, nature and humanity. The society of this common realm is the way in which God freely decides to be with God's creation. As co-participant in a common realm that encompasses the natural history of humanity, God is with and for humanity. Hence the concept of the common realm of God, nature and humanity embodies an important epistemological commitment: to the careful theological specification of the ontology of humanity. For the notion of un/natural humanity extends beyond human embodiment to theological consideration of the material world itself. The issue of the environment in which humanity finds itself is given its proper theological place. To speak of the common realm of God with humanity and nature is to insist that only through their co-explication - which, as the commitment to creatio ex nihilo reminds us, is mutual yet asymmetrical - can we arrive at theological judgments about natural, social humanity.

I have proposed the concept of the common realm of God, nature and humanity in order to acknowledge yet overcome the alienation ofhuman-ity from nature. Hence my preferred concept notes a modern movement towards the separation of nature and humanity and the displacement of the concept of God from the interpretation of nature. What follows may be understood as a theological attempt to overcome this double alienation ofGod from the world and humanity from nature.

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