For us the sociality of nature and humanity

In chapter 2, I proposed the concept of sociality as the principal transcendental for the interpretation of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The resurrection ofChrist requires, I argued, the interpretation that in the return of Christ to the world by God the creator, which is praise of Jesus by the Father in the Spirit, we have a Godly judgment on sociality. That is, the breach in sociality - the solidarity of human beings to be for one another -does not concretely in and for Jesus of Nazareth end in death. God, nature and humanity are thereby social concepts which are fully intelligible only if their social intention is drawn out: in sociality are the concepts of self, society and God properly explicated. I also argued that humanity and nature share in the transcendentality of sociality. Thus the promise of the continuation of solidarity even through death pertains also to nature. The promise ofGod the creator in Jesus Christ grants a future to that which is social. Hence if the act of election by God the creator in the resurrection of Jesus Christ is the election ofsocial humanity then that same act ofGod is the election of social nature.

The scriptural witness is the source of this position. As David Tracy points out, 'The "appearance narratives" of the resurrection intensify those relationships [to earth and cosmos] by their relationship to both resurrected "body" and cosmic reality'.15 The point is made explicitly when the commission to evangelise given by the risen Jesus is prefaced by the claim that all authority both in heaven and earth has been given to him (Matt. 28.18) and in the pre-Passion prayer in which Jesus asks his Father to glorify him in the manner of the glorification that he enjoyed with the Father before the creation of the world (John 17.5). The theme is also explicit in the accounts of the ascension of Jesus (Mark 16.19; Luke 24.51) and is anticipated by the event of the transfiguration (Matt. 17.1-8;

15. David Tracy, 'Models of God: Three Observations', in R. Gill(ed.), Readings in Modern-

Mark 9.2-8; Luke 9.28-36). The theme of the relationship between the resurrected body and creation continues in the Christological debates of the early Church until it is established that the creativity associated with the return of Jesus from death is to be connected with the transcendence of God who creates ex nihilo: 'So Jesus shares the creativity of God ... he is God as dependent - for whom the metaphors of Word, Image, Son are appropriate.'16

What is established by reference to the resurrection ofJesus in sociality and thereby the renewal of sociality is a sacrificial dynamic: the sociality of nature and humanity is part of the ordering of creation and its liberation is secured through the passion of Jesus Christ. The 'for us' character of the creaturely realm is reaffirmed in the actions of Jesus Christ.17 The relation between resurrected body and the world both affirms and redirects the world according to the logic of sacrifice. As Colin Gunton notes, 'Jesus' sacrificial recapitulation of human life is achieved for the human purpose ofa completing ofthe creation, ofa setting free for the living out of creaturely being.'18 Sociality insists that such living out of creaturely being refers both to nature and humanity and, especially, to their social interaction. In sum, the appearance narratives in the Gospels are the basis for the Church's connection of the sacrifice of Jesus to the 'sacrifice' of creation: 'it is not a mistake', argues Gunton, 'to conceive creation, too as a function of the self-giving of God, in which out of the free, overflowing goodness of his life he gives reality and form to something that is other than he'.19 The connection between Christ and creation is being explored here by way ofthe notion ofsociality.

Sociality proposes, then, the presentation and development of a sacrificial ontology of relations that encompasses humanity and nature. If we conceive ofhumanity and nature as interacting in a series ofoverlapping 'societies', how are these societies to be thought.? How are such 'societies' subject to change through time (i.e., how are these societies temporal)? How does alteration in one area affect the rest.

To affirm both humanity and nature as social is to make a first, and vitally important, point: humanity is 'in' nature. If we must think in spatial images, we have not a humanity alongside nature but rather a humanity placed, in its societies, in the societies of nature. This point is nicely caught

16. Williams, On Christian Theology, p. 140.

17. Scott, Theology, Ideology and Liberation, pp. 195-203.

18. Gunton, The One, theThreeand theMany, p. 226.

19. Colin Gunton, The Actuality of Atonement (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1988), p. 149.

by David Harvey when he, provocatively, describes New York City as an ecosystem. Michael Welker comes close to this view of interlocking societies when he argues that '[C]reation is the construction and maintenance of associations of different, interdependent creaturely realms.'20 Later, Welker will stress that the centrality of such interdependence should be construed in relational terms. Welker's account helpfully points away from any tendency in a doctrine of creation to construe the creaturely in terms of a single quality. Instead, Welker performs a (perichoretic?) decen-tring: the emphasis is on a multitude of interacting realms rather than a single theme or quality.21 However, the character of the associations Welker proposes, and an account of the interdependences he identifies, lack detailed specification.22

Sociality in a political theology of nature is, I have argued, to be sourced to the resurrection of Jesus Christ, which, in turn, indicates that the orientation of human beings towards each other, and orientation of nature towards humanity, have eschatological significance. To think through the sociality ofhumanity and nature is thereby to begin from the actuality of relations between human and natural societies. That is, it is with continuities between humanity and nature that theological analysis must begin. The common realm of God, nature and humanity agrees thus far with Murray Bookchin's dialectical naturalism: the distance between humanity and nature operative in Western sensibility must be challenged. However, the common realm represents a materialism in which the dominant ways humanity works over nature cannot be disregarded. Although commitment to the continuities between humanity and nature functions here as a default theological position, yet the dominant modes of interaction of Western humanity with nature presuppose the separation and domestication of nature. Nature is regarded in Western society not as a co-participant in the common realm but either as domestic servant or wild animal (requiring to be tamed). A theology ofnature must face such political circumstance.

Jesus' table-fellowship suggests such political 'realism' and recommends a standpoint from which to analyse the fractures and distortions in

20. Harvey, Justice, Nature and the Geography of Difference, p. 186; Welker, Creation and Reality, p. 13.

21. Welker's proposal also helpfully stresses the interaction between creaturely realms that may involve no human participation at all. However, it must now be doubted whether there are realms on this earth in which human beings do not participate in some fashion.

22. There is an exception: Welker's defence of human dominion over nature, which I shall briefly discuss in chapter 8.

the performance of Western humanity of its continuities with nature (see Luke 5.29-32; Matt. 9.10-13; Mark 2.15-17). As David Tracy notes: '"The table fellowship with outcasts" suggests not only a prophetic liberationist strand but also, by the very choice of eating and food, our intrinsic relationship to earth as well.'23 In other words, the matter of interaction with nature towards the fulfilment of basic needs is not alien to Jesus' ministry, and indicates that the 'fruits ofthe earth' occupy a place within the economy of God's liberating basileia project. It is true that the emphasis has been on the prophetic aspect: 'The central symbol of the new vision of life, the Kingdom of God', writes Sallie McFague, 'is a community joined together in a festive meal where the bread that sustains life and the joy that sustains the spirit are shared with all'.24 In this commitment, an important feature of the life of Israel, as in the feeding of the people of Israel with manna in the wilderness (Exod. 16), is continued.

However, what is 'recentred' in such an account as requiring theological attention is not only the 'radical inclusiveness of this vision' but also the modes ofaccess to nature's goods which groups enjoy (or not). Agency is always linked in the Gospels to responsibility: consider only the parable of the widow's mite or the rich man and Lazarus. The range of modalities ofinteraction with non-human nature is opened up by this commitment. McFague hints at this conclusion: 'Without enough bread, some cannot be invited.'25 We must address the range of labouring practices that engage non-human nature, but also attend to the ways that the needs and interests of the disadvantaged are engaged in this dispensation. To draw on a distinction made by James O'Connor: we must attend to that contradiction ofcapital through which goods are produced, distributed and exchanged and to the ways in which such production processes interact with the natural conditions ofhuman life. Do such production processes serve the interests of others, when such others must also include non-human nature itself? The issue is: who benefits from these arrangements? Are these arrangements generous to the needy, and generous to the purveyor, nature itself? It cannot be denied: nature is in nobis. However, such a commitment cannot be read abstractly: is the for us dynamic employed restrictively or generously?

Although it is vitally necessary to see humanity as placed in the middle of nature through a series of interlocking societies which relate to

23. Tracy, 'Models of God: Three Observations', p. 85.

other - natural - societies, we must note, further, that such nature is oriented towards humanity. We have already seen that temporality is a crucial way of thinking of the orientation of nature towards humanity. If nature were not temporal, it would be spatially fixed. As spatially fixed, it would thereby not be amenable to transformation by humanity. However, as temporal, a social nature is oriented towards a social humanity through a range of interactions and relations. Nature persists in and through its temporality thereby providing stable conditions for the development of human life. We are already, by our embodiment, co-participants in nature's economy. Nature, we might say, is oriented towards humanity in the mode of preservation. This theme is clear in the Gospel of Mark, in the narratives of Jesus' power over natural forces (Mark 4.35-41 (and parallels at Matt. 8.23-7 and Luke 8.22-5), Mark 6.45-52 (and parallels at Matt. 14.22-33 and John 6.16-21)). As Robert Faricy summarises: 'Jesus' divine power to rescue his followers from nature-as-hostile represents his lordship over all creation.'26 Interpreted sacrificially, nature is pro nobis.

Understood in such fashion, we may appreciate that human actions are bound to alter natural societies. In fact, this is too abstract a way of putting the matter: for all human actions, as embodied, already presuppose interactions with air, food and water. The pursuance ofbasic human conditions thereby demands alterations. Yet, on the view proposed here, such alteration is not in itselfthe issue. As Richard Lewontin has argued, 'Organisms... do not adapt to environments; they construct them. They are not simply objects of the laws of nature, altering themselves to the inevitable, but active subjects transforming nature according to its laws.'27 The sheer facticity of change is not the issue; life requires processes of alteration; life requires reproduction and ecoproduction. Life, above all, requires through ecological transformation the shifting of the boundaries in the relations between what we call 'humanity' and 'nature'.

Consider some of the advanced techniques now available to ensure the safe delivery of a human baby. One could not say that such human reproduction is not a natural process (with, as we shall see, natural conditions). Yet, due to various sorts of medical interventions, the capacity for life has been changed: medical practices have altered the capacity for life (although not the conditions of life itself). Hence there is deep mutual interaction between two tendencies: the first, the natural process

27. Richard Lewontin, 'Organism and Environment', cited in Harvey, Justice, Nature and the

Geography of Difference, p. 185.

of reproduction, the second, the dis/enabling techniques of modern medicine. Here natural processes have the qualities of pro nobis materiality; medical techniques have the quality of interventions in the otherness of nature. That is why, despite the paraphernalia of medical technology, the birth of a child remains so extraordinary: for the child is the gift of processes largely outside of our control yet clearly oriented towards us (in the manner of the reproduction of humanity). To intervene, medically or surgically, is thereby to engage the otherness ofnature, that aspect which we do not truly understand, and which has been glossed as the sublime, the monstrous, the unruly. Yet, of course, the child remains the gift of the economies ofnature oriented towards us: the reproductive potential, now realised, of parents; the sustenance of the mother and thereby the sustenance of the child; the process of childbirth itself. Nature is pro nobis.

The final aspect of the relations between the economies of the human and natural is the otherness of nature. Although such otherness can be interfered with (for example, as in the present-day increase in the incidence of human infertility), otherness is the very condition of its creativity and points to a dialectical relation in the mode of nature's preservation. For part of nature's capacity to preserve human beings is its otherness. Consider a simple oil slick: the spillage threatens landscapes and animals, animals on which people may rely for food or exchange. On occasion, despite predictions, the sea is able to absorb such a spillage... inexplicably. The otherness of nature is one way of speaking of this capacity of nature for self-renewal. Which is to acknowledge that nature does not have its ends only in humanity. This point is made clear by the concept of the common realm of God, nature and humanity: the fulfilment of nature lies in God. Nature is extra nos.

Of course, to speak of the otherness of nature is also to speak of the demand which nature places on humanity. We tend to see this expressed more in literature and art than in theology or philosophy. Yet its recovery in theology and philosophy is vitally important. According to Tim Hayward, philosopher J├╝rgen Habermas notes that we might enjoy very different practical or aesthetic relations with nature.28 Yet Habermas contends that, on account of our particular interests in the production of knowledge, such considerations of the otherness of nature do not apply in epistemology. In other words, there can be no knowledge that is not governed by human interests. And there can be no knowledge of nature

28. See the discussion in Tim Hayward, Ecological Thought, ch. 1.

that is not governed by the human interest in the control of nature towards the support of human life.29 However, the position advanced here is that knowledge of nature invokes the principle of its otherness: we need, as Haraway notes, to combine the view from subjugated bodies with a stress on a realist account ofknowledge of the world. Part of the demand - episte-mological and practical - placed on humanity is the sense of the unknowa-bility of nature which includes its knowability, and a sense of caution in engaging nature in that many of the consequences of human-nature interactions cannot be foreseen. Nature is extra nos.

So far, I have argued for the interactions of humanity and nature together with a sense of nature as both other to and oriented towards humanity. However, how are the differences between humanity and nature to be thought.? There is no denying that the incarnation of the Logos in human form privileges the human in a certain way: for the human person is the greatest concentration of the capacity to be social.30 Thus the claim of creaturely reality to be social also notes that the human is different, in specific ways, from the social dynamics of non-human nature. In other words, what is proposed here is not a theological naturalism but rather a theological materialism.

What is the difference between naturalism and materialism? The incarnation of the Logos, and the theme of the common realm of God, nature and humanity, require that humanity and nature cannot be separated, yet neither can humanity be folded into nature. On the one hand, what matters are the ecological relations between humanity and nature. On the other hand, these relations are not to be secured by reference to a naturalism to which human beings must conform. For the claim that 'nature teaches', is always selective and generally ideological: what nature imposes 'by necessity' trades upon a non-dynamic reading of nature (the balance of nature) and is usually reductionist.31 If critiques of deep ecology find their mark, the dangers of naturalism are not always avoided in contemporary

29. For more detail, see my 'Imaging God: Creatureliness and Technology', NewBlackfriars 79:928 (1998), 260-74 (here 265).

30. Here I am formally repeating the point made by Pannenberg and Rahner regarding the rationale for the incarnation of the Logos in humanity. The justification for such incarnation must, in some way, relate to the human as universal. For Pannenberg, only the human is both universal and concrete (Systematic Theology, 11, p. 64) and thereby 'matches' the creating concrete principle of the Logos; for Rahner, the human universal resides in the claim that 'Man is... mystery in his essence, his nature' ('On the Theology of the Incarnation', p. 108). My position is different: both concretion and universality reside in the human capacity to be social.

31. See Harvey, Justice, Nature and the Geography of Difference, p. 163; O'Connor, Natural Causes, p. 121; Grundmann, 'The Ecological Challenge to Marxism', pp, 114-15.

ecological theory.32 Such an ecological perspective, we might say, is insufficiently generative.

The generative, Christological, principle of sociality proposed here requires a theory of a dynamic, concrete order that brings into focus the determinations - the permanencies and alterations - of ecological relations. In a highly interesting passage, Ernst Bloch moves towards a materialism consonant with this view.33 Building on the philosophical traditions of German idealism, yet crossed by the commitments of the early Marx to see the interchange between humanity and non-human nature through the metaphor ofmetabolic exchange, Bloch proposes an account ofhumanity as building its home on its 'nature-subject', arguing along the way that the steady failure of Western humanity to grasp the 'subject of nature' may be traced to our alienated conditions of living. Indeed, Bloch astutely notes that progress in human mastery over nature can readily coexist with the greatest social retrogression. Bloch does not develop the implications of his view with reference to either an account ofecological relations or a political theory. Yet, he is working towards an account of properly proportioned human living in its natural habitat or homeland in a way that takes seriously the openness of nature and history (including the present social and economic arrangements).

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