As a result of such a complex story, it becomes clear that the theological way forward cannot be the straightforward affirmation of a theology of nature as a way of correcting what is taken to be an overemphasis on the theology of history.31 Why? First, because the relations are too complex to admit of such a reversal. Second, because in a straight reversal, which privileges nature over history and space over time, the issue of the presence of God is not attended to and thereby goes unresolved. A theology of the common realm of God, nature and humanity must rather show how the concept of God (re)establishes the concepts of nature and humanity. Overcoming the displacement of God is also the affirmation of humanity and/in nature.
We may now see how the two claims are related: the separation of nature from God and the privatisation oftheology are part ofthe same tendency: the eclipse of God. Thus, although Dupre speaks in Catholic terms of nature, grace and transcendence, his account offers a precise history of the changing relation between revelation and creation, salvation and nature, justification and world that Bonhoeffer traces in Protestant theology. 'The displacement of God from the world, and from the public part of human life', writes Bonhoeffer, 'led to the attempt to keep his place secure in the sphere of the "personal", the "inner", and the "private".'32 Such privatisation of belief can be tracked in the loss of significance attributed to nature as a theological topic. In a description of the state of the debate on the concept of'the natural' in Protestant theology, Bonhoeffer writes: 'For some [the natural] was completely lost sight of in the darkness of general sinfulness, while for others, conversely, it was lighted up by the brilliance ofabsolute historicity.'33 Thus, Bonhoeffer notes a tendency in Protestant theology to concentrate on humanity and God; nature is either obscured by sinfulness or occluded by reference to the 'historical' act of revelation. Hence two
31. As is noted by Rosemary Radford Ruether, To Change the World: Christology and Cultural
Criticism (London: SCM Press, 1981), pp. 57-70.
32. Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison, p. 344. 33. Bonhoeffer, Ethics,p. 120.
theological issues emerge: first, what theological account can be given of the activity of God in concreto to the reality of nature and humanity.? Second, the problem of the relevance of the Christian God is also raised: can a theological account be given that engages with and learns from secular description ofhumanity-in-nature?34
An example of the close relation between the separation of nature, humanity and God and the privatisation of belief is technology. At first glance this seems unlikely: what has technology to do with God? Yet that is precisely part of the point: technology provides and supports a view of the world which appears to make God redundant. 'Nature was formerly conquered by spiritual means', Bonhoeffer writes, 'with us by technical organisation of all kinds.'35 Yet in fact the concept of nature which permits technological development emerges in theology: only when the telos of nature is denied (as it was in nominalism), is it possible for a new telos of nature to be provided by humanity; nature is then available for appropriation by technology. As Dupre writes: 'But without a common teleology that integrates humanity with nature, the mastery of nature becomes its own end, and the purposes originally pursued by it end up becoming secondary ... [Thereby] science was destined to give birth to the most comprehensive feature of modern life, namely technology.'36 We see here again the double irrelevance of theological interpretation of the world: the emergence of technology is coterminous with the emergence of a grace-less nature; the development of technology contributes to the 'world come of age' which denies the relevance oftranscendence.
In its reliance on the denial of the transcendence of nature, technology marks an aspect of modernity's displacement of God and the setting up of humanity sicut deus over nature. What are the consequences of such a denial for our understanding of humanity-in-nature? The denial of the transcendence of nature - that is, the denial that nature might receive its reality from outside itself and is thereby not sufficient unto itself - makes nature infinite. As Bonhoeffer noted, 'An infinite universe, however it may be conceived, is self-subsisting, etsi deus non daretur.'37 Together with this notion of an infinite nature, comes the view that nature has to be given a telos by human action. Thus the presence and action of God are thrust
34. Often, it is assumed that Christianity has no contribution to make: see Val Plumwood's excellent philosophical book, Feminism and the Mastery of Nature (London: Routledge, 1993), which offers an incisive account of the philosophical history of the dualism of (male) humanity/nature, but omits any reference to the importance of transcendence.
35. Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison, p. 380. 36. Dupre, Passage to Modernity, p. 74.
37. Bonhoeffer,LettersandPapersfromPrison, p. 360.
outside infinite nature; the stress is now placed on a human telos that incorporates nature. Hence a new view of the future emerges, together with an affirmation of'progress': 'Unlike the apocalyptic future, which would violently interrupt the passage of time and bring history to a close, the modern future appeared as the endlessly postponed terminus of a continuing history.'38 From the perspective of humanity-nature relations, the future then comes to be seen as a human endeavour; further, because ontological priority is now given to the future, human achievements are to be secured in the shortest possible time. But the future is this-worldly, to be secured by the actions of humanity.
With the emphasis on an immanentist future comes the separation of humanity from nature. Paradoxically, the stress on a self-sufficient totality of nature leads to the separation of humanity from that totality. Hence there runs through modernity an increasing stress on the objectivity of nature: the classical and medieval onto-theological synthesis that held together nature, self and the transcendent, loses its power. Of course, differing interpretations of the synthesis have been given. Christianity secured an especially important demotion of the cosmos: the creator is transcendent over God's creation. Yet that did not, at first, encourage the view that cosmos and self could be separated. The modern period manages precisely this feat, however:
Modern culture has detached personhood from the other two constituents of the original ontological synthesis. For Greek and medieval philosophers the person formed an integral part of a more comprehensive totality, yet ruled that totality in accordance with a teleology both immanent in its own nature and transcending it. The image of the person which emerged in the sixteenth century became increasingly more enclosed within itself. Eventually it narrowed its teleology to one of self-preservation or self-fulfilment, either social or individual.39
The implications for theology of the new teleology, which sees humanity as placed in an open horizon and as other than nature, are profound. For now humanity sees itself as at the leading edge of history (which in this temporal scheme is also the centre of the world). The theme of creatureli-ness, which might permit an account of humanity placed in the middle of the world as part of nature, is displaced by a view of humanity as superior to nature's contingencies. God's blessing, if it is appealed to at all, is
38. Dupre, Passage toModernity,p. 156. 39. Ibid., pp. 163-4.
understood in terms not of living from the middle, but living at the scientific, technological edge.
Yet the actuality is different from the promise: although all stress is now placed on self-directed humanity, humanity's emancipation from nature is not humanity's emancipation from itself.
Our immediate environment is not nature, as formerly, but organisation. But with this protection from nature's menace there arises a new one - through organisation itself. But the spiritual force is lacking. The question is: What protects us against the menace of organisation? Man is again thrown back on himself. He has managed to deal with everything, only not with himself... In the last resort it all turns upon man.40
Humanity is opposed to nature; nature and humanity are opposed to God. The view of humanity as at the leading edge of history obscures the presence of God, denies the rule of God and privatises belief. Further, the world is left as it is: humanity remains locked into the attempt to free itself from its own natural conditions. It is therefore no exaggeration to conclude that: nature is the problem of modernity. In the concept of nature are to be found the interrelated issues of a humanity which refuses to live out of the middle ofits existence, a stress on the domestication ofnature and the displacement ofGod.
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