Human freedom natural contingencies

The theological task emerges more clearly: not to leave the world as it is. What might be the outline of a theological account which declines to leave the world as it is.? The contribution of a political theology of nature is Christological: the common realm of God, nature and humanity has Christ as its centre. 'God is no stop-gap; he must be recognised at the centre of life... The ground for this lies in the revelation of God in Jesus Christ. He is the centre of life.'41 This commitment to the Christological form of the presence of God supports the notion of a common realm. The presence of God returns humanity to dieMitte. What does this mean?

We have seen that the reduction of a stress on grace leads to the separation of humanity from nature and the objectification of nature. I have already noted that the attempt merely to reunite humanity and nature is theologically insufficient: it fails to acknowledge that the concept ofGod

40. Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison, p. 380. 41. Ibid., p. 312.

too has been displaced in the separation of humanity and nature. Such displacement is no small matter. At issue is whether or not some justification can be given of the circumstance in which humanity finds itself: as free yet within a context that resists (to some extent) that same freedom. Philosophers influenced by the German idealist tradition gloss this problem in terms of freedom and necessity. So Dupre: 'The search for an adequate conception of transcendence appears far from finished. How does the necessary allow genuine contingency.? How does the contingent affect the nature of necessity?'42

In line with the theological politics being advanced in this book, I shall speak less of dependence and autonomy and more of the hegemonic situation in which humanity is placed as opposed to social freedom, of the ideological forms of knowing contrasted with practical truth. Yet the basic point remains: how are the three figures ofGod, nature and humanity to be related such that the justification of the relation between these three can be seen? The issue is practical: without such a justification, history must bear its own burden. Hence the constant modern stress on the improvement of humanity's environment, the emphasis on progress and the constantly receding Siren ofthe 'good life' and the 'American dream'. Here we encounter the conditions in present human society of the limitless' exploitation and degradation of the environment.

We are confronted by a central problem of modernity: human freedom, qua freedom, cannot be dependent on any conditions. Otherwise that very freedom is contradicted. Such freedom is only operative (and, it is hoped, effective) in a particular context. Yet the context is given: as Marx noted, humanity lives from the dead labour of the past. Hence the attempt by humanity to dominate its environment in order to secure its basic needs runs into insoluble contradictions if humanity does not see itself as placed in that environment. Abstract freedom struggles against abstract nature. The contours of Western life as we have them today are, then, founded upon the distorted sociality of humanity and the destruction of the environment.

The claim that in theological understanding such issues are properly addressed needs to be made good. A theological account of the common realm of God, nature and humanity needs to show how, in conceptual form, the distortions of social humanity can be reframed towards an

42. Dupre, Passage to Modernity, p. 253.

extended account of freedom by, in and for nature. A theological interpretation of nature grants finitude to nature and to humanity, thereby placing humanity in the middle of nature and history. A theological interpretation offers an account of the reality of the relations between humanity and nature. The combination of these two commitments - humanity in the middle, the centrality of the relations between humanity and nature -requires ontological specification.43

The theological justification of nature and humanity raises questions about standard ways of reflecting on nature. First, postmodern emphases which reject all ontology must themselves be rejected. Such critiques are right to detect a problem in the relation between the freedom of the subject and the necessity of nature. Such critiques are right, in part, also to reject the notion of the free subject. But there remains the matter of the reality of nature in its relations with humanity which needs to be addressed. The dispute between the freedom of humanity and the necessity of nature cannot be resolved by eliminating nature, as some seek to do. Consider here the following comments: 'We made Nature and it just is our descriptions of it and the way we treat it. Nature is a cultural product.' 'Nature has come to an end.' 'We have deprived nature of its independence, and that is fatal to its meaning. Nature's independence is its meaning; without it there is nothing but us.'44 It may be true, as these comments suggest, that the necessity of nature is not given in the order of things. Yet it cannot thereby be ignored. How the partial freedom of humanity relates to nature still needs to be specified.

Second, appeals to science in the form of a new creation story which do not explore these ontological issues are equally suspect. Resolutions to the problem of the alienation of nature and social freedom cannot be resolved in favour of some 'natural' basis (learned either from ecology or the natural sciences).45 Simply stressing nature where once humanity was emphasised does not address the vital issue: what is the relation between the sociality of humanity and the ecology of nature (which is after all the root of the problem).? For theology, the attempt must be made to show how the

43. If the turn by the natural sciences towards the explanatory power of narrative offers a clue, the boldness of my ontological endeavour is less out of step with the wider intellectual culture than perhaps it would have been twenty years ago.

44. Don Cupitt, 'Nature and Culture', in Neil Spurway (ed.), Humanity, Environment and God (Oxford: Blackwell, 1993), p. 35; Anthony Giddens, Beyond Left and Right:The Future of Radical Politics (Oxford: Blackwell, 1994), p. 102; Bill McKibben, The End of Nature (New York: Random House, 1989), p. 58.

45. Arne Naess, Ecology, Community and Lifestyle (Cambridge University Press, 1989), p. 39.

common realm of humanity, nature and God establishes the reality, interrelations and liberation of humanity, nature and God.

Such commitments, stated briefly and baldly, hint at some of the theological principles operative in this book. In my view, the theological task is reconstructive rather than constructive. That is, I am committed to the basic shape of Christian doctrine in the theological consideration of nature. Such a decision involves judgments about natural theology, the doctrines themselves and the dynamic articulated by Christianity. Yet I do not think that some reconstructive theological proposals, which seek to reinvigorate the motifs of human dominion of nature or stewardship, are tenable.46 Instead, the relation between humanity and nature requires fundamental reconsideration; the metaphors of dominion and stewardship are not central to my position. Rather, I offer here an extended attempt to specify, in theological perspective, the natural conditions of humanity. The relevance ofthe Christian schema is defended in and through a move into the doctrine of creation: the liberating dynamic of Christianity is reconstrued under the rubric, 'Christ and creation'.47

Yet, as can be seen from the opening section of this chapter, the theological task undertaken here focuses on the polis. Thus there is an important liberal' emphasis in what follows thereby to incorporate a theological account of the world. In support of this incorporation, in the next chapter I shall engage with the concept of nature by way of a philosophical theology which enjoys certain liberal characteristics. Yet the engagement will be thoroughly theological. For the political theology of nature presented here needs to be differentiated from the theologies of nature which lean more heavily upon philosophies of nature, usually derived from the natural sciences, which are alien to Christianity. With this openness to the natural sciences - often construed generally in terms of a common creation story - there remains the danger that the content of the natural sciences

46. This way of the attempted re-presentation of the relevance of standard Christian models of human responsibility for nature is rich and varied: see Thomas Sieger Derr, Ecology and Human Need (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1975) who continues to use the language of 'mastery' of nature; Robert Fancy, Wind and Sea Obey Him: Approaches to a Theology of Nature (London: SCM Press, 1982); Douglas John Hall, Imaging God: Dominion as Stewardship (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans and New York: Friendship Press, 1986); the early Bonhoeffer: Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Creation and Fall:A Theological Interpretation of Genesis 1-3 (London: SCM Press, 1959; lectures given in 1933).

47. Further examples of work in this area include Jurgen Moltmann, God in Creation (London: SCM Press, 1985); Colin E. Gunton, The One, the Three and the Many (Cambridge University Press, 1993); Gregorios, The Human Presence; Santmire, The Travail of Nature; Nash, Loving Nature. In his stress on the ambiguity of modernity and his attempt to construct an ontology of communion of humanity and nature, Hall's Imaging God fits partly in this category.

is extended - reductionistically - to specify the context of theology. On this view, particular stress can be laid on the incarnational presence of God or the cosmic Christ in nature.48

I am more sympathetic to those theologies which address the politics of nature. Yet such accounts offer, often in subtle ways, a substantial and far-reaching alteration to Christianity. For instance, it is not always clear in this approach whether or not there is a determining place for Jesus Christ: the incarnation is transferred from Christology to the doctrine of God in order to account for God's presence in and to the world.49 Furthermore, the stress on the natural sciences does not properly address the matter of the interaction between humanity and nature. Last, the appeal to the natural sciences is considered to be the way in which theology secures its credentials as a public discipline. Yet, in fact, the 'publicness' is specified by the natural sciences.

A political theology of nature, as I have described it, directs theological attention to the relations operative in the common realm of God, nature and humanity. The rationale of this attention is Christological. Yet there remains the important matter of the theological account of the 'world come of age' by way of a theological engagement with the 'secular' politics of nature. Setting out the contours of this double commitment - Christ and world - is the task of this political theology of nature.

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