Towards a political theology of nature

So far, I have argued for a philosophical theology of nature in a political-ideological key. The transcendentals of becoming, unity, sociality and openness articulate the common realm in which God, nature and humanity are mutually yet asymmetrically related. As part of the same argument, homogeneity is ruled out: difference in God requires differentiation of the world; worldly distinctions require the concept of a self-related God. The terminology of'ground', 'activity' and 'force' emerged as important at this point.

The world has its ground in the activity of God. Following a Christolog-ical clue, I have interpreted such a ground in terms of sociality: the stability of the world resides in its social, yet always contingent, relations. The irreducible interrelationality of all things is best worked out within a conceptuality of the social. To further explicate the social ground of the world in God, I draw on the categories oftemporality and spatiality. This theme, construed Christologically as dynamic encounter, is the subject of chapter 7.

57. Gare, Postmodernism and theEnvironmental Crisis, p. 161.

58. Joel Kovel, 'On the Notion of Human Nature: A Contribution toward a Philosophical Anthropology', in Stanley B. Messer, Louis A. Sass and RobertL. Woolfolk (eds.), Hermeneutics and Psychological Theory-Interpretive Perspectives on Personality, Psychotherapy, and Psychopathology (New Brunswick and London: Rutgers University Press, 1988), pp. 370-99.

The activity of God both differentiates and yet holds together: God is both alpha and omega. This activity of God is a force for alteration: the renewal of the social. Thus the activity of God is to be understood in terms of movement and dynamism towards the intensification of true dependencies. This theme, construed pneumatologically as fellowship, is the subject of chapter 8.

The movements of the social, temporal and spatial are to be described as the un/natural relations of the common realm. What does 'un/natural' mean.? The term 'un/natural', which accrues developed theological content in part III, operates as a contrasting term to 'natural' and 'non-natural'. Against reductionist tendencies to interpret humanity as conforming to nature or as separate from nature, I offer here a richer ontology of the ecosocial. And this ecosocial ontology is richer because it is an ontology shaped in response to the activity ofGod as ground and force.

I anticipate here a certain type of pragmatic and sceptical response: how does the discourse of sociality, temporality and spatiality assist in thinking about un/natural relations? For example: if, struck by its beauty, I gaze ata starry night sky - how is this reaction to 'nature' analysable by the conceptuality I am offering through this book? In response, I should say that my argument moves at the level of fundamental theological categories. But such an answer, although necessary, is not sufficient.

So consider this: what account of un/natural relations is presupposed by an aesthetic reaction to a natural occurrence? Is a sense of insignificance occasioned by looking at the night sky a more appropriate reaction than regarding myself as a microcosm faced by a macrocosm? A curious song lyric by Sting makes my point: 'I took a walk alone last night /1 looked up at the stars / To try and find an answer in my life . . . Something made me smile / Something seemed to ease the pain / Something about the universe and how it's all connected.'59 On what grounds is this reading of the universe as source of solace to be preferred to the universe as source of alienation? What sorts ofsocial relations engender such different aesthetic responses and are reproduced through them? We probably think that such responses are 'timeless' - but are they? Do they have a precise history in culture, religions and theory? How do such responses assist in the identification of the material processes by which Western humanity employs non-human nature (and other humans)? Is there aliberative connection between such a sensibility and praise of the triune God?

59. Sting, 'I'm so Happy I can't Stop Crying', from the album Mercury Falling (1996). Lyrics and music by Sting. Lyrics copyright Magnetic Publishing Limited.

To answer such questions we enter a third level of analysis: below the transcendental and the ecosocial, we have the level of ordering or organisation. How are we to think of the ordering or organisation of creature-liness? How do temporal, social and spatial orders emerge.? What modes of determination shape un/natural relations? Here three categories of historico-natural emergence are of especial importance: movement, structure and tendency. The temporal, social and spatial is a realm of movement: of the temporal 'unfolding' of distinctions and determinations. Such movement is always by way of structures: orderings of becoming. Such orderings are subject to a range of tendencies: death or ending, of course, but also expansion, increase in richness or variety, and the enhancement of interaction, mutuality and fellowship.60

To return to my example of gazing at the night sky: what sort of movement between humanity and nature is evident here? If we say that this common way of interacting with nature leaves aspects of our Western un/natural relations untouched and unaffected, such sky-gazing could be interpreted merely as an escape from the ruthless ways in which we use up nature. Or such star-gazing could be a substantial criticism of other, dominant, ways of construing and interacting with nature. How shall we decide between these two opposed readings? One way would be to attend to the conditions of such movement: what are its supporting structures? Such reactions to a sky are learned rather than innate. But where do we learn them? When Don Maclean sings, in praise of Vincent Van Gogh, 'Starry, Starry Night', where does such a sensibility come from and what material interests does it support?61 Are the interests that emerge in such a structure of feeling, to borrow from Raymond Williams, oriented towards the wholeness of human-nature relations or their disintegration? Lastly, is the tendency of such star-gazing that of personalism or naturalism? Interacting with the sky at night could be interpreted in affirmative ways: a vast universe that ends in a self-conscious part - humanity - might be understood as purposive and oriented towards the human. Or the same vastness might be read cosmocentrically. Human beings are in this manner decen-tred: 'nettles in a beautiful universe', as a student once put it to me.

Standing inyour garden at midnight and watching the starry sky turns out to be a complex phenomenon patient of a range of interpretations. To test those interpretations theologically, we need to ask fundamental

60. The issue of historico-natural emergence is picked up again in chapter 8.

61. Don MacLean, 'Vincent (Starry, Starry Night)', from the album American Pie (1971). Lyrics and music by Don McLean. Lyrics copyright Songs of Universal, Inc. and Benny Bird Music.

questions: what are temporal, social and spatial orders and how do they emerge.? How are movements, structures and tendencies to be thought in a political theology of nature? Through the next part of this book, ways in which the movement, structure and tendency of un/natural relations may be understood are considered. I offer a critical yet dynamic articulation: an interaction between the theological commitments of the common realm of God, nature and humanity and various political theories of ecology. The aim is the testing of these theological commitments, and their development and clarification.

Part II

The politics of nature

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