Throughout the posts at this site we have circled the idea that we need a new theology — a theology that is appropriate for our time and for the future we face. Implicit in this way of thought is that the Christian community, working as a body, can help change society. A recent post Living with Integrity by Chris Martenson of Peak Prosperity made me think about this assumption. He says,
My ultimate diagnosis of what’s going on in the United States culture and a lot of Europe culture — probably in other cultures, but I can’t speak to them as well – it’s that they lack integrity. Now, integrity isn’t simply “Oh, I don’t lie”. Integrity means that your actions are for the greater good. Sometimes there are acts of integrity which actually are not optimal for you; they’re optimal for the larger society around you.
Integrity is thinking out seven generations. Integrity is saying that beauty matters in our life, and that when we take out a species, we’re taking away something extraordinarily beautiful.
Maybe we shouldn’t just spray fungicides across thousand of acres in a single go. Maybe we shouldn’t spray herbicides across million of acres in a single go. We don’t know what these herbicides are doing and fungicides and pesticides beyond the immediate use we’re putting them to. They have all these ripple effects that go on and on and on. And we don’t know what those are.
So integrity would include a sense of humility. Full integrity is saying “I don’t know”. We should be saying more of that. And integrity would include listening more carefully and deeply. Integrity would mean that we are operating in a way that is right for the other species around us, including humans. That we strive to do things that are right and good.
That part of ourselves that’s calling for our hearts to be involved in the world and to believe in something that’s larger and more profound than ourselves is really an essential concept. And everything about our current culture is cheap, demeaning, unfair. It’s not building towards the directions that I think any of us can really believe in, and we know that we have to go in a new direction.
In other words, our response to climate change and other Age of Limits issues requires not just specific actions, it needs also to have a strong moral component.
The responders to this post fell into three groups.
The first group suggest that the concept of integrity is relative. So, for example, people of one religion may feel that it is morally right to kill people of another faith. In doing so they believe, they are acting with integrity. This point of view is, I believe, effectively challenged in the book Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis. He argues that right and wrong actions are consistent across all cultures and faiths — that there is a universal moral law. Any differences are differences of detail. For example, it is always right to help people who are in trouble; it is always wrong to steal. (For further discussion as to the nature of Truth, see our post The Christian New Deal: Part I .)
The second response implies that individuals can make a difference. They do by removing their focus from the acquisition of material goods. One person referenced Matthew 6: 19-24, starting with the familiar words,
Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.
In other words
There are no pockets in shrouds.
Implicit in this way of thinking is that, if enough Christians take the appropriate actions, then the world can change. An examination of the rise of Christianity during what we now call the Dark Ages suggests that this argument has at least some merit.
The third group takes the cynical attitude that we are merely animals, and like all other living creatures, we will consume our resources until they are gone — and then we die out.
We are going to eat through our resources until there isn’t enough to sustain us, and then we’ll adapt or die off…just like every other organism. Just like every other organism. JUST LIKE EVERY OTHER ORGANISM. There is no other option. Humans have never changed voluntarily, it’s always been the result of necessary adaptation to a changing environment.
An individual can change to a degree but the larger collective is not an intelligent entity. Its a mob. It’s like a fungus or a bacteria, it can’t be reasoned out of it’s nature. That’s why I always say that there are no collective solutions, only individual ones. What can YOU do to prepare for the inevitable? That’s it. You’re not going to change the tide of human nature.
In response to these responses Martenson writes,
We know that individuals can change via insight or pain. Both are effective routes, with pain, by far, being the road taken most often.
Can ‘the mob’ change at all? Do we have any evidence of a hierarchical society willingly giving up creature comforts for a long-term gain?
I am familiar with the idea that some indigenous cultures would consider 7 generations, but I don’t know how that really was put into practice. However, even if that happened, that would be within a tribal arrangement where culture would be more amenable to rapid change being of a much smaller more manageable size and all.
Otherwise, has it ever happened that a big old fat pyramid of humanity has decided to downsize their power, resources and influence to make a better future for people as yet unborn?
I’m unaware of any examples, but that’s not really helpful because my knowledge of ancient cultures is so dreadfully incomplete. So ready to gather any examples people may have.
Said differently, each individual is the sum of their belief systems and those are addressable and can be modified. A ‘mob’ or larger culture has memes, narratives and cultural beliefs that float around and are not located anywhere in particular, and heavily reinforced by self-censoring agents and entities that are invested in keeping those myths alive.
So, that’s a long way of saying I simply cannot imagine the larger narratives changing in time to ward off what we all see coming.
It’s never pretty when an organism eats through the lucky food supply it stumbled across. Overshoot and collapse are the natural laws in place. What evidence do we have that humanity, as a hierarchical structure can rise above the biological laws that have been shaped and have evolved over hundreds of millions of years?
Again, I don’t have any such evidence at my fingertips. I do, however, have tons of data showing that humans are simply organisms. We eat, we breed, and our marketing almost exclusively targets sexual desire and reproductive fitness.
I only raise all of this because to correctly address any problem or predicament you first have to understand it at the root level. Any analysis or proposal that seeks to overlook our biology is not a robust design worthy of much inquiry or debate.
Where mind-body-spirit have to all be activated for a healthy human to transform effectively, I think any proposals for re-shaping culture have to include biology-beliefs-resources as the root level drivers of destiny.
So, how should the Christian church respond? Should it aim to control the highest levels of society as it did as the western Roman Empire collapsed? Or should individual Christians accept that we cannot change our trajectory and that therefore we should concentrate on adapting for a very difficult future by focusing on ourselves, our families and people in our immediate community?