The Context of Planetary Theology
As we move on in Life Abundant, we will consider two economic worldviews, two interpretations of how the world works. Each interpretation is based on the assumptions of a different historical period.
- The first economic worldview arose in the 18th century, but the structures of our western society – our assumptions, institutions and laws – still rest on this worldview. It pictures our planet as a collection of individuals, each striving to benefit from the world’s natural resources. In this worldview, humans dominate the system and the planet operates like a machine, with all its parts externally related to each other.
- The second economic worldview arose in the 20th century. It pictures our planet as a community – human and nonhuman – that survives and prospers through the interrelationship of its many parts, which are internally related to each other. In this worldview, the planet operates like an organism, and humans are the conscious part of the body.
Life Abundant argues that the first economic worldview hurts the poor and the natural world, while the second worldview would be healthier for the planet and all its inhabitants. However, it will be difficult for us to see the problems of our current worldview; it feels so ‘natural’ to us. It will also be difficult for us to appreciate the dire circumstances of our deteriorating planet (as well as the desperate situation of so many human beings) unless we adopt a new worldview.
The neo-classic economic worldview and the consumer society
We are consumers: Our economics inherited its worldview from religion and political theory. Religion contributed the idea of the sacredness of the individual; political theory contributed the idea of the ‘rights of man,’ or individual rights. Economics combined these ideas to create a new creature: homo oeconomicus – the human being who has the freedom to pursue his or her own personal economic interests.
But in the 18th century, when neo-classical economic theory first arose, people lived within communities. In the 21st century, most of us see ourselves as individuals. Our assumptions about human life no longer begin with a strong sense of connection with others; we see personal financial and personal fulfillment as our primary right.
CONNECT: How do you feel?
1. Remember a recent shopping trip, and describe the stores you shopped in (what the store looked like, what you selected, where you paid, etc.). Wherever you shop, are you aware of the shopping environment?
2. Think of a person you know well and love. If that person is viewed primarily as a consumer, what important qualities are ignored?
3. Do persons without money to buy things show up on the radar of this market view of humanity?
OIKOS, Greek for ‘household,’
is the root of ECO-logy…
The goal of ecological economics is to manage the Earth’s household for all members over the long run. The key words here are the Earth’s household, all members, and the long run. Our household – and all its members (human and non-human) – must be able to survive.
CONNECT: How do you feel?
1. Sallie McFague writes, “That happiness is to be attained through limitless material acquisition is denied by every religion and philosophy known to humankind, but is preached incessantly by every American television.” (see p. 120) Have you ever thought of TV ads as ‘preaching?’
2. McFague says, “We have become consumers — not citizens, or children of God, or lovers of the world, but consumers.” (p. 96). If consumerism is our religion, what are we really ‘worshiping’? What are our ‘spiritual practices’? What’s your favorite ‘holy day’? Valentine hearts, roses and candy? Easter lilies, bunnies and spring fashions? Fourth-of-July flags, fireworks and patriotic shirts? Halloween ghosts and costumes galore? Thanksgiving turkey, football and midnight shopping? Or….
God and the World
Who is God?
God is not a being or an object, but the reality that is always with us and for us.
The classical view of God in the Hebrew and Christian traditions is that God is both transcendent to all reality and totally immanent in all reality. At times our Biblical tradition stresses God’s transcendence – beyond the world we live in – and then God seems very distant from ordinary life. At other times our Biblical tradition tells us that God is also immanent – dwelling beyond us but also within our world.
In the neo-classical economic model, God is mostly absent from the world – God is an otherworldly being who designed and set the world in motion, but who acts only occasionally in it. In this model, people are discrete individuals, seeking their own happiness. In the ecological economic model, God is present in the world. In this model, people are individuals-in-community; every creature’s breath depends on others. Which of these models of God best fits reality as we experience it?
Notes from a talk given by John Horsley in our discussion on August 15.
Process theology derives from process philosophy.
Process theology derives in particular from the philosophy of Harvard professor Alfred North Whitehead.
Whitehead asked “What is reality made up of?” The standard answer is things – chairs, tables, books, living things – plants animals people . What are these things made up of – substances (stuff). This stuff can change into other kinds of stuff but endures through time.
Whitehead says, in contrast to this picture, that everything is made of experience – in fact single moments of experience (drops of experience) that succeed one another.
CONNECT: How do you feel?
1. Can you remember a personal encounter with what you experienced as the reality of God. Can you find words to describe your experience? What part of your experience can’t be described in words?
Christ and the neo-classical worldview
Jesus ascends into Heaven (stained glass, early 20th century)
Christ and the ecological economic worldview
Jesus embraces the world (icon, late 20th century)