November 20, 2009
So from Aquinas we move to Karl Barth and the idea of stewardship after the end of nature. Jenkins looks to Barth to discover whether stewardship “remain a structurally dominant relation”. Instead of granting some privileged moral position to ‘nature’ this strategy starts from God’s claim on human action. (p.153) He then goes into a spirited defense of Barth who is usually used as a foil by environmental ethicists. Barth insists on the revelational priority of act over being. God’s act determines created reality, in both time and space, history and geography. And third, we know God’s act through the particular event of Jesus Christ. “God’s universal will is elective, revealed in and bound to a particular creature.” (p.155)
Barth ends with a stewardship of earthkeeping or caring for creation on one hand and a stewardship of wise use; earthly perception on one hand and hearing the voice of God on the other. (p.169)
In chapter 9 we go on to consider how, for Barth, Christ’s work makes the ’special place of human obedience’ (p.171) and are led down yet another theologically dense and abstract path to consideration of “the environment of Jesus”. This is brought back toward normal human experience in consideration of Barth’s inversion of ‘Servant as Lord and Lord as servant’ leading to the danger of anthropomorphism in consideration of ‘Humans as Lords.’
There is a great deal of material in these chapters as in those that have gone before that suggest that they are for the cognoscenti of environmental ethics and are mining Christian theologians for resources that might be helpful. I’m a fairly simple soul at one level and find it easy enough to say that God made the heavens and the earth and saw that it was good. That, of course raises the problem of evil which many theologians have reduced to being a consequence of a cosmic fall by which death is introduced to the Garden of Eden. I find the Thomistic approach more helpful than anything Barthian with his suggestion that there is something to be learned about what is of true and ultimate worth in this world through the reality of suffering. It does not excuse God from charges of setting up a world in which many creatures suffer and sometimes for the apparent good of others, but offers another way of thinking about them as moral issues. Based on that, of course we must care for creation, but are the theologians and ethicists helping us know what that means? I can see that our harmful emissions in the developed world are part and parcel of drought and starvation in other parts of the world and that must be addressed as a matter of ethics. I’m not so clear that we shouldn’t evaluate cost and benefit of ding such things as building levees in New Orleans, --clearly a manipulation of ‘nature’. So far in this book, I’m not being taken much further, but find myself glad that those called to this care and concern are going about it thoughtfully and carefully.