Archive for July, 2012
31 Jul 2012
I've been watching some, erm, stuff from The Story of Stuff Project. It's about our patterns of production and consumption, and how they are all messed up. Here's the original movie from 2007, The Story of Stuff, which claims to be "one of the most watched environmental-themed online movies of all time". You can help that to remain the case by watching it now...
31 Jul 2012
According to a new Berkeley Earth study released today, the average temperature of the Earth’s land has risen by 1.5 °C over the past 250 years. The good match between the new temperature record and historical carbon dioxide records suggests that the most straightforward explanation for this warming is human greenhouse gas emissions.
Not too surprising, except that the study was launched because of a genuine scepticism about previous findings. "I was not expecting this," says project founder Richard Muller, "but as a scientist, I feel it is my duty to let the evidence change my mind." He now describes himself as a "converted sceptic".
What of the remaining "climate change sceptics"? Leo Hickman in the Guardian:
The key question for me is whether climate sceptics actually want to tackle that all-important question. What evidence will it take to convince them? Are they forever destined to keep saying "it's not enough for us"? When does the balance of risk tip over in favour of them accepting that pumping ever more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere is not a wise thing to keep on doing?
Here's one of the Berkeley Earth videos, showing the rise in global land temperatures.
30 Jul 2012
"Consumerism was a way of giving people the illusion of control, while allowing a responsible elite to continue managing society."
Part 4 of Adam Curtis's documentary, The Century of The Self (part 1), chronicles how this consumerist mentality moved beyond the world of consumer goods to engulf democracy itself, first through the free-market politics of Reagan and Thatcher, and then through the focus-group politics of Clinton and Blair.
It makes a disturbing amount of sense. Voters now are individuals who simply follow their instinctive desires, and the role of politicians is to give us policies that enable those desires to be satisfied.
The documentary dates from 2002. I wonder what Curtis would make of the last ten years?
25 Jul 2012
Some of our social customs are so familiar that we don't realise how weird they are.
Sponsorship is one of them.
Here are two things a person might say, one of which is "normal", while the other is bordering on the offensive:
- Hi, I'm raising money for my favourite charity by ascending Mount Everest blindfolded on a space hopper. Would you like to contribute?
- Hi, I'm raising money for my favourite charity. Would you like to contribute?
What goes through our minds when we gladly give money in the first case, but feel very awkward in the second?
Generally, we would think that it is pretty rude to interfere with someone else's charitable giving. By all means tell me about your favourite charity, but leave it up to me to decide how much money I give (if I give anything at all).
But it's okay to do impolite things under certain circumstances. For example, it's generally considered to be a palpable solecism to knock on someone's door at 3am. But if your house is on fire and you need to use that person's phone, normal conventions are set aside.
But what is it about me performing some impressive feat that makes it acceptable for me to interfere with your charitable giving? On the surface, me hopping up Everest would appear to have no connection with you giving money to charity. But somehow my use of a space hopper could lead you to donate to a charity of my choice. Why?
Maybe part of the answer is that it bestows a certain amount of honour on the person being asked. Please sir, you know that if I had £10,000 to give to my favourite charity, I would give it myself. But I don't have that sort of money—and to prove that to you, I will do something that a normal person would never do for less that £10,000. I only ask that worthy benefactors such as your fine self take note of my sincerity, and out of pity supply me with just a small amount of what I lack in terms of money, so that my efforts can be translated into financial benefit for my favourite charity.
Is that the answer? Do we really have such elaborate social conventions in our enlightened age?
18 Jul 2012
The final chapter of Al Wolters' Creation Regained (1, 2, 2, 3, 4, 5-6) is a postscript that was added for the second edition of the book in 2005, 20 years after the first edition was published. It is authored jointly by Mike Goheen and Al Wolters, with the title Worldview between Story and Mission. The reason it was added was to set the worldview themes of the book in the context of the broader biblical narrative, and to spell out some of the implications for the mission of the church.
Throughout the main body of the book, I had been understanding the themes of creation, fall and redemption primarily as elements of the biblical narrative, rather than as abstract worldview categories. So I couldn't quite understand why the idea of the biblical narrative was being introduced almost as though it was something the book hadn't mentioned so far. But, regardless of that, the postscript provides an excellent articulation of the big story of the Bible, through creation, rebellion, Israel, Jesus and the church to the final judgment and renewal of the entire creation.
As well as unpacking the biblical narrative, the postscript provides lots of helpful material on the mission of the church, linking it with themes from earlier in the book. Here are a couple of quotes picking up on the book's major themes of structure and direction:
The life of the church is to be a billboard broadcasting the good news that the kingdom is coming. This announcement comes in the extraordinary ordinariness of our daily lives—extraordinary because of the renewing power of the Spirit, ordinary because of the common creational stuff of our daily existence. Or to put it another way: directionally extraordinary, but structurally ordinary (p.132).
In every cultural product, institution, and custom is something of the good of God's creational structure. At the same time all of it, to some degree, is misdirected by a shared cultural idolatry. The mission of God's people is to discern and embrace the good creational insights and structure, and at the same time to reject and subvert the idolatrous distortion (p.137).
The final few sentences provide a good summary:
For followers of Jesus Christ, their place in the [biblical] story is to make known the good news that God is healing the creation from the brokenness of sin. This will mean conflict and suffering. This will demand a deepening spirituality and dependence on the Spirit. This is the context in which we must understand what it means to elaborate the most basic categories of the biblical story. Worldview articulation can play a mediating role between the gospel and the missionary calling of God's people. To that end "Creation Regained" is offered to the church to equip her in a world that desperately needs to see and hear the good news that God's kingdom has come: God is renewing the creation and the whole of human life in the work of Jesus Christ by the Spirit (p.143).
17 Jul 2012
[Jesus' parable of the talents] means that ... Christians must now employ all their God-given means in opposing the sickness and demonization of creation—and thus in restoring creation—in anticipation of its final "regeneration" at the second coming (Matt. 19:28) (p.76).
Chapter 5 of Creation Regained by Al Wolters (1, 2, 2, 3, 4) works through some of the practical implications of a "reformational" worldview. How do the themes of creation, fall and redemption help us to see the ways in which particular areas of life can be regained?
The first step is a matter of understanding. We need to discern structure and direction. All of the created order has a God-given structure, but all of the created order can be directed either towards God in his service, or away from God in rebellion against him.
The next step is a matter of strategy. The approach needs to be "reformational": seeking "reformation" in the sense of "inner revitalization" (p.89), and seeking "reformation" rather than revolution, "progressive renewal rather than violent overthrow" (p.91).
Wolters gives some specific examples. In the realm of societal renewal,
Perversion of God's creational design for society can occur in two ways: either through perversion of the norms within a given sphere (as in cases of injustice in the state, child abuse in the family, exploitative wages in the business enterprise) or through the extension of the authority of one sphere over another. In both cases Christians must oppose these distortions of God's handiwork. But that opposition should always affirm the proper and right exercise of responsibility (p.100).
In other words, the the bad direction should be opposed, precisely in order that the good creational structure can be affirmed.
Meanwhile, in the realm of personal renewal, a careful distinction between structure and direction can help to break through false dilemmas, where Christians may find themselves torn between a totally positive view and a totally negative view of something. Examples given are:
- Agression: in terms of structure, this is a good part of creation, but it is often directed in a harmful way.
- Spiritual gifts: "As creational possibilities, the charismata manifest structural traits; as serving either the kingdom of God or the world, they manifest directional traits" (p.105).
- Sexuality: "Human sexuality, a part of God's good creation, ought to be affirmed and accepted with thanksgiving. ... Sexual immorality should be opposed not to repress sex but to show forth its true glory" (p.111).
- Dance: "Many Christian traditions have developed a negative attitude towards social dancing" (p.111), but distinguishing between the good creational structure of dance and the ways in which this structure has been used and abused (its direction) can lead to a more helpful approach to the issue.
Quoting from the book's Conclusion:
To approach the phenomena of the world in terms of structure and direction is to look at reality through the corrective lens of Scripture, which everywhere speaks of a good creation and the drama of its reclamation by the Creator in Jesus Christ (p.115).
All that remains now is the substantial postscript, which provides a broader biblical context for the material in the main part of the book.
16 Jul 2012
So far, in exploring an all-encompassing Christian worldview using Al Wolters' book, Creation Regained, we've seen how all areas of reality, including all areas of human social reality, derive their existence from God, how God intended his creation to be developed, and how the whole created order has been distorted as a result of the fall.
Chapter 4 brings us onto the third major theme of this worldview, after Creation and Fall, namely, Redemption.
The words used in the Scriptures to describe Christ's work speak tellingly of restoration, not of rejection or replacement. We read of redemption, renewal, salvation (the Greek word is linked to health) and regeneration. And this restorative work is cosmic in scope: "If the whole creation is affected by the fall, then the whole creation is also reclaimed in Christ" (p.72).
What are the implications of this?
The recurrent temptation is to look for Christ's redemptive work within only a part of creation. Many people would think of spiritual renewal as taking place only within "the sphere of personal piety, the inner life of the soul" (p.78). Or the work of the kingdom of God might be seen only in the life of the institutional church. But "The Scriptures present matters in a much different light. Both God and Satan lay claim to the whole of creation, leaving nothing neutral or undisputed" (p.81). This means that when we are working through the implications of Christ's redemptive work, all areas of life will be affected—church, family, politics, business, art, education, journalism, thought, emotion—because "there is need of liberation from sin everywhere" (p.83).
Helpfully, Wolters distinguishes between restoration and repristination.
Repristination would entail the cultural return to the garden of Eden, a return that would turn back the historical clock. Such a move would be historically reactionary or regressive.
That is not the meaning of restoration in Jesus Christ. In the terms of the analogy of the teenager who had been sick since babyhood, a return to health at a later stage of development would not entail a return to the stage of physical development that characterized the youth's earlier period of good health. Genuine healing for the youth would be a matter of healthy progression through adolescence to adulthood. By analogy, salvation in Jesus Christ, conceived in the broad creational sense, means a restoration of culture and society in their present stage of development (p.77).
When Christ returns to the earth to accomplish the complete victory, we should not expect him to destroy all of civilisation, and to discard all the healthy growth that he has brought about by his Spirit.
Before looking at the implications of this worldview in the next chapter, a summary:
The sum of our discussion of a reformational worldview is simply this: (1) creation is much broader and more comprehensive than we tend to think, (2) the fall affects that creation in its full extent, and (3) redemption in Jesus Christ reaches just as far as the fall. The horizon of creation is at the same time the horizon of sin and of salvation. To conceive of either the fall or Christ's deliverance as encompassing less than the whole of creation is to compromise the biblical teaching of the radical nature of the fall and the cosmic scope of redemption (p.86).
6 Jul 2012
Why did women start to smoke? Why did people start buying lots of stuff they didn't actually need? What led to the Wall Street Crash? What led to Hitler's anti-democratic ideas? Where did the idea come from that capitalism and democracy cannot be separated?
A major part of the answer to those questions is: Edward Bernays (1891-1995).
He realised that people's inner desires could be used to make them do pretty much anything, if they were led to believe that performing that action might satisfy those longings. So, by a powerful PR stunt, smoking became seen as a "torch of freedom" for women, for example. These ideas about people's inner longings came from his uncle, Sigmund Freud (whom Bernays made famous).