My rating: 4 of 5 stars
A fascinating, fun, provocative exploration of how we postmoderns might think about God.
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"Scripture is from first to last a vision of a world made otherwise than that based on hierarchy, domination, and the rule of money and violence," writes Timothy Gorringe based on the theology of Ton Veerkamp. This book concludes with a final chapter drawing everything together for what transitions we need in order to create a different/better world.
He asks what kind of culture any community needs in order to be resilient. I found this important, and one of the reasons I have been reading all of these books this sabbatical summer, to be sure that our congregation is aware and prepared and doing what we should for the age we are now in and what is coming.
Gorringe believes too much around the climate is doom and gloom that has the effect of people feeling that they cannot act. Instead he wants to follow the lead of some other scholars who believe that we need a vision of the future that entices people to participate. Also a wise point for any preacher and pastor.
He believes our need for resilience is at root a spiritual problem. Spirituality keeps people focused on hope and the future instead of succumbing to despair. I was reminded of our Lenten worship series that focused on spiritual practices given the reality of climate change.
These dimensions of resilience--solidarity, compassion, an ability to cope with tragedy, a sense of purpose, and an understanding of faith, hope, and agape--seem to me to be the real heart of 'inner transition.'
Church's might have to become arks, sanctuaries for the good life. He returns to his idea of Benedictine communities in the dark ages, that he brought up in the introduction. He concludes:
If I am right then a rigorous return to the traditions, practices, and virtues that Christians have nourished for so many centuries, but which at the same time the church has compromised so abjectly in relation to the present imperium, may be, to put i no more strongly, amongst the most important things that help to make and to keep human beings human in the dark ages already upon us.
"The question turns on what it is people need in order to live well." That's how Timothy Gorringe approaches the practices of economics, if we are going to create a better world.
Of course our current economic practices are largely to blame for the depredations of the environment and the coming dark age he outlined in the introduction. And in particular, he blames neoliberal capitalism of the last half-century.
I remain a capitalist and couldn't go along with all of his criticisms, though I do agree that the neoliberal turn fifty years ago, especially away from Keynesianism and the New Deal consensus, was full of mistakes.
His basic point in these chapters of the book is that we've created our system and can chose to have a different/better one. On that I do agree.
I also agree that theology has a lot to say about economics. Gorringe quotes Wendell Berry that one way of translating what is usually "kingdom of God" would be "the Great Economy."
What we do need is an economics that prizes cooperation and is focused more on grace than growth.
His chapter on monetary reform was interesting, as I'd never read a chapter on that topic in a theology book before. Though I didn't find his arguments there persuasive. It's also a topic I know very little about.
Finally for this section, there was a chapter on agriculture and the need to replace the devastating industrial agriculture we find ourselves with now. That chapter I mostly skimmed, already being convinced of this point from decades of reading Wendell Berry.
Part Two of Timothy Gorringe's The World Made Otherwise is a discussion of the practices necessary to embody the values and virtues and achieve our ends of a flourishing human life together, in order to address the climate and other crises of our times.
First he considers the shape of politics and how we should be organized. He resists the "idolatry of the state" but argues that we do need a social order. He defends a "rights cosmopolitanism." Freedom is essential to this practice, as "freedom is at the heart of life because only free beings can love, and love is the best one-word account of the meaning and purpose of life that we have yet come up with." (That's a great sentence.) Gorringe believes this politics is best embodied in "small, federated political units."
I wasn't sure how this was to be achieved. And can't imagine how (or why) one would want to break-up the USA for instance. I don't think any such break-up would actually be an advance in problem-solving, and it would likely lead to millions seeing reductions in their freedoms.
But, an emphasis on freedom, love, and rights cosmopolitanism within our existing polity seems like a good idea.
His next chapter defends the practice of democracy and the equality that it values:
The main objective of democracy, according to David Held, is "the transformation of private preferences via a process of deliberation into positions that can withstand public scrutiny and test." Respectful participatory practices are what allow this to happen. This presupposes in turn educational policies that foster critical and informed thinking and promote a culture of respectful debate.
I agree with Gorringe when he emphasizes subsidiarity--the idea that as much power and decision-making as can be is passed down to smaller and local units. The strength of democracy arises from local institutions that people can participate in and can have influence and power (de Tocqueville admired this about early America, but we've lost it in the last half-century). I have written before about how I learned democracy in my small town church business meetings.
The next chapters move on from the practice of politics to the practice of economics, which I'll explore in a separate post.
"Values are the culturally shaped accounts of the human good that are tenacious but also always in process."
In the second section of Timothy Gorringe's The World Made Otherwise, he explores the core human values we will need in this period of climate change resilience.
First, he dispenses with some other approaches to ethics (both relativism and absolutism)--"There is not, as Kant seems to have thought, a universal standpoint free of narrative, though this does not mean that there are not values that we rightly argue apply to all humans whatsoever and to that extent are universal."
In response to the objection that there is no universal human nature, Gorringe has a ready response--"The common characteristics all humans share, which include not simply rationality and language, symbolic inventiveness and individuality, but also--and here crucially--a capacity for affection and for humiliation." From these shared experiences he thinks our common values arise.
Gorringe points out that "the struggle to establish how value is to be defined is the heart of politics." Theology is important in helping us see how values transcend politics. And theology teaches--"The living God is known in giving life: death is the hallmark of idolatry." So, our core values are what contributes to life. And what advances death is idolatry. Our politics, then, should be so oriented. We cannot build a functioning society around the vices.
The virtues are the "embodiment of values" and both are concerned with "what it means to be human." The virtues are how we learn to be fully human.
Our goal, or end, then, is human flourishing--"the exercise by all of the creative potentials latent in human beings."
That's the question Timothy Gorringe begins with in his book The World Made Otherwise. He reviews various predictions that there is a coming collapse of human civilization and determines that it is likelier than not. But he doesn't believe it is yet inevitable and hopes that a new humanism--which he presents in this book--could avert the catastrophe. Or, at least, help us to live better through it.
One question he asks in this chapter, originally asked by David Orr, is "Why have we come so close to the brink of extinction so carelessly and casually?"
The answer he seems to find most satisfactory is Stupidity. He quotes Karl Barth:
As one of the most remarkable forms of the demonic, stupidity has an astonishingly autonomous life against whose expansions and evolutions there is no adequate safeguard. It has rightly been said that even the gods are powerless in the face of it.
What Gorringe seems to be aiming for are the sorts of Benedictine communities that Alasdair MacIntyre proposed at the end of After Virtue--small communities, living out the humane, life-affirming values, in order to keep "the lamps of civilization alive in the new dark ages."