Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Learning to Love our Competitors

Last night I went to the Operation Noah annual lecture on faith and the environment (specifically climate change), and this year it was given by Rowan Williams. Here is the lecture.

His points were based on our broken relationship with nature, which needs to be healed to allow us to be fully human and fully alive (we seem to think along the same lines!) Here is The Guardian review. He spelled out his arguments well and with intellect and clarity. He was direct, sometimes a little too simplistic, but the overall impression was a lecture that had moved the public debate on from being worried about light bulbs to being aware of the bigger picture which puts us in a spiritual crisis as well as a physical one.

I have just written to him to ask him to move one step further - stage 3 of this road of many steps we have to travel.

Stage 1 - realising there is a problem that needs our action
Stage 2 - understanding the problem is caused by a broken relationship with the natural world, and that is a spiritual crisis which affects us as well as the earth.
Stage 3 - understanding what a true and grounded relationship with nature actually is.

I've asked Rowan Williams to reflect theologically on the fact that our relationship with nature is based on competition. Nature is not just a warm fuzzy thing we need to reconnect with and all will be well - a benign and lovely thing just waiting for us to love it again. Many species and habitats are in direct competition with us for resources and living space. The earth is terrifying, awesome, dangerous and full of ruthless competition. So what does that say about us and our healed relationship?

A Jesuit missionary told me he would happily cut down the rainforest where he worked in the Congo to get rid of the mosquitoes. "If you carried as many children to their graves in the back of your car as I do in mine, you might not love nature so much."

Stage 3 is a grounded and realistic theology of competition, it is developing an understanding of what it is to form a meaningful and sustainable relationship with a competitor. It means to love that which often frightens and devours us; as well as inspires us to poetry and music and to see the face of God. Over 1 million people die each year of malaria - carried by mosquitoes.

See an earlier post on my old blog on this.

A restored relationship with nature will challenge us to be "more fully human" than we might like - or are ready to accept. But we have no choice.


  1. Re ref to your 'old blog' cited here - not all our woods are 'emasculated'. Where I live, only a few miles outside Bristol, two of my children met a young wild boar, it and they taken equally by surprise. The children stood still and were not afraid; the boar scarpered. Across the road stands unmanaged woodland - a haven for tawny owls who wake us at night with their territorial cries accompanied by the dying screams of rabbits, the mating calls of foxes. Meanwhile, along the lane, a young frog squats with lifted head, rigid at the point of death; nothing much left of the grey squirrel but the frond of a tail waving across the tarmac. We are all of a piece.

  2. Thanks Nicola, we have wild boar re-introduced in a few woods now but they are carefully controlled when they get too big for their boots! They often chase runners. What we will and won't tolerate changes from age to age and there is a desire to bring back some "wildness" to Scotland, like wolves. Beavers are slowly being brought back but they are annoying fishermen. But wolves in Ashton Court! But it is always thrilling to see larger animals by surprise.

  3. Thankyou for the link to Rowan William's lecture. I have printed it out so that I can read and digest the information at leisure. I looked in the Scripture on the story of Noah and I never saw it before; God made a Covenant with ALL LIVING CREATURES that he will not destroy life on earth again.