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input for ecofaith worship February 2006

Feb 5th- Why is life here?
Feb 12th Why are humans here?
Feb 19th Why was/is Jesus here?
Feb 26th What does everyone else reckon?

Feb 5th
Process theology
Why is life here? Because God wanted something to experience, to love. They call it richness of experience. Its hard to be God if you have nothing to be God of, and pretty boring and lonely.

People, including us and many other animals, have two aspects of them:
The bit that never changes (in a sense I was Jason John at birth, and will be at death)
The bit that does, in response to all the experience of life and how we respond to them.

Likewise, they say, God is in one sense unchangeable, as some traditional theology claims
But also God must change, in response to events and relationships. Unless someone can change you, you can’t possibly be in love with them.

So, in order to change, God needed something to experience, to be changed by.
The idea that God created the universe, created life, is very orthodox.
The idea that life creates God may not be, but it makes sense.

So, why are we here? Why is life here?

To change God. To set God free from an eternity of sameness and aloneness. And everything we do changes God. Everything every organism does changes God. Nothing is without value to God, even if it has no value to us.

How do we change God? Three answers. One from process theology, two that seem logical additions.

First- by our own conscious experiences, we allow God to also consciously experience things. In some sense when we contemplate the beauty of a sunset, God gets the chance to do so through us. According to this way of thinking, Process thinking, the more rational we are, the greater our capacity for a rich intellectual experience, the more valuable we are to God.
Surprise surprise, to process theologians, who all happen to be human, humans matter most to God!

But God is not so easily constrained! And we need to remember that for most of life on Earth there has been no consciousness. And most of Earth’s future is devoid of it. So if all God values is conscious experience, most of Earth’s existence is pointless.

So the second way to change God- non conscious experience. Just experience itself. Process theology does not value this sort of experience at all.

There are a vast array of experiences of the world apart form conscious rational contemplation!
God, who experiences life through all life, experiences life and relationships in ways totally alien to ours. God experiences what it is to fly like a swallow, and grow like a redwood tree. It is the diversity of experiences of life, not the intellect of the individual, which matters. What God values is the existence of life, and God’s experience of and through that life of something other than God. We cannot even begin to imagine what this is like. As Nagel reminds us, even for us to imagine what it would be like to experience life as another mammal, say a bat with its sonar dominated perception of the world, is impossible. It is hard enough to imagine life as another human!

A third way to change God is to simply be, and to allow God to experience us. To have an experience of us, rather than through us. God has an experience, for example, of a mosquito quite independent of that mosquitos experience of itself. God experiences even things with no experience- like mountains and sunsets. Process theology cannot value rocks, but God does.

So the purpose of life is to change God, to set God free from an eternity trapped in sameness.

This happens, maybe, by God vicariously experiencing our rational experiences, as process theology suggests. But also by God sharing all of life’s non-rational experiences, as well as by God directly experiencing life for herself.

An example might help.
Consider the death of the very last elephant in the world. From the process view, since the elephant itself has conscious experience than most humans, this is less tragic than the death of a human. But when the last elephant dies, God’s experience of elephants, and ability to experience life through elephants, ceases. How does that compare to the death of one of the billions of humans on Earth. Just how many versions of human experience does God really desire?

Are people up for one final issue, or thought?

Process theologians I’ve read are preoccupied with individuals in isolation. But surely God’s experience of biological life is almost entirely an experience of relationships. Through life forms God experiences their relationships with other life and non-life vicariously. God also experiences each life form vicariously through every other life form with which they have contact. So we also need to think of God’s experience of life communities. Or indeed of the life community. Long before the last elephant dies, God’s experience of elephants in community ceases, their care for each other, their birthing, fighting, love making. Process theology does not value ecosystems or communities in and of themselves, but God does, I think, and so I think should we.

The experience of life which God has accumulated is overwhelmingly communal, and overwhelmingly non human. This is a staggering insight to try to assimilate into our thinking about our place in the world. It certainly, I think, rocks the Judeo-Christian-Islamic theological story, as well as western humanism.

Yet God’s experience does include experience of humans, and through humans, and this is what we might focus on next week! So, homework part 1- Was everything I just said rubbish? If not, now that humans have evolved to be here, what should we do about it?


Feb 12th- why are humans here?
Last week: why is life here: (sorry it was a bit convoluted!)
Frees God from an eternity of sameness
Allows God to be God, to change. Creates God.
God’s experience through life
God’s experience of life (and non-life)
Diversity > rationality.
Process theology- not just humans, but all creatures which have rich experiences are valuable
Biocentric- all creatures, and non-life valuable.

So- humans:
Why are we here?
Mechanical answer: because of the big bang, because of the aerobic bacteria, because of the comet which killed the dinosaurs, because H.s, not one of the other species of humans, survived the ice ages.
My thoughts- not because God designed or manipulated the evolution of H.s We are here by chance, as part of the festival of life in the universe which God somehow sparked.

Now that we are here, what do we do?
This week- from God’s perspective:

If God’s desire is for richness of experience, primarily mediated through relationships, if that was God’s “mission” in creating or relating to the universe, then the human mission should be to enhance the richness of experience of God.

But experiences can be ambiguous, for us at least.
Sex and death for example
Ecofeminism: God affirms in general the experiences of death and pain, tragedy and suffering, but not all of them specifically. So we will need to make judgments about what sort of experiences God values. Whilst admitting the folly of trying to read the mind of the God of the universe, we don’t seem to have any alternative if we wish to do something rather than nothing.

And here the Christian claim that in Jesus of Nazareth we see something of God’s communication to humans gives us a little more confidence in our endeavour.

the story of Jesus in some way reveals something of the divine will, for H. sapiens at least. At a bare minimum the Christian claim is that in Jesus we see a special divine communication to humans about how we should be in the world.

Humans are only part of the story of God and life, but the story of Jesus is primarily a God-human story.

One possible answer is that he came to save us from the fear of finitude, or at least being controlled by that fear to the extent that we no participate in life. If we do not participate fully in life, we have impoverished relationships, and so God’s relationship with life is diminished. Jesus may be different not in being “perfect” (a notion with little ecological or evolutionary meaning), but in accepting death, even violent death, so as to enter into life. Certainly his challenge to those who would follow him, as we have it recorded in the gospels, frequently refers to the need to accept finitude in order to participate in eternal life, especially finitude deliberately inflicted by others . Yet his was not a morbid life. He did not pursue finitude but he did not hide from it either. This enabled him to embrace life in all its fullness, and that is what he offered to those who came to know God through him.

Jesus’ mission would then be to call humans to embrace our finitude in order to participate in life, to have full relationships which God can vicariously enjoy, and to have a full, direct relationship with God. In other words, Jesus came to call us back into the evolutionary story of life.

Feb 19th Why was Jesus here?

Jesus came for humanity’s sake (but)...
Jesus’ central message as recorded and expounded by his earliest followers was that God loves humans. This is what gives us the confidence to embrace our finitude.

How it gives us this confidence:
Clark- we fear the lack of either close relationships or autonomy. We fear anything which might happen to use which would diminish either of these things.

Our personality and life experiences probably dictates whether, when we are down (experiencing finitude), we most fear being abandoned, or smothered.

Yet paradoxically, according to Jesus, when we cling to these things, we start to lose them. When we cling desperately to relationships as if they were our protection from finitude, they start to fray. If we isolate ourselves to escape being confronted by finitude it finds us, alone, anyway.

So Jesus came to save those of us who are bound up in fear from it. He came to save those who are cut off from life back into life. Not just life with humans, but the whole evolutionary story of life.

Jesus came, equally, for the sake of other creatures.
When humans are freed from the fear of finitude, they can let go of consumption and control and profit maximisation, and all the illusions they create to give the impression that finitude does not exist, or can be avoided.

So a secondary salvation occurs for those creatures whose habitats are being destroyed by those who seek escape, or at least distraction, from finitude, by those who are hiding from Life.

Just one example, the domestic livestock who are crammed into slaughter yards, trembling fearfully amidst the sounds and smells of death which they know intuitively spell danger for them (If slaughterhouses had glass walls, everyone would be vegetarian.) .

It is quite appropriate for a wild ox to be afraid when it sees a lion- it might keep it alive. Its another thing to spend days or weeks in constant fear, especially if that fear is futile.

God does not need to save other creatures from the fear of finitude, it usually only concerns them when it needs to (like when they see a lion). Non domesticated animals, as far as we know, participate fully in life.

One way of looking at things: God acts to “save” creation, not by changing its nature but by limiting the ecological impact of humans within nature. A world in which every human enacted Jesus’ recorded teachings about money and property would not even need a concept like environmental sustainability, or conservation.

A very conservative, literalist reading of the gospels would be, I believe, wrong in many ways, but it would certainly, if acted out, have radical environmental consequences.

Jesus becomes the Jonah sent to warn humans of the consequences of our godless ways, or the Lorax who speaks for the trees . Here we reconnect again with the vast body of ecotheology which, for whatever reasons, calls on us to limit our consumption of resources in order to make more available to the rest of life on Earth.

Jesus’ call to individual humans to embrace their inevitable death, so as to participate in life, might also be relevant to the human species- a call to embrace our extinction so as to make way for new life, new forms of experience and relationships for God to enjoy.

Because finally God did it for God, whose experience of life includes the experience of life through creatures, as well as the love of creatures.

God thus stands to experience less fear and more joy if we escape our bondedness to unnecessary fear, at least to the extent that it no longer stops us participating in Life- finding loving relationships, but also enjoying our own company and creativity, and finding a way of making meaning of the occasional tension between those two ways of being.

Feb 26th What does everyone else reckon?
The best way to find out would be to come along, but we might put some of the comments here...