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The Reenchantment of Nature: The Denial of Religion and the Ecological Crisis Hardcover – September 17, 2002

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

McGrath, professor of historical theology at Oxford and prolific author (this is his 15th title since early 2001, and another is due in October) could easily write a fine book on religion and ecology if he'd slow down long enough to eliminate repetition and to organize his material so that its content supports his stated theme. There is much to like in this apologia: its nonsectarian Christian viewpoint, the author's dual passion (he has Oxford doctorates in molecular biophysics and in theology) and his use of analogy and poetry to illustrate his points. Alas, McGrath does not focus. Although he announces that the book "is intended to bring out the strategic resources of the Christian faith for the environmental struggle" and says in the final chapter that its basic theme "suggests that we reclaim the idea of nature as God's creation and act accordingly," most chapters are neither motivational nor practical but defensive. Taking frequent shots at science writers and religion despisers Lynn White and Richard Dawkins, McGrath argues that historically it is not Christianity but prosaic, reductionistic godlessness that has led to the destruction, domination and exploitation of nature. Christians, unlike disenchanted heirs of the Enlightenment, value nature as God's creation and as a source of divine revelation, and this Christian worldview, he contends, is as intellectually respectable as any scientific theory. While Christian apologists and graduate students will find value in this scientist-cum-theologian's perspective, McGrath's material could have been more effectively presented in one well-crafted magazine article. (Sept. 17)
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Two dissimilar arguments on nature and religion are here offered by McGrath (theology, Oxford) and Crosby (philosophy, Colorado State Univ.). McGrath claims that humanity's vanishing sense of marvel or enchantment in nature results from scientific rationalism. He maintains that religion, specifically evangelical Christianity, urges humanity to cherish its divine origins and see in the beauty of nature not God but signposts that point to a transcendence wherein we find God. Alongside this, however, McGrath sustains a running quarrel with Lynn White's 1967 article "On the Historical Roots of Our Ecological Crisis" and Darwinian Richard Dawkins, taking a chapter to prove Dawkins's "strident antireligious advocacy." Not a primer on how to become reenchanted with nature, McGrath's book stands in danger of merely offering a cadre of evangelical proofs against a small, specific scientific community that fails to see nature as God's art. On the other hand, Crosby (Specter of the Absurd: Sources and Criticisms of Modern Nihilism) takes an admittedly atheistic yet blithely optimistic stance. Relying upon philosophers like Alfred North Whitehead and William James, he espouses a literal religion of nature: "we need not go any further than nature to probe the depths of our existence and powers that sustain our being." Seeing nature as metaphysically ultimate, he offers a systematic religious naturalism devoid of God, prayer, or spirituality beyond that found in the beauty and inherent goodness of the earth. Since nature is metaphysically ultimate, Crosby must admit that both good and evil consequently reside there. Thus, humanity's task becomes one of aligning with the good and struggling against evil and how that is discerned, defined, or done is never clearly delineated. Both books are academic in tone and plainly intended for a scholarly audience. Recommended only where religious interest warrants. Sandra Collins, Duquesne Univ. Lib., Pittsburgh
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday; 1 edition (September 17, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385500599
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385500593
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 0.8 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,803,100 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Alister E. McGrath is a historian, biochemist, and Christian theologian born in Belfast, Northern Ireland. A longtime professor at Oxford University, he now holds the chair in theology, ministry, and education at the University of London. He is the author of several books on theology and history, including Christianity's Dangerous Idea, In the Beginning, and The Twilight of Atheism. He lives in Oxford, England, and lectures regularly in the United States.

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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Wesley L. Janssen VINE VOICE on December 14, 2004
Format: Hardcover
The book isn't perfect but it's certainly much better than reviews posted in this forum suggest. In particular, the review from Publishers Weekly, though it offers some reasonable critiques, is wrong to conclude, "McGrath's material could have been more effectively presented in one well-crafted magazine article." Yes, there is some repetition, especially in the introduction, first two and last two chapters, but no more so than one finds in the writings of Richard Dawkins (whom McGrath takes to task). Dawkins has famously stated and restated some obviously challengeable views, views that he himself takes for granted and has not critically examined. McGrath, with Oxford doctorates in both theology and molecular biophysics, is highly qualified to address Dawkins' polemics.
The author states that this book has a twofold thesis: "to persuade Christians that they ought to be taking nature a lot more seriously, and anyone concerned with nature that they ought to be taking Christianity a lot more seriously than they have to date. But above all, this book aims to set out the intellectual excitement of engaging with nature and recovering that lost sense of wonder." Although he wanders back and forth between his two stated objectives, McGrath does make his points, and does so without the historical disconnection (and skewed take on Christian ethos) that arises in Lynn White's influential 1967 essay, or the inattentive preaching of Richard Dawkins. As someone who reads more than a little on the issue of the gathering ecological crisis, this reader can vouch that the anti-theistic themes to which McGrath responds have been too often asserted and too seldom challenged. As McGrath argues, the 'Christianity is destroying nature' assertion (E O Wilson being one example among many) is misguided, or worse.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Jedidiah Carosaari VINE VOICE on September 20, 2006
Format: Paperback
Alister McGrath seeks to return us to an understanding of the poetry of life. He writes with a moving style and is fiercely passionate about the idea that nature should move passion within us. The book is a polemic, in the best sense of that word, to argue that we should be awestruck and spellbound by nature. But not by nature itself. He would seek for us to return to the romanticism of yesteryear- but not merely end there. For McGrath wishes us to go beyond the rationalism of the Englightenment and Modernism, recreating all of life as machine, and beyond the wishy-washy universal acceptance of Post-Modernism. Beyond, to see the beyond. Nature for McGrath exists not simply to study, or even to enjoy, but to point to the God who made it. This has long been the message of Christianity- and McGrath makes convincing arguments from Genesis of environmental rape coming from secular atheism rather than Christianity with it's strong support for nature as God's handiwork.

Although at times I wished there were more facts to back up McGrath's statements, it's really not that kind of book. There are facts present, but the book's not designed as an argument as much as poetry in itself. As one who enjoys and dabbles in both science and poetry, I was moved. I was reminded of what first drew me to studying nature. It was not to listen to dry lectures of astronomy, but rather to perceive the boundless beauty and imagination present in creation, because the Creator is boundless and imaginative. It isn't enough to embrace environmentalism simply because if we don't, we'll die as a species, however true that might be. The real reason to embrace it is because it is filled with the numinous, and it's presence allows us to focus on the Author of the Numinous.
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful By James R. V. Matichuk on May 13, 2004
Format: Hardcover
This was a good book for me. I am not the most green conscious person, but I feel I should be. I mistrust environmentalists because a lot of them got some funky spiritual ideas. Probably what this book does best is defend Christianity against the charge that it is to blame for our coming enviormental crisis. McGrath without excusing Christians, does not scapegoat Christianity as being a philisophical underpinning which enables Western people to rape nature. No he has other ideas about where we get those Ideas. But I wouldn't want to spoil it.
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By Martin de Wit on February 11, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The inside-cover of my book states that McGrath argues for a radical shift in perspective in the polarized science-religion debate. His main thesis is that Christianity have always respected and revered the bounty and the beauty of the earth. We need to be re-enchanted by nature, breaking through the mould set by the mechanistic, scientific worldview of reality.

McGrath argues that we have to use as a starting point that creation itself poses a framework, imposing an order and structure on reality. The doctrine of creation needs to be dusted of and understood in its fullness. Nature is a witness of God's wisdom and the beauty of nature (Chandrasekhar) points beyond itself to the glory of God (Bonaventura). Reality is full and rich and cannot be reduced to one particular interpretation, the scientific one (Bhasker). Further, as mankind is made in the image of God he/she relates to God and feel the pain of an absence of God. Humans have deep longing for transcendence. It is quite natural to stand in awe when we see and appreciate nature.

The ecological insights from this reorientation are first and foremost the idea that humans have to care for creation (DeWitt, Cohen, Hall). The natural order we see and experience around us is God's act of creation. Humans, created in the image of God, are charged with tending creation, and never have received the right to do with creation what we want. That idea is not driven by Christianity, but by the Enlightment desire for human autonomy and the misuse of science and technology to master and control nature. Earlier Christian traditions, for example, have shown a deep respect for nature and emphasized that nature is a means of knowing God. The land is God's and violating nature is a sin.
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