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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An important thesis, fairly well presented.,
This review is from: The Reenchantment of Nature: The Denial of Religion and the Ecological Crisis (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.
Theism (i.e., Judaism, Christianity, Islam, theistic Hinduism, Sikhism, Baha'ism) asserts that humans are liable stewards of planet Earth and that nature is to be revered for its divinely assigned significance; it is quite a different viewpoint that insists that humanity is a quasi-ultimate, yet purposeless, accident of "blind" mechanism and that all of nature is but an assemblage of meaningless 'selections'. In this view, whatever significance Nature 'has' is fleetingly assigned to it by (Enlightened?) "Humanism". It is this historically recent and relativistic version of ethics (i.e., Enlightenment modernism, scientism, nihilism, atheism, postmodernism, so-called 'humanism') that has denied ontological reflection and has ideologically underwritten the large-scale rape and pillage of our planet. Throughout much of the twentieth century, the world witnessed, most notably in the Soviet Union, the extent to which an atheistically dominated society will render nature a mere economic commodity, significant first and last for its humanistic quotient. Lynn White accused Christianity of being the most dangerously anthropocentric philosophy of human history -- but it is cold scientism (not to be confused with science) which boasts of "unweaving the rainbow" and demands that humans answer only to human "scientific" wisdom (see again E O Wilson). It is this philosophy that has spent the past century blindly unweaving Earth's ozone layer. Christianity hasn't made "greenhouse gasses" -- scientific "genius" has. To speak this way, Dawkins says, is just so much belligerent, 'anti-science' screed, but it is simply an unfettered observation. In the theistic view, nature must be respected for its intrinsic significance; in the 'Enlightened' atheistic, and postmodern views, nature must be respected essentially because it suits humanity's material interests and intellectual curiosity to do so (there is nothing 'higher').
As to Dawkins paranoiac defenses of (what he calls) science: adducing science's limits and/or scientist's miscues, does not equate to 'anti-science'. Not unless one directly equates science itself with human foolishness. That would be an irrational leap, and McGrath, a trained scientist, certainly does not suggest such equivalence. It seems that very few would. Dawkins does battle with a theistic 'boogie-man' malignancy that exists primarily in his own mind. Why?
In debunking a demagogue of atheism of Dawkins' stature, McGrath will be a very unpopular figure in certain circles. His book "Dawkins' God", not yet available in the US at this writing, will predictably draw the wrath of the smug, 'Enlightened' crowd. So far, McGrath seems to be flying beneath the radar of those who will pathologically reject his arguments. Perhaps this will change, his thesis here surely warrants a broad hearing. This is a book that needed to be written (incidentally, McGrath is kinder to Dawkins, if not Dawkins' ideas, than I may have suggested in this review).
Certainly the book could be better. Likely 20 pages could have been eliminated (my Doubleday hardcover edition is 186 pages) while improving the readability of the text. The author's two stated thematic objectives might have been better separated or developed as two books. Nonetheless I rate it as better than four stars, simply because McGrath presents, in a restrained and erudite manner, a set of strong arguments that must be heard.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Rapturous,
This review is from: The Reenchantment of Nature: The Denial of Religion and the Ecological Crisis (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.
Though Dawkins is rightfully held up as a type of scientific materialism that seeks to deny all other reality, it is not done in a mean or vindictive manner. I was continuously impressed by McGrath's gentle tone in dealing with his academic adversaries. Likewise McGrath is to be strongly credited with fully accepting the backbone of biology, evolution, and at the same time exploring the myriad possibilities for understanding God better through studying His creation. But those are the wrong words. McGrath would better say, embracing His creation, and being infused by it.
5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars I liked it.,
This review is from: The Reenchantment of Nature: The Denial of Religion and the Ecological Crisis (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.
5.0 out of 5 stars Liberating!,
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This review is from: The Reenchantment of Nature: The Denial of Religion and the Ecological Crisis (Hardcover)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.
This does bring forward how we think about God. The Enlightment project placed God at best as a clockmaker, a deity far removed from the day-to-day running of creation. This deism is in stark contrast to the Christian doctrine of God as being transcendent and immanent. Nature is God's place of action and dwelling, although nature itself is not God and not sacred because of this. Further, God send Christ into the natural world to redeem from within and to restore the future to its original integrity. Redemption, therefore is far more than personal transformation, it includes a renewed relationship with God, a sure hope of eternal life and the restoration of nature to its original intent. McGrath argues that this realization brings a new motivation for ecological action: a need to preserve what one day will be a new paradise.
The thesis that Christianity is responsible for the ecological crises is therefore misguided. Christianity teaches that human are accountable and that there are limits on exploitation. The exploitation manifesto is written by the Enlightment project; a rigid, reductionist approach to reality, a self-centred view of humanity and limitless technological development. Postmodern thinkers have criticized these developments, but according to McGrath, have only stated that there are multiple ways in which nature is to be interpreted and approached. Postmodern thinking does not give a firm basis on which nature is to be respected and to be treated as inherently special (Soule). It lacks on ontology; a recognition of intrinsic value.
It is this human refusal to accept limits, and the breakneck speed of unchecked technology and innovation, which have brought us to this ecological crises. McGrath argues that human self-centredness is the essence of sin, it brings skewed relationships with God, with each other and with nature. The idea of a mechanistic clockwork universe emphasizes those aspects of reality that can be quantified and mechanized. The subject-object relationship, so essential to the scientific project became a worldview. Nature is increasingly seen as the object, the other. This observation-driven methodology only deals with sensorially perceived reality. McGrath makes the point that the problem is not so much in this (scientific) approach, but in the idea that this abstract, reduced model of the world started becoming the only legitimate view of reality.
The Enlightment view of nature is not the only one. Throughout the ages a Romantic view of nature also persisted, although in a less powerful way. Whereas the Enlightment view emphasized words like power, control and survival (`nature red in tooth and claw') as seen by a detached observer, the Romantic view focused on mankind's encounter with nature, standing in awe of its wonder and beauty. Rainbows lifts hearts, there is a world beyond experience. It is in this view that McGrath finds some ingredients for an alternative vision, not one to accept as a worldview, but as one to correct for the arrogance of the Enlightment project.
Against this backdrop McGrath start unpacking his thesis. Reality does not depend upon human observation to come into existence (Bhaskar). A respectful and careful reflection on the deep structures of nature is the alternative. From the behaviour of people and animals to the patterning of the natural world is the key to understanding nature and the destiny of humanity. While modernity was fascinated with dominating nature, and postmodernity with the freedom of human choice that cannot be dictated by nature itself, Christianity needs to reclaim the idea that nature is God's creation that needs to be re-discovered in its richness. Nature foreshadows, it tells about the glory of God. It is not only a respect for integrity and wellbeing on nature that is needed. A re-enchanted nature opens doors to better understanding our deepest levels of existence and purpose.
The flowing, very readable text and McGraths' deep understanding of scientific and theological concepts are great strengths of this book. The prose on Dawkins could have been saved for another article, but never stood in the way of a better understanding of the authors' arguments. I simply loved this book and recommend everyone reflecting on the ecological crises to read it. There is a caveat: Come with an open mind. It can be very liberating.
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The Reenchantment of Nature: The Denial of Religion and the Ecological Crisis by Alister E. McGrath (Hardcover - September 17, 2002)
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