- 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 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,187,223 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Reenchantment of Nature: The Denial of Religion and the Ecological Crisis Hardcover – September 17, 2002
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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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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.
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.