Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Act for the sake of Love

The Copenhagen summit on climate change in December last year promised much and delivered little. During the talk-fest, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams delivered a sermon entitled "Act for the sake of love". Unfortunately, this talk received very little publicity. This is a shame because I for one think that it details very elegantly why the push for action on climate change thus far has largely failed and turns the

A couple of (what I reckon are) the highlights of the talk:
Love casts out fear. If we begin from the belief that God wants us to rejoice and delight in the created world, our basic attitude to the environment will not be anxiety or the desperate search for ways of controlling it; it will be the excited and hopeful search for understanding it and honouring its goodness and its complex, interdependent beauty. If there is any 'fear' around here, it should be fear of spoiling the heritage given us, of forgetting the overwhelming scale and depth of the gift and of our responsibility and care for it, fear of forgetting that we are called to show consistent and sacrificial love for the created world as we must show towards our fellow-human beings.

The second sentence sums up in a nutshell my motivation for what I do and why I love science. The third sentence grounds this motivation in what really matters---Love.
We are afraid because we don't know how we can survive without the comforts of our existing lifestyle. We are afraid that new policies will be unpopular with a national electorate. We are afraid that younger and more vigorous economies will take advantage of us – or we are afraid that older, historically dominant economies will use the excuse of ecological responsibility to deny us our right to proper and just development.

I think that this is a very insightful quote that sums up exactly what happened in Copenhagen. Archbishop Williams does recognise that these fears may be justified:

There is, in a word, no shortage of excellent excuses for turning away from decisions that will mean real change. But at least let's be honest about where they come from: it is fear – not necessarily irrational fear, not even necessarily purely selfish fear, but fear all the same. And so long as that dominates our calculations, we are stepping back from love – love for the creation itself, which we must look at as God looks at it, love for one another and for the generations still unborn

Unfortunately, although Archbishop Williams outlines the principle, he does not give concrete guidelines as to how this works. He has a precedent for this: it tends to be the primary way God appears to operate. This means that it is up to us to work out how "Acting for the sake of Love" looks like. It's a bit easier at the personal level than at the governmental level---at the personal level you don't have angry constituents on your back if you decide something they don't agree with.

Acting out of Love always involves vulnerability, and making yourself vulnerable is NOT the aim of international relations. However, it is the model that Christ gives us and is what frees us from fear, greed and oppression. While it may have largely fallen under the radar, this speech by Archbishop Williams is a great reminder that Christ's redemption extends not only to us and our personal lives, but to the environment also.


Marcus Brown said...

Are the last two quotes there around the wrong way? I haven't thought much about the relation between redemption and the environment, but I guess it taps in nicely with Romans 8:19-22

Samuel Brown said...

Hi Marcus

The quotes are in the order that Archbishop Williams delivered them. A lot of the modern thought on the interface between Christianity and the environment tends to be focused around that passage in Romans.