A quick reflection for a Saturday afternoon. If you read my blog regularly, you know I often try to answer the “so what” question–why does theology matter for life in the world, and how can it positively contribute to our life together, our shared discourse, and the greater good of the whole cosmos. I have been thinking about all that since I read this story earlier in the week: http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/11/10/learning-how-to-die-in-the-anthropocene/?emc=edit_tnt_20131111&tntemail0=y&_r=0.
Here’s the key paragraph: “There’s a word for this new era we live in: the Anthropocene. This term, taken up by geologists, pondered by intellectuals and discussed in the pages of publications such as The Economist and The New York Times, represents the idea that we have entered a new epoch in Earth’s geological history, one characterized by the arrival of the human species as a geological force. The Nobel-Prize-winning chemist Paul Crutzen coined the term in 2002, and it has steadily gained acceptance as evidence has increasingly mounted that the changes wrought by global warming will affect not just the world’s climate and biological diversity, but its very geology — and not just for a few centuries, but for millenniums.”
So–“Anthropocene,” pro or con? I feel like for many people, this idea of humans as a “geological force” is very appealing: it speaks to the power we have over creation, the ability to shape the future of the whole universe, and our potential to both create and destroy life as we see fit. Who doesn’t love power and potential? But, as a Lutheran, the whole idea makes me very, very uncomfortable–and even pessimistic. We Lutherans know that when left to our own abilities, we see nothing but ourselves, do nothing but serve ourselves, and say nothing but whatever justifies our own thoughts and actions. It’s an ugly mess we’re in, and it’s our fault.
For that reason, thinking about where we find ourselves today with the current climate crisis, it seems to me that one of the best things Lutheran theology can offer is a big dose of humility, a posture of repentance, and a prayer to be guided and shaped not only by the Holy Spirit but also by those whom the Spirit inspires to work for the life and protection of the whole planet. The Lutheran voice can remind society at large that while we do, indeed, have great capacity for doing good, we have an even greater capacity for doing evil, and without constant attention to our own frailty, fallibility and fiendishness, even projects begun with the best of intentions will go wrong. We WILL seek money, self-preservation, and self-interest at every turn–it’s just who we are.
The author of the article makes the following statement: “The greatest challenge the Anthropocene poses may be to our sense of what it means to be human.” Lutheran know what it means to be human: it means to be utterly and completely unable to seek the good and do it; and therefore, it means to be completely and utterly dependent on the power of God to transform us and work good in us. Because Lutherans also know that when that happens, we can do amazing things, and nothing is impossible for us. Instead of “Anthropocene,” I’d propose “Pneumacene”–as a Lutheran, that’s an era I could champion.