What is the basic description of our contemporary environmental crises? From climate change to the extinction of species to air pollution to the unsustainable exploitation of non-renewable resources—what stands behind these? Norman Wirzba thinks the central issue is theological. He thinks the root of all these distressing trends it is idolatry.
He makes this case in his 2015 book From Nature to Creation: A Christian Vision of Understanding and Loving Our World. The arc of the book is pretty simple: as residents of modernity we have come to see Earth as a meaningless happenstance of resources instead of as a divine gift. Wirzba writes, “Since we cannot look to God as the source of the world’s meaning, the only place to turn is to ourselves as the ones who will assign to the world whatever intelligibility or purpose it has.” The diagnosis of idolatry is not an evaluation of the world itself. Idolatry is created by the assumptions we hold not by the object behold. There is nothing idolatrous about nature, the idolatry comes through our thinking that we can manipulate nature for our own ends. Wirzba quotes Jean-Luc Marion, “‘The gaze makes the idol, not the idol the gaze.’” The modern gaze turns nature into resources, into economic potential, into unexploited wealth, or, to use a phrase of Heidegger’s, into “standing reserve.” The modern gaze places expectations upon nature that it can’t possibly bear. This is the essence of idolatry.
But is Wirzba right? And if he is right, does it matter? Continue reading “From Nature to Creation – Further Explorations in Ecotheology”