In a lecture today at Southwark Cathedral (sponsored by the Christian environmental group Operation Noah) Dr Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, sets out a Christian vision of how people can respond to the looming environmental crisis. Beginning with the story of Noah and the Flood, Dr Williams highlights the “burden of responsibility for what confronts us here and now as a serious crisis and challenge”. Our relationship with the rest of creation is intimately bound up with our relationship with God. The Bible offers “an ethical perspective based on reverence for the whole of life”. “To act so as to protect the future of the non-human world is both to accept a God-given responsibility and, appropriately, to honour the special dignity given to humanity itself.”
Drawing parallels with the financial crisis, Dr Williams argues that we are in danger of losing touch with what makes us distinctively human. We urgently need to revise some of our assumptions, including those that are incompatible with our duty of care for the whole of life.
Dr Williams warns against looking for a single solution to the complex environmental challenges which face us. “Instead of a desperate search to find the one great idea that will save us from ecological disaster, we are being invited to a transformation of individual and social goals that will bring us closer to the reality of interdependent life in a variegated world”.
Dr Williams urges action at the personal and local, as well as at the national and international, levels. He acknowledges “the potential of the crisis to awaken a new confidence in local and civic democracy [and] … a new sense of what is politically possible for people who thought they were powerless”. “Our response to the crisis needs to be in the most basic sense, a reality check, a re-acquaintance with the facts of our interdependence within the material world and a rediscovery of our responsibility for it”. “When we believe in transformation at the local and personal level, we are laying the surest foundations for change at the national and international level”.
Dr Williams underlines the particular role that belief can play in recovering a sense of balance and interdependence. “What we face today is nothing less than a choice about how genuinely human we want to be; and the role of religious faith in meeting this is first and foremost in setting out a compelling picture of what humanity reconciled with both creator and creation might look like.”
The Archbishop urges leaders to take bold decisions at the Copenhagen summit in December. He encourages the taking of effective collaborative local action to reduce carbon emissions and to maintain pressure on local governments and businesses to do the same. And he encourages the small actions which mark a break with destructive patterns of consumption and waste and help “to make us more aware of the diversity of life around us”.
In conclusion, the Archbishop emphasizes that “the Christian story lays out a model of reconnection with an alienated world: it tells us of a material human life inhabited by God and raised transfigured from death; of a sharing of material food which makes us sharers in eternal life; of a community whose life together seeks to express within creation the care of the creator”. Quoting Moses in the book of Deuteronomy, he concludes “I am giving you a choice between good and evil, between life and death… choose life”.
The full text of the lecture can be found here: http://www.archbishopofcanterbury.org/2563