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  • Added June 11th, 2016
  • Filed under 'All Sorts'
  • Viewed 1160 times

Reflection for Wesley Day

By Helen Watson White in All Sorts

Saving the planet and ourselves: the top environmental problems are selfishness, greed and apathy...and to deal with those we need a spiritual and cultural transformation

Reading John Wesley, you can't escape his fundamental drive: to save human beings -- all human beings --
from the consequences of sin, which in Wesley's 18th century was hell and damnation.The preachers he sent out, on the model of Jesus sending out his disciples, were doing what modern parents are told to do: letting their children, (or anybody) know that there will be consequences for any antisocial, violent or otherwise selfish behaviour.Trying to "turn them around", point them in another way.
In this matter of expected punishment for sin, the age of Christ and the age of John Wesley, although separated by 1700 years, were somewhat similar. Yet while Wesley's age and ours are separated by only 350-odd years, there is a huge difference between the 18th and 21st century.

This is largely because of the industrial revolution, with gigantic advances in science and technology, most recently in information sharing.
In the countries where Wesley's form of revivalism was active, and among present-day Christians, the proportion of people who still believe in heaven and hell has shrunk markedly -- or they may believe in heaven but not hell, not judgement. I think there is still a concept of sin, but apart from a crime context it is not the idea of an ordinary individual doing things that are world-shatteringly bad, rather a corporate version of wrong. Some things like deforestation that multinational companies do can be called large-scale sins; plus some things that states do, or movements driven by political ideology or in some cases things the whole of humanity does in the way of headlong destructiveness and waste. Often in church it is these big things we want to confess to, wrongs done in our name.
Who is there nowadays to point out where the whole of humanity is going wrong, and to warn of the inevitableconsequences? Who is it now that tries to buck up people who've got complacent in their life of privilege, don't want to think about the consequences of their wrongdoing, and don't want to change? If people are needing to be saved, HOW are they going to be saved, and what are they going to be saved FROM?
Recently I found on Facebook - fount of all info - a message from an environmental advocate in the US called Gus Speth (James Gustave Speth b1942). His words resonated with me, so in Facebook language I LIKED them and SHARED them, and I'll repeat them here. In the timeless, placeless Facebook world I don't know when or where he said it, but this is what he said:
"I used to think the top environmental problems were biodiversity loss, ecosystem collapse and climate change. I thought that with 30 years of
good science we could address those problems. But I was wrong. The top environmental problems are selfishness, greed and apathy...and to deal with those we need a spiritual and cultural transformation -- and we scientists don't know how to do that."
I found the humility of that statement quite moving. We live in a time when scientists are more usually saying We can now do this, we can now do that -- and I've lapped up these success stories in many different fields of science, because they are often the only positive stories in the news. I love that the NZ Natural History Unit was developed in Dunedin, with a mission to inform us of the intricacies of the environment we are privileged to live in.
We are well served, also, by our two Allied Press papers that carve an independent way through the jungle of information available, often giving us positive stories about advances in research in the health and social sciences, or about conservation successes -- students cleaning up the harbourside, people starting up vege plots in school or pre-school, the steady spread of community gardens. Alongside this cheering record are the many negative stories about the environment that assault us daily: factual reporting and opinion pieces about the causes and effects of flooding in Sth Dunedin, fires in Canada or Canterbury, the degradation of rivers, or the devastion in Oceania whenever a cyclone blasts through.
Raising awareness is the first step in being able to address the challenges we face, but is it enough to save the world? AND is it in fact the planet that needs saving -- or just the human beings, who have made such a mess of it and can't seem to save themselves?
-- Helen Watson White