Norman Wirzba is one of the leading environmental theologians in the U.S.
On March 14, 2022, I attended a book launch for Wirzba’s new book, This Sacred Life: Humanity’s Place in a Wounded World, at the Laudato Si Research Institute at the University of Oxford.
We bought a copy, kindly signed by the author. It is a very good book, and I particularly enjoyed the first two chapters on the Anthropocene and on artificial intelligence and the later material on environmental theology.
I have to admit to getting a little lost in some of the more philosophical chapters, but I kept going. Those who know me will realize philosophy is not my strongest area. I finished the book off on the train to and from Brussels where I spent a few days doing some lab research.
In the last chapter, Wirzba looked to the future considering what would be needed for human flourishing (and planet flourishing), asserting that we needed five things for the future:
- To recover a covenant sensibility.
- To advocate for transparent economies.
- To reinvigorate the democratic process.
- To build a life-supporting infrastructure.
- To attend to interior life.
It was a wonderful vision, but there seemed to be a disconnect between the book and what was happening in the world. Between the time when we saw Wirzba in person and my train trip back to the U.K. on July 1, things in the U.S., in the U.K., and indeed the whole world, seemed to have gotten worse.
I tweeted: “I am now reading the final chapter of “This Sacred Life” by @Nwirzba. It’s really positive stuff, but reading it in the light of what is currently happening in both the US and the UK seems rather ironic. We seem to be going in exactly the opposite direction.”
Zach Dawes Jr. of Good Faith Media then asked me to expand on the tweet so here I am. I will use this and a following article to outline my thinking, particularly comparing the U.S. with the situation in the U.K.
First, about me. I am an environmental scientist from near Oxford, U.K. I am a committed Christian, and my wife, Margot, is a church pastor. We work a lot together on trying to convince the church to take its environmental responsibilities seriously.
In U.K. political terms, I am a moderate, and I have voted for all of the main parties and the Green Party at various times. I have always voted, whether it be in general (national), local or European elections, and consider it a duty to do so. My views would probably put me on the political left in the U.S.
So, where are we now? Here I will concentrate on just the U.S. and the U.K.
I have family in the U.S., and I have lived in Canada. I have also made quite a study of U.S. politics, particularly as it concerns climate change and the environment.
Principally, though, I am a scientist, not a political expert, but this is what I think, personally (it is certainly not to be thought of as representing the policy of any of the organizations I am associated with!).
First, there are some similarities between the situation in the U.K. and that in the U.S. Both have had recent populist leaders, Donald Trump and Boris Johnson, and at least some sections of their populations are nationalists.
Both are much divided societies. In the U.S., many things split down party lines – Republican and Democrat. In the U.K., our big division is not so much along party lines, but it remains over Brexit. Even now, the country is split almost down the middle on whether Brexit was a good idea or ever will be
In both countries, the rich are getting richer, and the poor are getting poorer. Both have seen the general health of their populations decline for the first time in many years, particularly among the poor.
Covid-19 exacerbated this effect, and poor people were the worst affected. Sadly, both countries still have major problems with racism.
As we will see, however, there are some considerable differences between the U.S. and the U.K. Issues which are really big in one country hardly register in the other.
One very big difference is that the legislature is much more politicized in the U.S. than in the U.K. This has become even more obvious with the recent decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court.
So far, the courts and the legal system in the U.K. have managed to maintain political neutrality. Occasionally, they get accused of left- or right-wing bias on individual issues, but there is no definite trend in either direction.
So, this is the general picture, but how does it play out with the specific issues that have arisen recently? To find out that you will need to read part two!
Editor’s note: This is the first article of a two-part series. Part two is available here.
An environmental scientist on the board of The John Ray Initiative, a UK-based charity connecting environment, science and Christianity. He recently published the 2nd edition of A Christian Guide to Environmental Issues and Green Reflections: Biblical Inspiration for Sustainable Living (both co-authored with his wife, Margot).