Saturday, April 26, 2014

Creation and Meaning III

In the first post in this series, I reflected on the "meaning-making narrative" about the future that many of us tell ourselves - the narrative of the open frontier, of endless resources, available to human skill and ingenuity, that may be deployed for human good. (I say "human good" because I want to be clear that the implications of the "open future" narrative don't have to be simply selfish or greedy - they can equally include sincere and admirable work to secure human flourishing or eradicate poverty or disease.)

And I suggested that much of the passion with which we resist the idea that our planet's resources are limited (and contemporary climate science, in suggesting that our resources for absorbing carbon dioxide are limited, is simply the most salient such idea) comes from the threat that it poses to this narrative and to the sense of meaning thereby constituted.  Rather than being spiritual subjects, creators and tellers of stories, we have to get used to thinking of ourselves as physical objects whose ingestions and excretions tether us to a single, small planet.  There is no "elsewhere" whence our food comes and whither our wastes go.  Through the narrative of the open future we seem at times to be flying, freely, above the earth:  but then (to borrow some words of C.S.Lewis written in an entirely different context) we feel "the sudden twitch that reminds us we are really captive balloons".

Then in my second post I looked to Easter for the source of a different meaning-making narrative. It might seem though that the Easter story fits all to cosily into our original story, the story of the open frontier.  After all, isn't the "open frontier" story one of humanity transcending apparent physical limitations? And what physical limitation is more basic than death?  Isn't Jesus' resurrection some kind of guarantee of access to a new realm of reality, one where we are no longer "captive balloons" subject to physical constraints, where unlimited resources truly are available? And if so, doesn't Easter challenge us to focus our attention on that realm, whatever good (or bad) may be happening to this creaky old planet?

Well, no, I don't think so.  As Tom Wright puts it,

Jesus's resurrection is the beginning of God's new project not to snatch people away from earth to heaven but to colonize earth with the life of heaven.  (Surprised by Hope)

But that will have to wait for another post. 

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