energy religion sustainability transition towns

The Theology of Peak Oil

I’d not come across any Christian writing on the subject of peak oil, so I was intrigued to see a link from Transition Network News to an essay on the subject. Sam Norton is an Essex-based reverend who has been pondering the theological implications of peak oil for some time, and the Diocese of Worcester has just published a pamphlet – ‘Let us be human: Prophecy, Peak Oil and the Path for the Faithful‘.

Norton suggests that Jeremiah is a prophet for our time. The unpopular Old Testament prophet spent his life warning the Israelites that Babylonian invasion was imminent if they didn’t change their ways. He was ignored and persecuted, like many prophets. “Our predicament is similar” writes Norton. “A great calamity is coming upon our civilization, a calamity that has been foretold and warned against for nearly two generations, and those warnings have been ignored.”

In our case, the ‘prophets’ have included the writers of the ‘Limits to Growth’ report in the 1970s, M King Hubbert, or E F Schumacher. The calamity is the end of cheap oil and the undoing of our entire way of life, and the ‘idolatry’ that is leading us astray is the pursuit of endless growth. “In the way in which it has structured our economy, ‘growth’ is our idol, it is our contemporary clothing of Mammon – and we must bring back to mind Jesus’ teaching that we cannot serve both God and Mammon.”

Instead, we should live prophetically, and Norton draws from Brueggeman’s definition of the ‘prophetic imagination’: “The task of prophetic ministry is to nurture, nourish and evoke a consciousness and perception alternative to the consciousness and perception of the dominant culture.”

A Christian response to peak oil then, is to identify and reject the false ‘idol’ of infinite growth, and start nurturing a future-facing way of life. This life should be about justice, hope, and community, creating a vision of a “promised land on the other side of peak oil”. Norton names Transition Towns as a practical model to learn from.

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