books environment religion

Christians and catastrophe, by Johnathan Ingleby

As a christian I’ve often been disappointed at how slow the church has been to catch on to environmental issues, something I’ve written about elsewhere, but I was pleased to hear about the book Christians and Catastrophe. Not only is it addressing the above question, it’s from a new imprint that specialises in marginal voices within Christianity, so it felt like a useful project to review and support.

Christians and Catastrophe is a very short book, at 40 pages more of a bound essay. It’s also rather specific, written in response to Slavoj Zizek’s recent book First as Tragedy, then as Farce, but neither of those things need detract from its usefulness.

Ingleby takes imminent catastrophe as his starting point, and his concern is how we respond to it, rather than debate whether or not we’re in trouble. He laments the “supportive membership and comforting ambience” of church that turn a blind eye to ecological collapse, or even welcome disaster. The Bible’s teaching doesn’t allow for this sort of complacency, he argues, because “it makes this life irrelevant.” Holding out for a heavenly existence devalues this life, and trivialises real injustices and suffering that we could be trying to put right. What we do in this life matters far too much to write off the planet.

“However much we are convinced that ecological disaster is inevitable, it is still our responsibility to try to prolong the world’s life and to save the environment.” If that sounds a little depressing, Ingleby points out that there are solutions, a direction that we could take that would lead us away from disaster. It’s not too late for “distribution instead of growth, local solutions rahter than global ones, limits instead of excess,” but even Christians seem happy to defend the consumerist status quo.

How should Christians respond to catastrophe? By remembering the importance of community, says Ingleby, by ‘reading the times’, being ready, being watchful and aware, and modelling a hope that transcends shallow optimism. “Every endeavour that nurtures our world and tries to prolong its existence is God’s work,” the essay concludes. “In the very teeth of catastrophe we can be building, planning, offering another way.”


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