The Re-enchantment of Nature, by Alister McGrath (LentBooks2012 #6)

This is a very interesting exploration of the connection between Christianity and the natural world, written by a theologian who also has an advanced degree in molecular biophysics. So you’d have to say McGrath knows his stuff.

In this book, his goal is primarily to refute the popular assumption that Christianity is anti-environmentalist, that the Scriptural statement that God gave man “dominion” over the earth means that Christians see humanity as dominant and the natural world as something for us to exploit. McGrath argues that nothing could be farther from the truth (though in fairness, I think he should have admitted that there are some Christians who interpret Genesis in this way, even though neither he nor I would consider this a valid interpretation).

Rather than being a Christian idea, McGrath argues, the belief that nature exists only to serve humanity is a product of Enlightenment thinking. Enlightenment humanism, which made man the measure of all things, “disenchanted” nature by removing the idea that the natural world had any intrinsic value or power of its own, or that it represented the work of a Creator. Christianity and other religions placed limits on what man could do to nature because man was never the ultimate authority: God, the gods, or nature itself were seen as higher powers to which humanity must answer.

The important task for our time, McGrath says, is for Christians to “re-enchant” nature — to recognize that the natural has worth and value over and its value to humanity. This is an important concept as we face an age of potential environmental devastation unless humans are willing to make major changes to their own behavior. It was also an important idea for me to introduce into my Lenten reading, as I reflect on the relationship that I, a confirmed city-dweller, have to the natural world — and also in view of the memoir I was reading at the same time (to be reviewed shortly). Also, throughout the book McGrath takes on crusading atheist Richard Dawkins with his claims that religions is the source of all ignorance, and science the source of all answers. It’s always nice to see a really intelligent Christian tackle Dawkins’ arguments on his own intellectual ground. 

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1 Comment

Filed under LentBooks, Nonfiction -- general

One response to “The Re-enchantment of Nature, by Alister McGrath (LentBooks2012 #6)

  1. Pingback: Disrespect of Earth - Religious Education Forum

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