Sunday, December 30, 2012

The wisest man brought myrrh

Latest Courier article.

I was all set to write a jolly article suitable for Christmas festivities when the news came through about the tragedy in Connecticut. So much doesn't seem appropriate any more, even though, in a cynical sense, there is nothing new about what has happened. One of the things that I have most come to believe over the last several years is that God is never in “the drama”. That is, whenever there is a conscious desire to attract attention – to 'glamourise' in other words – there is also a turning away from God, a turning away from that same source of life and vitality. Consider a previous act of slaughter, the attacks of 9/11 in the United States. These were the very definition of a spectacle, and yet – despite what was claimed – I cannot believe that God was behind the spectacle, in the sense of desiring it, or having his purposes accomplished through it.

There is something of a truism here – that evil is banal and repetitive, whereas it is only goodness that is creative and capable of bringing something new into existence. When a soul is turned away from the living source of life and vitality it often seeks to artificially induce that vitality through a quest for stimulation, like Frankenstein charging his monster from the storm. So we have the epic spectacles of terrorism and slaughter where the monsters inside people are unleashed upon the world.

There is a passage in one of my favourite works of Christian spirituality – Kahlil Gibran's 'The Prophet' – which says this: “Of the good in you I can speak, but not of the evil. For what is evil but good tortured by its own hunger and thirst? Verily when good is hungry it seeks food even in dark caves, and when it thirsts, it drinks even of dead waters.” Souls turn to the darkness when the light which they crave is denied to them; and sometimes, which I take as the definition of evil, that darkness is embraced, justified and celebrated. The sorrow of our society is that we have become a place which has lost an awareness of the distinction between the light and the dark.

How are we to try and understand this, to regain an appreciation of the light, in order that we may, as a community, move back towards the light? One aspect is, I believe, to recognise that there is such a thing as evil and to accept that we will never be able to achieve a society which has banished sin and suffering, no matter how many well-intentioned programmes are undertaken. We need to have a greater sense of realism about the world that we live in, not to become cynical, but to recognise the cost of pursuing goodness, and the inevitable element of tragedy in human existence.

Which is, after all, the hidden side of the Christmas story. After all, we see and hear the story through the prism of two thousand years of telling; consequently, many of the most substantial elements can be missed. The point about a new king being born amongst the animals, resting in the trough, where there is no room in the inn – this is the very 'anti-drama' that is the sign of God's presence. I sometimes have the sense in reading these classic stories that the original writers could not be content with God's choice to be born as a nobody from a nothing town, and so all the elements of angelic messengers and visits from kings had to be imported to try and dignify God's activity with human hyperbole. It is too staggering for our imaginations to believe that God might just simply be present as a naked and mewling infant.

An infant, of course, who would one day be slaughtered by the state for being inconvenient to the projects of power. This is an aspect to the story that is present from the start – the cost of standing for life and truth when the established powers are bent on a course in opposition to such life and truth. A few days after Christmas, a few days after Jesus was born, the order was sent out to slaughter the innocents – those who had done nothing wrong other than be in the wrong place at the wrong time. The Holy Innocents and all who loved them bore the pain at that time, yet Jesus himself was destined for pain, humiliation and death himself. It was the wisest man who brought the myrrh – the ointment used for preparing bodies for burial, the sign of Jesus' own fate. Right at the beginning, amidst the cherubs, nestled in the arms of his mother, the undertone of pain and suffering was present.

There is so much to be thankful for, and to rejoice in, through the Christmas season, most especially for those who have much – much family, much friendship, much good cheer and wealth to celebrate. Yet there is this hidden side of Christmas, where the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness does not comprehend it. The story of Christmas is that the Lord came to be with those who have nothing – those who can find no place of shelter, those who hunger, those who are lonely and bereaved – those who bear the cost of tragedy in human life. For those of us who suffer – and, if truth be told, I believe that we all suffer in our different ways, we each have our own cross to bear – the message of Christmas is that God is with us. Despite all the ways in which our world distresses us, despite all the ways in which we fall short of our own hopes and desires and each other's expectations, despite all the ways in which we are most conscious of not becoming the people that God intends us to be – the message is that God has not abandoned us, and that, mysterious though it is, the way through our vale of suffering can be found by hearing the story of a baby boy, born out of wedlock and shunted into the stables two thousand years ago. May the light and peace of the Christ-child be with you and all whom you love this Christmas time.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

TBLA(extra): gay marriage as a spandrel

bls commented: "people who don't want children CAN marry, and the grammar is "marriage." There is, literally, no difference whatever between the marriages of elderly couples and those who are planning families; they are exactly the same in law and in fact". I want to engage with this a bit more formally, at the risk of completely compromising the order in which I wanted to address things (!)

I have long believed that the situation that we are in now is a result of changes in our society triggered by the advent of easily available and reliable contraception. The consequences of the development are complex and many-faceted, but one is the recognition and affirmation that there are at least two key facets to sexuality - one "for the mutual society, help, and comfort, that the one ought to have of the other, both in prosperity and adversity", and one for the procreation of children (I'm ignoring, for now, the 'remedy against fornication' aspect which seems to me to be more puritan than Christian).

The legacy that we have, however, comes from a time when those two elements were understood to be united, and, moreover, combined with questions of inheritance and honour. So a marriage was often not simply about the union of two individuals (for whatever motive) as about the union or explicit political alliance of two families. The raising of children was (legally) kept within the bounds of marriage, with significant consequences for both the mothers and children of those born 'out of wedlock'. In many cultures that remains the case of course.

Given this, the only way in which an affectionate union could be legally sanctioned was through marriage; and when such a union was so sanctioned, the approval carried a vast array of social weight. It seems to me that THIS is what the proponents of 'equal marriage' are seeking; in other words, it is all the weight of social approval embodied in the word 'marriage', as accumulated through history. It would represent, perhaps, a culmination of the 'coming out' process. In so far as this is what it means then I am wholly in favour of it.

However, this is where we get snagged upon semantics. For it seems to me that this aspect of marriage functions rather in the way that Stephen Jay Gould talked about 'spandrels'. That is, the primary purpose of the social institution of marriage - and, I would argue, the reason why it has been regulated so closely - is the raising of children within a particular framework. That is the 'core' element of marriage, as understood. However, as the institution has developed, other elements have gone alongside it - elements that 'came with the package' where the union was reproductive, but which developed independent status as social goods in their own right. These 'exaptations' now need to be given their own autonomous social place.

So much of the opposition to gay marriage is rooted in an opposition to homosexuality as such. I am not part of that; in so far as the gay marriage agenda is about giving wholehearted social approval to gay relationships, that is (obviously) a good thing. Yet it seems to me that by insisting that non-reproductive unions ARE 'marriage' (which, as bls rightly points out, non-reproductive heterosexual unions have been so treated thus far) the difference between the two key facets - and, most especially, the fact that society has a significant greater interest in the raising of children than in the mutual society of a couple - is being eclipsed. That is the essence of my unease with what is happening. I think that a significant good - all the social apparatus around the raising of children - is at risk of being dismantled in favour of another good - the social approbation of gay relationships.

Where I disagree with bls is that I think that there is a major difference (in fact if not in law) between a couple that are procreative and a couple that are not. Indeed, to insist otherwise is to obliterate the pain of childless couples - for if there is no difference, why do they mourn? And I believe that the wider society (and God) takes a different view of the two forms of relationship. We have not yet worked out how to navigate this difference (doing so is the purpose of my TBLA sequence) and it may well be that, simply as a result of our biology, it makes no sense to separate the two. Or, it may be that we need to develop two new institutions to replace the old one of marriage - call the first 'covenant relationship' and the second 'coparent relationship' perhaps? I think that there is a difference between these two forms of relationship. Can both be adequately described as 'marriage'? Possibly, but I just don't think the case has properly been made yet.

Oh yes, and, for what it's worth, I think that the CofE being prohibited from carrying out gay weddings is the worst of all possible worlds. Cameron is such a plonker.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012


Well, it's been a while.

TBLA(extra): it's not just about "choice"

This is an 'excursus' to the TBLA sequence; it most naturally belongs at the end, but it's on my mind. I wanted to say a bit more about the gay marriage debate going on at the moment. My views are still evolving, and I want to make explicit what my concern is about the particular nature of the present conversation. As it is a 'work-in-progress' it's still quite clunky, especially in the reliance on barbarous acronyms - sorry.

Our society is deeply confused about sexuality, and this leads into so many other problems. I want to indicate a broad framework for how I see what is happening, and introduce two barbarous acronyms: 'PEG', standing for 'personal enjoyment and growth', and 'PROC', standing for 'procreation and raising of children'. Much of the confusion about sexuality in our culture stems, I believe, from a lack of discrimination between those two types of relationship, and to try and apply the rules, regulations and expectations with regard to the one straight on to the other, without regard to the differences inherent between them.

Partly this is a fact of history. The raising of children is something in which we as human beings biologically, and any community seeking to sustain itself socially, have a very great and serious interest. It is because of this that sexuality has always been tightly regulated. If children are raised poorly then they do not flourish, they cause havoc, and society suffers. Similarly, on questions of sexual behaviour, something like adultery can cause extreme violence between the adults, causing the breach of the peace and everything up to and including a community breakdown or war – think of Helen of Troy. So the dominant form and understanding of sexuality has been the PROC form. This is what lies behind all the 'traditional' marriage values, which regulate the expression of sexuality, which are strict about legitimacy, and which emphasise that rightly-ordered sexuality is principally about procreation. This is the official Roman Catholic teaching for example – so any form of sexuality which is not open to procreation is inherently sinful.

Yet this is a reductive and, I would argue, non-Scriptural view of human sexuality. Human beings do not engage with each other sexually purely for the purposes of procreation, but also for the purposes of human bonding and deepening of relationships – see the Song of Songs for the clearest Biblical expression of this. This, I believe, has always been the case. For example, ponder the fact that, unlike other primates, the human female does not overtly signal when she is fertile, and she engages in sexual behaviour even when she is not fertile. Human sexuality is expressed in all sorts of contexts and for all sorts of reasons, and this, I believe, underlies the PEG form of sexuality. Our relationships enable us to grow as human beings, and, sometimes, this involves engaging with another person as profoundly as a sexual relationship makes possible.

The spiritual truth is, I believe, that the PROC relationships are called to include the PEG elements as well. This is how the Church of England understands marriage, and that is why the preamble for weddings is written in the way that it is. The trouble with our present society is that, in responding to things like the development of (generally!) reliable contraceptive technology, and embracing all the ideas around personal growth and so on – 'the sixties' as popularly understood – we have allowed such PEG relationships to eclipse our understanding of PROC relationships. This has had terrible consequences. Society has had a stake in PROC relationships for a very good reason; how children are raised is tremendously important, and a stable and loving home environment is an overwhelmingly strong indicator of psychological health in children, and their flourishing in later life. Sadly, because we have elevated PEG relationships into an idol, we have a culture that practices serial monogamy and easy divorce – perfectly understandable and acceptable from a PEG point of view, but anathema to the PROC.

This is why I'm not convinced that there can be such a thing as gay marriage – it is inherently non-procreative, and therefore will always be fundamentally a PEG, not a PROC – and it is PROC-including-PEG that is holy matrimony, as I understand it. (I'm ignoring, for now, the difficult questions around adoption etc, as 'hard cases make bad law'.) Both PEG and PROC can, I believe, be vehicles of holiness, but in different ways. A PEG can work 'under its own steam', because the momentum of personal growth and discovery is so strong. With a PROC it is different – even if the PROC would normally start out as a PEG. I believe that a promise of commitment, such as the vows, open up a space wherein we can learn to become more truly human, one with another. When this is simply between two people, that can be wonderful and life-enhancing purely in its own terms (that is how I understand civil partnership). Where this happens in a procreative context, then God is doing something even more remarkable through it, and it is more essential that the couple preserve the union (and it is more God's will).

The trouble is that much of this discussion is about semantics - what is meant by a particular word. We're in an environment where previously-held assumptions have broken down, and we're still working out what to do with our present situation. What most troubles me about Cameron's agenda is that he is elevating 'choice' to be the key criterion in working out whether gay marriage is the right way forward or not. To my mind that misses some of the most important elements of what has made marriage be what it is in our society - that is, it is an institution which subordinates individual choice to a wider social and human good. That's what I fear is being recklessly cast aside in his haste to appear acceptable to progressive opinion. We must not make 'choice' into an idol - if we do then we are simply joining in with our culture's worship of Mammon and treating everything in our human and social life as if it is a product in our supermarket for our discriminating delectation. Marriage is more important than this.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Why I joined UKIP this summer

Latest Courier article

We learn to be ashamed before we walk

On the principle that I may as well be hanged for a sheep as a lamb, I'd like to use this article to explain why I joined UKIP this last summer. One of the key elements of the English religious settlement after the Civil War was that religion was given a particular place – one that forbade any political involvement. This is why there remains something of a taboo about religious figures getting involved in political affairs in this country, although that taboo is, thankfully, beginning to break down, alongside all the other elements of our national life that are breaking down.

Religion and politics have always gone together. If we consider some key figures from history – look at Desmond Tutu, or Martin Luther King, or Gandhi – then the idea that religion and politics can be easily separated is seen as a nonsense; or, if not a nonsense, then as a particularly local English eccentricity, and whilst I am very much in favour of particularly local English eccentricities, this is not one that I can respect any more. When priests are ordained we are charged to 'let the good shepherd be the pattern of our calling' – in other words, we are to try to walk the walk that Jesus walked. As he was someone who was executed by the state for being politically inconvenient, I have some idea of how he would react to being put into a corner and told not to startle the establishment.

So why UKIP? Well, it won't come as a surprise to many that I have always seen myself as being conservative – with a small 'c'. In other words, I look to things like the development of character and virtue as the key way to move towards a better life, for an individual and for a community, and I see such things as being best cultivated by the 'small platoons' of local institutions, church and family life. The other side of that positive vision is that I share a profound distrust of the over-mighty state (actually, of any over-mighty institution or corporation, there's not much difference between a mindless bureaucracy and a mindless supermarket chain for example). In the context of the economic devastation that has been working its havoc on our lives for several years now – with no prospect of improvement for at least a decade, if ever – what will enable us to get through the hard times is the quality of our social interactions, the strengthening of our community fabric, our capacity for good neighbourliness and looking after each other. I see the rise of the state through the twentieth century as a systematic dismantling of that social fabric, an intrusion of bureaucracy into areas that are best left to personal or local resolution, and consequently we are suffering much more from the economic consequences of political incompetence than we need to have been.

There were two key issues that made me change my mind about actually joining in with a political party – something that I haven't done since my student days, when I used to campaign for the Green party. The first is becoming aware that the existing Conservative party would never hold an honourable referendum on leaving the European Union – they would do to the anti-EU cause exactly what they did to the Liberal Democrats on the referendum for electoral reform. The established leadership will mouth sufficient platitudes to keep enough euro-sceptics on board to preserve their access to power, but they will not entertain the radical step of withdrawing from the EU with any honesty. Clearly, that is only an issue in so much as withdrawal from the EU is an issue – and a large part of my changing mind on this is because I have come to see that particular issue as having such significance. Perhaps I can spell out why in another article; for now, let me say simply that the centralisation of power and authority in an unaccountable bureaucracy remote from the people that it claims to serve is the apotheosis of all the things which I instinctively distrust – and I am more and more convinced that it is the political equivalent of the dinosaurs after the asteroid had struck the Yucatan peninsula 65 million years ago. The world is changing very rapidly, and the future belongs to the local and the flexible – all the things which the EU most definitely is not.

There is a second issue that triggered my change of thinking, however, and this is more directly related to religious questions – the debate about gay marriage. This is not so much an issue about the ultimate substance – it is at least possible that I could be persuaded that there might be such a thing as 'gay marriage'; I do, after all, have no problem with the idea of a religious blessing for gay civil partnerships. No, the key issue for me is the way in which this very significant change is being pushed through in such a fool-hardy fashion. For those of a conservative disposition issues around family and social formation are absolutely central, and any changes to the existing framework have to be considered extremely carefully. It is quite obvious that the existing political leadership have not thought through their understanding on this question, and that they are being driven by a particularly metropolitan form of political correctness. All the right people are in favour, therefore it must be a good thing. As a result, a huge change in our society is being pushed through at a fast pace and, quite simply, this is not a conservative way of doing things. It is not surprising that so many conservatives are deserting the Conservative party over this question – what is the point of something which doesn't do what it says on the tin?

At the heart of my understanding, however, is a sense that I am fed up with a political culture that has an instinctive repudiation of all that is most noble and elevated in our own political heritage and national story. In the words of one of my favourite songs “we learn to be ashamed before we walk, of the way we look and the way we talk; without our stories and our songs, how will we know where we've come from? I've lost St George in the Union Jack, it's my flag too and I want it back...” I am proud of my country – not blindly, not without an awareness of all that is terrible in our history from Amritsar to Dresden – but fully consciously, accepting that no country will ever be perfect and without sin, but still proud of the contribution that our society has made to things like the abolition of slavery and the establishment of human rights. The remarkable thing from my point of view is that so many of the things that are valued by the politically correct - a culture of humane tolerance for difference, of care for minorities, the weak and vulnerable – these all depend upon the prior existence of a healthy society which positively inculcates such virtues, and actively teaches the young not just that these are good things (we're still paying lip service in that direction) but that the achievement of such good things is hard work and requires motivation and discipline, character and virtue. That is where we've gone wrong. We have forgotten the practical implications of living in a sinful world.

Ultimately, I want to ask – who are we as a nation? Are we really so weak and pitiful that we are dependent upon outside help and assistance in order to be the best that we can be? Do we need to depend on outside authorities to do good, and what is the cost of accepting such outside help – costs borne by our fishermen and farmers, our market traders and so on? Of course, I don't agree with everything that UKIP stands for (seeking a party that perfectly conforms to our own ideas is one of the more self-indulgent of vanities) but it's a question of priorities. I see the EU as having an entirely baleful influence upon our national life and economy, and I don't think that we are going to be able to see any serious progress in addressing the mire of our political culture until there is a complete break with the EU. Hence – I am now a member of UKIP, out and proud!

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Of Wheat and Tares and CAGW Sceptics

(An article for the latest Green Christian magazine)

If we are to be truly Green Christians I think we need to have a full emphasis upon both parts of that description – that is, we need to ensure that our Greenery is critiqued by our Christianity just as much as our Christianity is critiqued by our Greenery. It's the former that I want to do in this article, because I am troubled by the extent to which a collapse in Christian values seems to be destroying the discussion in one area of Greenery, and how it is becoming destructive to our wider mission. I want to talk about the wheat and the tares and the CAGW sceptics.

This has been on my mind for quite some time for the simple reason that I have, rather against all my initial instincts – and, indeed, much of what I have previously taught and written – become a little bit of a CAGW sceptic myself. CAGW – I pronounce it 'ka-goo' as if it was a Welsh word – stands for Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming, and my scepticism is primarily about the first letter of the acronym. That is, I accept that the globe is indeed warming, and I accept that our emissions of carbon from burning fossil fuels are playing a significant part in that warming. My doubts, as they have grown, have centred on two elements – the first is the extent to which the pattern of warming is caused by those emissions; that is, how much is driven by our activity, how much by natural variability, how do those two elements interact and so on. More significantly, I am profoundly sceptical of the Catastrophic side – for mainly theological reasons, which I shall return to at the end of this article.

Now, I'm not wanting to get into the detailed science here – although I follow the detailed debates with great interest on-line – what I want to talk about is the tone that the discussion so often collapses into. Most especially I want to describe what I have come to call 'the climate screech', and I think the best way to describe that is with an analogy. Have you ever had a discussion with a convinced fundamentalist about who is going to go to Hell? Such discussions can often begin extremely pleasantly; some common ground is established, say, an acceptance of Jesus as Lord, an acceptance that there is something real that can be properly called 'Hell' and so on. Yet there comes a point in the conversation when you realise that this other person is, indeed, a convinced fundamentalist, and if you dare to suggest, for example, that it is possible that a Buddhist might be acceptable to Jesus, that a Buddhist might qualify as one of the 'for many' for whom Jesus also came – suddenly, the temperature of the discussion drops by several degrees and you realise that by this opinion you have been judged guilty of thought-crime and are now about to be denounced as a heretic. What I have discovered is that the same thing has begun to happen in discussions of climate change, and if any doubts are offered up against the 'consensus' then the pattern of behaviour exhibited is remarkably reminiscent of a fundamentalist – and it is this denunciation for heresy that I call 'the climate screech'. Instead of taking the form of quoting specific chapters and verses from the Bible (and therefore begging the question as to the nature of the Bible, and what is most properly considered the Living Word) it takes the form of quoting particular scientific 'facts', appealing to the 'consensus' of 'peer-reviewed science', and adopting a tone of righteous hectoring, as if a genuine intellectual doubt is a serious spiritual and moral failing. Instead of begging the question about the Bible, the climate screech begs the question of the nature of science and our relationship to it.

The trouble is that as soon as you have stepped into this sort of discussion, it is no longer a matter of a shared intellectual pursuit of the truth, and it moves on to something called 'the medicalisation of dissent'. That is, those who do not accept the consensus are no longer considered as fully rational human beings, but, rather, there is something wrong with them, poor dears, so let's just isolate them in their padded cells, so that society can proceed safely on its way with the dissentient voices silenced. Hence we have things like the recent Lewandowsky “research” that associates being sceptical of CAGW with doubting the moon landings – we don't have to take these questions seriously because the only people asking them are manifestly bonkers. It has become a matter of power, the one asking questions has shown themselves to be part of the 'enemy', and so such dissent and dangerous questions are to be shut down. This is how the language of heresy works; this is the dynamic of scapegoating all those who threaten the cohesion of the group; this is why innocent people end up getting crucified outside the city walls. You probably think I'm being a bit melodramatic about this – but this is how it has always begun.

This is why I want to critique this way of thinking from a Christian point of view. The holy simply do not 'screech'. They are so at home in the truth that they do not have to defend it; they simply point it out and let the truth itself do all the heavy lifting of persuasion. Put differently, the holy are never so certain of anything that they would use it as a means of power and exclusion. They certainly wouldn't allow their own ethics to be compromised in trying to 'defend' the truth – that would be a manifest self-contradiction and unthinkable. Which is one of the major reasons why I have started to look again at the CAGW consensus. There seems to be so much unethical behaviour involved – from the failure to follow an open procedure with regard to published research, to the debacle of the IPCC review process, all the way through to things like Peter Gleick's fraudulent deceptions and 'climategate' itself – that I can't help thinking that there is something really quite spiritually rotten here. That doesn't mean that climate change isn't real and isn't happening, what it does mean is that we – and by 'we' I include myself amongst all those who are persuaded that our present way of life is radically unsustainable and simply must change – that we have lost touch with the right way to proceed on this question.

Furthermore, I believe that because the wider movement has lost a sense of Godly perspective on this, and allowed it to become too important for us, we are actually losing the broader and more important argument about adapting our society to the Transition. How successful are the fire and brimstone preachers? They have become a caricature, and they are simply tuned out. In the same way, the excessive emphasis upon CAGW has eclipsed all the wider and more joyfully positive aspects of the Green way of life to which I believe that we are all called. Our wider society has heard the climate screech, has heard of all the dubious ethical practices of the practitioners, sees that the predictions of doom have not come to pass – and so these messengers are also tuned out.

The response to this is not to 'double-down' on the doom, and retreat into the illusionary comfort of moral and spiritual certainty and self-regard. As always, I would want to come back to Jesus, and see what he might have to say about such a situation. In the early church there was a persistent tendency to try and separate out the “good” Christians from the “bad” Christians, and this tendency was only finally named for the heresy that it is at the time of Augustine and his controversy with the Donatists. Yet Jesus talked about it from the very beginning, in his parable of the wheat and the tares. Jesus said that we must not try and separate them, because if we do, we will inevitably uproot some of the good along with the bad. It is for Jesus to sort them out at the end of the age. In the same way, we need to establish common cause politically with as many people as possible, and not get snagged on the temptations of doctrinal purity. We need spiritual humility, not dogmatic certainty.

Which brings me to that last point that I want to make, which is about the 'Catastrophic' part of CAGW. I have my grounds for doubt about the 'science' of this, most especially with regard to the IPCC forecasts which take no account of either the implications of the peaking of fossil fuel production, or the secondary effects upon the economy which such peaking will provoke – and which therefore, to my mind, render the IPCC forecasts literally meaningless. Yet my doubt about the catastrophism isn't primarily based upon the science but upon what I understand the nature of God to be. So I want to make an argument that would be meaningless to those whose understandings are determinedly secular, but which might make sense to those who place equal weight upon both the Green and the Christian.

If God loved us so much that he sent his only Son to die upon the cross and to save us from our sins – does it really make sense for him now to be a Deus Absconditus? To ask that question is to reference a particular theological tradition which sees the divine wrath as the inevitable corollary of our bad behaviour – and if we are not Green enough, then we shall experience the particularly Green doom of ecological catastrophe. There is a clear link between the catastrophism of CAGW and the eschatological prophecies of the hell-fire preacher, and it is not an accident that a society which sees itself as so determinedly secular and free of the fear of hell finds itself indulging in periodic paroxysms of fear about a secular equivalent. I reject both patterns of thought as unworthy of the God revealed in Jesus Christ, and I reject them for the same reasons in each case. So often there is an underlying theology hovering behind the supposedly secular – what we need to do is to disinter these inherited assumptions, and help us to ask the right questions about how we are to live today.

If we are to rest in the truth that sets us free then I believe that we need to properly integrate our Christian understandings with our Green attitudes, and allow each to correct the other. What this means is recognising that the Fallen nature of our existence applies as much to science and scientists as any other human realm, and always being willing to ask the impertinent and dissentient questions. It means making friends with CAGW sceptics wherever there is a possibility of common ground. More importantly, it means that our hopes, fears and expectations of the future cannot rest upon any scientific claim alone, but must also be informed by the faith and the hope which is in us. I retain hope for our human future, even when at the very same time, I also believe that our existing culture is collapsing around us and that we are facing our own generation's equivalent of forty years in the wilderness. The difference is that I believe that we will come back to God in the wilderness, and that he will not leave us as orphans: “For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29.11)