From Sallie McFague’s response to my essay, “The Macondoization of the World: Global Environmental Governance & Christian Ethics”

From Sallie McFague’s response to my essay, “The Macondoization of the World: Global Environmental Governance and Christian Ethics:”

“Noah Toly’s fine essay is rich in its suggestions on how the religions might play a part in the crucial planetary crisis of climate change. While there are many avenues I could pursue in responding to it, I will focus on just one, which is sparked by his definition of “Macondo” as “the vanity of the human condition apart from restrictions, and the calamities that often accompany enterprising, but overly ambitious intentions to transcend natural limits” (7). He fleshes out this definition with an analysis of the “post-environmentalists” who pretend to be “like God.” He notes that their grand technological programs do not produce unvarnished goods but a greater scale and scope of risk—risk that is often borne by those who did not create the problem but are the first to feel its deleterious effects. This is increasingly seen to be the case with the issue of climate change—the people who contributed most of the carbon emissions creating the crisis are not the ones bearing its burdens. We also see the same phenomenon with the other major and related crisis of our time—the financial meltdown of 2008 in which bankers and CEO’s prospered while the least wealthy lost homes and jobs." 

"Toly’s essay makes a strong argument against our reigning social imaginary in his critique of the post-environmentalists and their lack of acknowledging the inevitable tragic dimension to all human action. As a counter to this imaginary Toly introduces what he calls “the cruciform imaginary,” a model of human living that transcends self-centeredness toward the well-being of broader environments. As an example of such an imaginary, Toly mentions Bonhoeffer’s “Stellvertretung” or vicarious representative action, which at the deepest level for the Christian is “the incarnation, cross and resurrection of Christ, in whom God acts in freedom and love for the sake of all humanity” (quoted from Clifford Green, p. 27). Or, in Toly’s summation, “the cruciform imaginary promotes the respect and enhancement of the integrity of life with and for others” (28). Thus, the “Macondoizers,” the post-environmentalists (and I would add those operating at the top of the model of market capitalism), refuse to acknowledge not only the perduring presence of tragedy in all human action but also the issue of whether the perpetrators of action bear the costs of its effects, or if those losses are displaced onto others. Therefore, the cruciform imaginary, what in Christian circles is called the imitation of Christ, is not necessarily limited to Christians, nor is it merely a “religious” or “spiritual” dictum. Rather, it may be one (certainly not the only) expression of how to live “the good life,” good as fulfilling to persons and to the planet. It is claiming that the almost universal religious mandate to “love the neighbor as oneself” is not merely a pious, sectarian suggestion, but the social imaginary that makes for abundant human living and planetary flourishing. This imaginary claims that “to save one’s life, one must lose it,” and by implication it also suggests that this strange counter-cultural advice is relevant to how human beings should be living on planet earth." 

"If we were to accept this social imaginary or model as our set of working assumptions for actions in regard to the issue at hand—climate change—it would mean that those who created most of the greenhouse emissions would be “facing reality” if they also assumed the consequences for those actions, namely, taking the lead in international attempts to mitigate emissions. It would mean that the “tragedy” of the high-level, high-energy consumer lifestyle that has created the dire situation we are presently facing would be borne by folks like us for the benefit of the poorest human beings as well as the planet itself. This would not be a crazy thing to do; in fact, it would not only be “facing reality” but acting out of one strand of what it means to be a human being, namely exercising our biological tendency toward altruistic action. Biology and religion are not necessarily at odds; in fact, the strongest case for moral action may be that we were “created” to be “loving,” that is, able to recognize “that something other than oneself is real.” 

The essay, along with complete responses from McFague, Roger Gottlieb, and Willis Jenkins, can be found here. Many thanks to all three respondents. I deeply appreciate their feedback, especially at this stage of my project.

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