The New Psalmists

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Croatian cloister © Ruth Bancewicz

For Christians, science can enhance our worship, both individual and collective. CS Lewis wrote that worship completes our enjoyment of something,[i] and enjoyment of creation has always played a part in fostering worship. Monasteries and retreat houses often include open spaces or gardens where people can draw near to God through being surrounded by nature, and church buildings and cathedrals often contain natural motifs.

The Psalms are very early examples of worship songs that express joy at the glory of creation. In other parts of the Bible the immensity and grandeur of creation is also used to invoke a feeling of awe and worship. Perhaps the most powerful expression of this is found in the book of Job. In the last few chapters, God describes the great sweep of his works in nature. We now understand some parts of the processes described – the formation of Earth, weather and animal behaviour, for example – but the whole is just as awesome as it was thousands of years ago. ‘And these are but the outer fringe of his works; how faint the whisper we hear of him! Who then can understand the thunder of his power?’ (Job 26:14) Continue reading

Ecological Hope

© Ruth Bancewicz

Human activity on our planet continues to cause wide scale ecological havoc at such a rate that it can be tempting to give up hope, sit back, and let things unfold however they will. When Richard Bauckham spoke at the Faraday Institute a couple of weeks ago his message was far more positive. Yes, massive environmental damage has been done and some of the consequences are unstoppable, but from his perspective as a theologian there is real hope. I was inspired by Bauckham’s talk because he has taken a realistic look at the science of climate change and other ecological disasters in the light of his faith, and has come away with a plan of action that is not the least bit miserable.

Anyone promising hope needs to know the context they’re speaking into. Bauckham described how the New Testament book of Revelation was written in the first instance for Christians living under intense persecution in Rome (hence its coded ‘apocalyptic’ language), and it inspired them to keep going. Our context is a faded utopia of economic and technological growth. It was once thought that the potential for improvement was pretty much limitless. Our hope was to stop environmental damage through economic and technological fixes, but climate change is now underway and further change is inevitable – with both foreseeable and unforeseeable consequences. We can only try to stop things getting much worse. How can we go on hoping? Continue reading

Animal Rights, Human Responsibilities?

A few weeks ago I discussed this passage in Genesis 9 with some colleagues at the Faraday Institute. God gave Noah and his family animals to eat, but there was a level of respect or care for life: ‘But you must not eat meat that has its lifeblood still in it.’ Also, human life was valued more than the lives of animals – there’s something different about us. Ethicists such as Peter Singer would have difficulties with that approach – he thinks that an adult chimpanzee is worth more than a human infant, but he’s in a minority (I hope!)

At this week’s Faraday seminar, David Williams of the Cambridge University Vet School spoke on ‘Animal Rights, Human Responsibilities?Continue reading