Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Articles and posts

Is Going Green bad for your soul - Year of Plenty

Bible Verses on Creation Care - Earthcare Online

What would MLK do? Christians and climate change - ABC religion

Requiem for a Species - Adbusters

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Intelligent life in the universe - what if we're not the ones lagging behind but the ones paving the way?

            My son loves Doctor Who. And one of the things I’ve noticed with Doctor Who is that human beings come across as quite backward compared to the rest of the universe. It is usually the other species that are far more advanced, while humans are lagging far behind.
            That makes for good science fiction. There wouldn’t be too much you could do with a science fiction series if all other life forms in the universe were less advanced than us. It is also the situation most likely to fire people’s imaginations. If we accept there is intelligent life form out there, we want to imagine them as some superior race, filled with things we have never dreamed about.
            While watching the television series, ‘The Universe’ recently, I heard that the universe is still in its infancy. Yes, it’s been around for a very long time. But that long time is as nothing compared to how long it’s still got to go.
            And the question that immediately posed for me is, if the universe is still in its infancy, then wouldn’t any intelligent life forms around now end up being the oldest/most advanced life forms in the future? It may not be that we end up being discovered by some superior and far advanced race. Instead, we may end up being the race that searches for life forms on other planets that are not as old/advanced as us.
            This is all hypothetical of course but it should make us really think about what we do, here and now, on earth.
            In a family, younger children often copy what older children do. Therefore, parents will tell the eldest child to set a good example for his younger siblings. They have a certain responsibility because of their seniority in age. If human beings do end up being the oldest intelligent life form on earth, we need to consider what example we are setting for those species that are younger than ours?
            Another thing we should think about is how we are paving the way for those who follow after us. The forerunners of any society mould to a certain extent the people that come afterwards. Our laws, institutions and societal norms have evolved from laws, institutions and societal norms of the past. They may have been changed and improved. But the society we live in now would not be the same society if history had been different. We build on the past and the past determines our future. So if future intelligent life will be modelled on ours, what kind of life will it be?
            At this stage, you might be thinking that I’ve been watching too much Doctor Who. Quite possibly you’re right. This is definitely the kind of conversation that my young Doctor Who fan loves. But as I’ve pushed the boundaries of imagination quite a bit already, why not push it a bit more.
            Imagine a time, billions of years from now, when there are many intelligent life forms in the universe, many of them in contact with each other. In a classroom a group of young aliens are being taught the history of the universe. Some species (not earthlings) are named as the forerunners of intelligent life.
            Young Johnny - it’s a universal rule that school kids who put up their hands in class are always called Johnny, regardless of which planet they’re from - puts up his hand and says, ‘But Miss, I heard that there was a form of intelligent life called earthlings that came before them. Only they destroyed themselves.’ 
            The teacher says, ‘Nonsense, Johnny. That’s just a fairytale. There’s no evidence that intelligent life ever existed on earth.’
            Sound far-fetched? Yeah, probably. Like I said, too much Doctor Who. But far-fetched or not, it’s worth thinking about.
            Our actions here on earth do not just have consequences for here and now, but far into the future, maybe even beyond our planet. Okay, maybe not to a classroom billions of years in the future, where a little boy calls Johnny asks about the fabled ‘earthlings’. And let’s face it, it’s pretty difficult to imagine the consequences that far into the future anyway. But maybe if we start looking centuries into the future, that would be a good start.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Queensland floods - Uncontrollable nature, Uncontrollable God

            Before I start this blog post, I would like to extend my sympathies to everyone who has been affected by the Queensland floods, especially those who are missing family members. My prayers are with you.
            I was not sure whether I should write this post. Although it was a post I really wanted to write, I think it is too easy to turn tragedies into an opportunity to espouse political or religious views, without any real consideration for the people directly impacted. I know that for many people this is not a news story or a speech or a blog post, but a tragic reality in their lives. If this post comes across as insensitive at all, I am truly sorry.

            When watching the news stories, it was the personal tragedies that struck me most. I don’t often cry during the news, but I find myself crying a lot lately. I think we see so much death, devastation and destruction on the news that we become a little immune to it. Perhaps it shouldn’t be the case, but it is much easier to find empathy for people ‘like us’. As I watched the news, I could so easily imagine myself in the position of those whose homes had been lost or whose family members were missing.
            But another item that struck me was the information that the Wivenhoe Dam was meant to prevent a flood like that experienced in 1974, but that dam was not coping.
            I think we have become a bit complacent about nature, especially those living in urbanised areas in the western world, where we seem so removed from nature. For a couple of hundred years, man has sought to control nature. They wanted to bend it to their purposes, mould it to their will. It was not man at the mercy of nature, but nature at the mercy of man. And to a certain extent, they succeeded - even if our control is undoubtedly more limited than we realised.
            Undoubtedly humans have a huge impact on nature. And we can control nature in a way no other species can. But if we think we’re the one’s controlling this big huge system we call earth, we are much mistaken. Humans aren’t the ones in charge.
            God is the one in charge. But leaving the theological discussion for a moment, let’s stick with nature.
            Nature is more powerful, more forceful, more in control than we are. No matter what we do to try and bend nature to our will, nature will often do what we don’t expect - and don’t want. Natural disasters remind us that our influence over this world is very limited. And it must also remind us to respect and even fear nature. Nature is not something that bows down to human’s will. Nor is it something cute and cuddly that only wants to keep us safe. It is wonderful and awesome, fearsome and dangerous. It can bring us much joy and bring us much sorrow.
            Humans don’t like to be at the mercy of anything. We think that the decisions we make and the actions we take can direct our own lives. We feel control of our own destiny. Nature reminds us that this is not always the case. Not only is nature uncontrollable, but it has the ability to sometimes control us.
            This desire to be in control of our own destiny also affects how we sometimes view God. Like nature, we think we can control God, rather than realising it is God who controls us. Instead of seeing ourselves at the mercy of God, we try to bend God to our will and our purposes. Read many books on prayers and you will see what I mean. Many of them devote a lot of space on how to get our prayers answered. As I heard in a YouTube video recently, we have our own greedy desires and we presume they are God’s will for us. But maybe the purpose of prayer should not be to try and get God to do what we want, but to realise that He is ultimately the one in control.
            Of course, especially in the light of the Queensland floods, this raises all kinds of questions about why God would cause this or even allow it. That’s a big question and one I don’t have the space to do even the tiniest bit of justice to here. The short answer is, I don’t know. But then, I’m not the one in charge. And I know God is loving and I know he is just. But I also know he is fearsome and powerful. Maybe God is just letting the laws of nature taking their course. If He stepped in and prevented this natural disaster, he would have to step in and prevent every natural disaster. And maybe the whole laws of nature would then be changed. I certainly don’t think it is any kind of act of righteous anger or judgment. I believe God is just as sorrowed by this as we are.
            I also believe that God doesn’t only feel empathy for the people who are ‘like us’, but for all humans everywhere in this world. He cries with the people affected by the Queensland floods, just as he cried with the people affected by Hurricane Katrina or the Victorian bushfires or the Asian tsunami or wars and natural disasters everywhere. It is easy to focus on what happens in Australia, either because we are directly impacted, we know people who are or we can relate to those who are impacted. But there are people hurting every day in this world. And I believe God cares for them all.   

Friday, January 7, 2011

Articles and posts

Some articles and posts worth looking at:

Should Christians Be Environmentalists? by Dan Story, Christian Research Institute

Floods can help Australia rise towards adaptation to climate change - Christian Science Monitor

What are faith groups doing? - Climate Squad

Plastic - Cheap and Durable - which is why we need to reconsider using it

Plastic - it’s cheap and durable. No wonder the world loves it.
            But perhaps the world should think twice about its fondness for plastic, precisely because it is cheap and durable.
            Because it’s cheap, we make it, we use it, we throw it away - most of the time without thinking about it.
            Plastic has become a regular feature of our everyday lives. I couldn’t begin to tell you all the different items people come into contact with that use plastic. And even if I listed all the ones I know, you’d be bored before the end of this page. But just to give you some idea, here are some of the items I came in contact with today that use plastic: toothbrush, plastic bags from the butchers, gladwrap to wrap food, plastic containers to put food in, plastic container that pavlova came in, express post bag, bubble wrap, earphones for iPod, iPod, computer, computer mouse, mobile phone, chocolate wrappers, diet coke bottles - I’m bored already. And I’ve barely scratched the surface.
            But the many different ways in which plastic is used is not as big a problem as how quickly we dispose of many of those products. If we look at the list above, the plastic bags, the gladwrap, the pavlova container, the express post bag, the chocolate wrappers and the diet coke bottles all have a one-time use. The bubble wrap should be added to that list, but I reuse the bubble wrap that gets delivered to me. The toothbrush and perhaps the iPod earphones have a lifespan of less than a year.
            So plastic gets made into many products that we use once (or for a limited time) and then throw out. We use it, we throw it, it disappears.
            Well it may disappear from our house and our lives, but it doesn’t disappear from the planet. Remember how I said it was durable. Well that durability may make it a great material to use, but it also means that plastic stays around forever. It may break down into smaller bits, but essentially it doesn’t go away. So the plastic I used and threw away today will still be somewhere in some form in 200 years time. That bears thinking about.
            Furthermore, the plastic that is around can do a lot of damage. Much of it ends up in the ocean, where it is often mistaken for food and eaten by fish or birds. The plastic item you use once and then toss could end up in a bird’s stomach.
            It’s practically impossible to avoid plastic altogether. It’s found in so many different items. And I for one don’t really want to start brushing my teeth with a wooden toothbrush. Plastic is sometimes good.
            But perhaps we should think about the plastic that we do use and throw away. Try to avoid disposable plastic as much as possible. Try to reuse plastic as much as possible. And think about the cost to the environment with every piece of plastic that passes through your hands and gets tossed away.
            Christians believe this world is God’s creation. It is also his gift to us. If someone we loved built a house for us, we probably wouldn’t fill that house with a whole lot of rubbish - especially if we knew that rubbish would be around forever. We’d treasure that house because it was built by someone we loved. We’d take care of it and respect their creation. Well we should also respect God’s creation. And part of that respect means thinking about the choices that we make and their impact on the natural world.
            Plastic may be a great creation. But it is manmade. And I for one believe that this world is a better creation. Because it is God-made. And doesn’t God’s creation deserve more appreciation and respect than man’s creation does?