Travel and Environment

I have a problem.ireland

Ireland.  Ireland is an island.

I mean, it’s not so much my problem as it’s a fact.  Something that isn’t likely to change soon.  But it effects my moral decisions no end.  It’s part of the reason that one set of ethical applications just can’t be forced on everyone in set ways worldwide.  Because some of you reading this, won’t be on an island.

Why does this affect me morally?  Well it means all sorts of things but I’ll start with two.

  • Nearly everything I buy has travelled more miles than I have in the last year (and that’s saying something).  From my tomatoes (from Morocco) to my laptop (from America) and my car (from Japan), not to mention most of my worldly goods that have “made in China” stamped on them.  And miles mean shipping, or more often than not with perishable food, flying.  Every week I pay for some perishable food to be flown for me to my house (well, my local shop).  And that affects the environment.
  • To visit uni friends, I must fly.  To visit family, I must fly.  To better work at my job, I must fly.  Being on an island involves airports.  And that affects the environment.

So for every shop purchase, and every flight, I am affecting the environment and must how-bad-are-bananasdecide whether my convenience is worth that cost.  And it’s hard, because the cost is unknown to some degree.  It doesn’t wave at me in the face.  And when it does (in the form of rising sea levels, melting ice caps, shifts in weather patterns etc), it is so easily challenged or justified.  “I’m only me.  What about the big corporations?  What about the countries ignoring the environment?  What about those who fly every day?”

It’s so easy to see corporate responsibility, point fingers, and never look at my own life.  Which is where I find this book, brilliant.  It challenges without overwhelming.  It inspires and amuses, whilst still making a point.  It has helped shape my life in recent years, alongside other things.  I urge you traveller, take this world and its environment seriously!  At the very least, look into carbon off-setting and sign up to someone like Tearfund’s updates to keep you  thinking.  And for your church, find something to keep you accountable like Eco Congregation Ireland.

But as the book rightly points out, we’re working on this one together, so please don’t get on your high horse about every minor thing you think you’re doing that others aren’t.  Some of the most environmentally friendly people I know in Cork (nearly zero waste, their own well etc), I’ve never heard them mention it.  Beautiful living.

Book review: “Sex and the iWorld – rethinking relationship beyond an age of individualism” (Keuhne, Baker Academic)

Christianity tends to attract a various of opinions to it, within it or because of it.  Those who think (like Chicken Licken) that the sky is falling down, and those who go through life with rose-tinted glasses, assuming the best of all, regardless of the reality in front of them.  And no doubt, such a diversity of views can be of great help to the wider body.

Some of these views are shaped or influenced by theology.  Particularly eschatology (end times) and whether one takes a reformed or arminian view on the world, but also based on many other things.  One such opinion was recently expressed by a friend and deeply respected pastor here:

“There is nothing progressive about the moral trajectory of Europe. On the contrary European society is regressing. We are not gaining traction toward a utopian culture, rather we are descending into a dystopian nightmare.”

(the context to this can be found in their lecture here and on their blog here)

This book would disagree with that first assumption as one of its major points.  I might come on to the second of those points tomorrow, if I have time.  Below I will outline why my reading of the book would suggest this:

Keuhne sets out to convince us that the old world was one sex-and-the-iworldwhere relationships like family (of several generations) were central, and geographic locality tended to dominate out relationships.  This was the tWorld (traditional world).  This world supposedly was founded on Christian values, but in practice because it was actually a mish-mash of many philosophical worldviews at various points in European thought, it allowed for much mistreatment of women (banning them to the kitchen and to certain jobs) in a patriarchal society, lack of care of environment and often views of sexual practice as something not to be discussed.  Faithfulness within marriage was even often encouraged in horrible cases of abuse, due to social norms.

Now we live in one where relationships are more individualistic and family units less the staple of current society.  Geographical location although still influential, with current trends of transport, change of career/job and internet trends, is not as key.  This is the Individualistic World – the iWorld.  This world perhaps has some roots in the sexual revolution of the ’60s, and in postmodern thinking.  The rise of this has debatably led to whole populations addicted to porn, the further breakdown of the family unit and society, with greater loneliness exhibited than ever before.

Both worlds, Keuhne would argue, has their great strengths and their horrific weaknesses.  Both world were far off the Christian worldview and ideal.  Perhaps many would differ in which was better or worse, morally speaking, for the world.  But what is certain is that there’s been some progression in some fairly major areas.

But where to go now?  Keuhne says the gut instinct for many taking a Christian worldview, is to think we should return to “the good old ages” where things looked more Christian.  But partly because returning to past history is not possible (much as we sometimes like to think it might be – the cultural context has moved on and cannot be reversed), and partly because trying to reverse such changes is always harder than liberalising things to start with, Keuhne thinks that this should not be our option.  Living in the iWorld with a thin veneer of tWorld morality will be an impossibility, but one that many churches are still trying to persuade their adherents to live out.

As Bristol professor in psychology Glynn Harrison would point out, there is little point lecturing young people about porn, if we do not realise that it is merely a small part of the consequence of living at this time in history, that we all have been affected by.  Not just those “porn users over there” or “those affected by unwanted sexual desires” but us all.  We are all products of our culture, to some extent or other.  Until we understand this, ranting about moral behaviour “x, y or z” will do little good at bringing real change.

Instead, the author proposes a new world to aim for: the “rWorld” (Real World).  This is one that has Christian relational values at the very heart of it, but Keuhne refuses to call it the “cWorld – Christian World” because he believes that there is much that anyone would agree about this world, regardless of your worldview.

And his case if powerful, controversial and intriguing, and is worth reading and probably re-reading.  It verges on being an academic book in the style he writes, but don’t let that put you off.  The chapters are manageable and are worth persevering, as the content could shape a lot of how we think and act in life, and his engagement with the arts and ways of framing his case is dynamic.

This one probably falls into one of my top 10 reads of this year.  But then again, I am quite philosophically minded.

Can we be good without…Christianity?

Interestingly secular historian Tom Holland came out a few days ago in the New Statesman to say that he’s increasingly realising how much of our western ethical thinking is still grounded in Christianity.  Of course, he’s just slowly repeating what many others have said before him (as we all do), though at least Nietzsche tried to be consistent and rid himself of the Christian morality:

“When one gives up the Christian faith, one pulls the right to Christian morality out from under one’s feet. This morality is by no means self-evident: this point has to be exhibited again and again, despite the English flatheads. Christianity is a system, a whole view of things thought out together. By breaking one main concept out of it, the faith in God, one breaks the whole: nothing necessary remains in one’s hands. Christianity presupposes that man does not know, cannot know, what is good for him, what evil: he believes in God, who alone knows it. Christian morality is a command; its origin is transcendent; it is beyond all criticism, all right to criticism; it has truth only if God has truth—it stands or falls with faith in God.”

Whether we can rid ourselves of such a moral basis and still have an “ought” behind our morals?  It’s been a great philosophical question in recent decades.

By that I suggest we mean we want to call evil wrong.why  But why is evil wrong and good right?  Well it ought to be so.  We can try and define evil by harm caused or injustice or inequality but we’ll always face to annoying two-year-old master question “why?”.  Why is injustice or harm wrong?  I know it is in virtually every culture.  But what if we all have it wrong?

And in my mind such questions have never been answered sufficiently since we moved on from deontological frameworks (where morals are rooted in divine being), though the intuitionist may want to argue.  And I’m not talking about poorly formed divine command theories (of which most we were given at undergraduate level were straw men!).

I’ll happily listen to someone who’ll give us a moral basis outside of a divine being, but for now, I see it being necessary if we’re going to be able to call ISIS evil in any proper way.  Time won’t allow take us the full way to seeing whether that being is a Christian divine being or not.  Perhaps for later…

Above all: do not harm

It’s the heartbeat of modern culture.

“Do not harm”

It’s the moral standard of the day.  Unfettered freedom until harm is caused.  We can get drunk (normally seen to be no harm to others) as long as we don’t get violent or harm anyone.  We can have sex galore (supposedly no harm), until there is not consent (harm).  We can have gay marriage (which culture would say is no harm) but not paedophilia (which does harm minors).

But how did we arrive here and why does our utopia involve as much freedom as possible, until harm is involved?

Although some point to documents like the Hippocratic Oath as things that had this principle in, it would appear that such principles read this into the oath more than it actually says.


John Stuart Mill’s “On Liberty” is a classic text to read.

I think current versions of age-old principles stem from influential political philosophers like John Stuart Mills and John Rawls who, although coming from supposedly different philosophical frameworks (one Kantian and the other utilitarian), have both spoken into
the common mindset of how most of us think on this topic.  Without reading them, I doubt we’ll understand how our moral compass is wired today and how we’ve largely bought them, hook, line and sinker.

One increasingly frequent push-back on this take on “harm” is summed up in this Guardian video which asks whether sitting back and not harming people is enough.  Should we not be campaigning on behalf of the harmed and shaping our edmund-burkelives round that?  Understandingly, given the implications for each of our lives, there’s quite some reaction to it in the comment section.  It reminds me of Edmund Burke’s famous saying (see left), that certainly comes closer to a Biblical definition of harm (that includes things we don’t do [sins of omission] as well as things we do [sins of commission]).

Is harm the be all and end all?  Well, in my mind it depends what you mean by harm.