Our human responsibility for the system of nature surrounding us (the environing ecosystem) as well as for the system of nature within us (our human nature, both personal and social) has been the theme of the June and September Zygon issues of 1977. The June issue, on The Ecosystem, Energy, and Human Values, was from a conference organized by Karl E. Peters for the Institute on Religion in an Age of Science, held at Rollins College, Winter Park, Florida, on March 19-20, 1976. This September issue, on Mans Responsibility for Nature, is based upon a symposium organized by A. R. Peacocke for the British Science and Religion Forum, held at Windsor, England, on April 7-9, 1976, with the addition of a quite independent paper by Edward Goldsmith.
The theme of these issues is close to Zygons basic concerns: not only mans proper relation to other men in his society but also his proper relation to the total system by which he was created, by which he is sustained, and in accord with which he is constrained to live (the total ecosystem, including all human social systems and himself within the system). The first relation is often referred to as religions function to engender proper moral or ethical behavior. The second relation includes the religious functions of providing man with meaning, hope, and salvation for himself within the scheme of things entire. This scheme or total system far transcends man individually and men socially. It is a scheme whose hidden springs (mechanisms or dynamisms) have been symbolized commonly as the gods or the ultimate Deity.
Over the last fifty years, that is, since the first world conference on Christian social thought (Stockholm, 1925), the ecumenical movement has given much attention to the issues of social, racial, and international justice and more recently to a consideration of the increasingly complex and alienating technological system characteristic of our times. However, the first organized and substantial effort to draw physical and natural scientists and technologists into the ecumenical discussion of social ethics started only in 1969, following a recommendation of the Uppsala Assembly of the World Council of Churches. This action reflected an uneasy feeling, expressed first in the 1966 World Conference on Church and Society, that the ecumenical movement, while affirming its concern for both the social and the technical revolutions, had failed singularly to involve scientists and technologists who might help to interpret the nature of the technical change. …
Paul Abrecht is director of the subunit on church and society of the World Council of Churches, Geneva, Switzerland.
Man and Nature: A Theological Assessment by Hugh Montefiore
Christian theology presupposes the Christian revelation and acceptance of the Christian faith. It is the product of a Christians passionate search for truth aroused by his intellectual curiosity. This is a discipline which requires rigorous intellectual criticism so as to enable insights to be refined and errors to be purged. At the same time it needs imaginative insight in order to construct a theological schema which brings together things that ought to be brought together in a fresh and illuminating way. Theology also demands, as I understand it, more than an intellectual grasp of the Christian gospel. It requires also an existential experience of Christian life if it is to be spiritually as well as intellectually adequate. It is obvious therefore that anyone who dares to theologize is taking a very great deal upon himself. …
Hugh Montefiore is Bishop of Kingston.
My purpose is, first, to discuss the character of the increasingly serious state of disequilibrium which now manifestly exists in the relationship between Homo sapiens as a species and the rest of nature—the so-called environmental crisis. Second, I would like to discuss both the fundamental and more immediate causes of this ecological disequilibrium and their origins in certain human attitudes and actions which stem from, or are encouraged by, various forms of conventional religious and humanistic belief. Third, I shall try to suggest some constructive conclusions arising from this analysis, with particular reference to the essential (as distinct from optional) ecological role of moral laws in the conduct of human affairs. I believe that these conclusions can provide signposts to a healthier, that is, more harmonious, future relationship between man and Gods natural world of which he is a part. …
D. Bryce-Smith is professor of organic chemistry, University of Reading, England.
The Religion of a Stable Society by Edward Goldsmith
We all think we know what is meant by religion; yet if we were asked to define it we would probably all do so differently. In the irreligious age in which we live, many would agree with Salomon Reinach that religion is but a sum of scruples which impede the free exercise of our faculties,¹ or even with Marx, who, as is well known, described it as the opiate of the masses. To both these critics religion is some sort of aberration, one which may characterize backward, barbarous, and ignorant people but which, it is intimated, has no place in advanced, civilized, and enlightened society. In this article I shall show that the opposite is in fact the case.
Let us consider a few more definitions offered by those who have examined most carefully the philosophy of religion. Robert Thouless considers it as a felt, practical relationship with what is believed in as a superhuman being or beings,² while James George Frazer regards it as a propitiation or conciliation of powers superior to man which are believed to direct and control the course of nature and of human life.³ They thus see religion as something which is concerned intimately with the supernatural. Julian Huxley describes it as the reaction of the personality as a whole to its experience of the universe as a whole.⁴ This is clearly a much wider definition which includes, among other things, the notion of culture.
I regard the last three definitions as containing some of the essential elements of religion without providing, however, a functional definition that is of use in developing a cross-cultural model of human social behavior. I shall try to provide such a definition. Religion I shall take as constituting the control mechanism of a stable society. …
¹ Salomon Reinach, Orpheus: A History of Religions, trans. Florence Simmonds (London: George Routledge & Sons, 1931), p. 3 (in the book quotation is italicized).
² Robert Thouless, An Introduction to the Psychology of Religion (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1971), p. 11.
³ James George Frazer, The Golden Bough, abridged ed. (New York: Macmillan Co., 1923), p. 50.
⁴ Julian Huxley, Religion without Revelation (New York: Harper & Bros., 1957), p. 92.
Edward Goldsmith is editor of the Ecologist, 73 Molesworth Street, Wadebridge, Cornwall, England.
Meaning by Michael Polanyi and Harry Prosch, reviewed by Donald W. Musser