Sunday, May 24, 2009


Sunday Reflection: On knowledge

This morning, my little Sunday School class was joined by Alan Bean, the founder of Friends of Justice. We continued our excellent discussion of Tolkien's correspondence with C.S. Lewis about myth and faith. One theme that Tolkien goes to repeatedly is that man is co-creator of the Earth-- that we have power to shape God's creation for good or bad. Of course, we are the lesser creator (no one claims co-equality), but still we have a role and free will in living out that role.

It is hard to deny that truth. We can destroy life on Earth through bombs or pollution, or not. We can create institutions, cultures, legends, buildings, and art, for good or bad. Much of this world is our creation, using (or ignoring) the talents and principles God created.

That idea, that we are the co-Creators of Earth, is to me perhaps the best reason to pursue knowledge and to intentionally try to make the world better in whatever way we can. It is not only possible, but that is the role given to us by God.

So, should we learn? And when we do, what should we use that knowledge for? If it is to enrich ourselves rather than this world, is that a violation of the trust God has in us?

Mark, I was absolutely fascinated by this morning's discussion. The most invigorating Sunday School class I have ever attended. Thanks so much for the invitation.

Alan Bean
One of the things that "co-creators" implies that we should take co-ownership of the planet we were given to live on. We've done a lousy job of it so far. Politics aside, we simply must, must, must be better stewards of the earth for our children's and grandchildren's sake. We're poisoning ourselves.
This ties in with notions of self-consciousness and freedom found in Hegel. To be free is to take responsibility for that freedom, to live within the world as an ethical being. I think many people, often disproportionately the religious, shirk this duty due to romanticizing an unfree state. Consider the fall myth: before the Fall of Man, humans lived in an "ideal" unfree state. There was no sin, not because Adam and Eve weren't "sinning" (after all, what changed before they realized they were naked?) but because, in child-like innocence, they weren't responsible for their behavior because they weren't aware of ethical implications. Only after attaining knowledge of good and evil did God hold them responsible for their actions.

The realization of one's responsibility as an ethical creature is concomitant with the acquisition of the duty to act ethically, and that's hard to do. If we share responsibility as "stewards" (a Tolkien-esque term!) of creation then there is an ethical import (as we as a socio-political one) to how we approach the environment. We are free to be good or bad co-creators, but we have a duty to try to be good, and I think lots of people shirk that duty for various reasons (belief in an imminent apocalypse, selfishness or shortsightedness, backwards ethical system that place personal gain above shared goals, etc.).
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