Bad Faith


In an essay for Breakthrough Journal, Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus warn us about ecotheology, a hypocritical concept of environmentalism that, “like all dominant religious narratives, serves the dominant forms of social and economic organization in which it is embedded”. So far, so good. A concept of nature as pristine and in opposition to human activities is deeply flawed (Timothy Morton even says that “Nature” is a completely poisonous concept for truly ecological thinking). But then Shellenberger and Nordhaus claim that the solution is a renewal of faith in modernisation:

Today’s nihilistic ecotheology is actually a significant obstacle to dealing with ecological problems created by modernization — one that must be replaced by a new, creative, and life-affirming worldview… Let’s call this “modernization theology.”

Yes, new technologies can help us overcome some of the most destructive aspects of human activity, but the very last thing in the world we need is to make a theology of this. John Christensen, responding in the same issue also thinks its a terrible idea, writing:

Modernization is the vocabulary of power. Modernization is a totalizing agenda. It knows what’s good for you and everyone and everything else on the planet.

At the end of their essay, Shellenberger and Nordhaus recruit Latour via his interpretation of Frankenstein as a warning against abandoning our monsters, not a warning against creating them in the first place. As Christensen says, this is weird, since Latour can hardly be taken as a theologist of modernisation. Latour’s contribution to the issue, “Love Your Monsters” is here, and his argument is more nuanced than Shellenberger and Nordhaus’s. He points out that once you’re involved, you can’t just back away from something. God, he points out, didn’t do this:

If God has not abandoned His Creation and has sent His Son to redeem it, why do you, a human, a creature, believe that you can invent, innovate, and proliferate — and then flee away in horror from what you have committed?

Commitment to something doesn’t mean faith in it, necessarily (God doesn’t have faith in humankind). To observe that we’re in this now, and we can’t back out is very different from insisting this was the right way all along.



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