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Nature

Rising Above Nature

“Nature is what we were put in this world to rise above”. You might think these words come from The Book of Proverbs, The Wisdom of Solomon, or the letters of St. Paul. But visitors to my Quotes page (Quote 88) will know that it is a line spoken by missionary Rose Sanger, Katharine Hepburn’s character in the film The African Queen (1951) – and in just a few short words it rejects everything our age believes in, and, I would argue, encapsulates an authentically-Christian attitude and world-view.

Nature means many things, of course. It means the world, the earth, the environment, and as such is the recipient of considerable attention at this time. In mainline environmentalist thinking (which mostly derives from a materialist world-view, and is a complete reversal of the Judeo-Christian world-view) we are encouraged to consider the earth as being somehow a thing of ultimate worth, our “natural” and only home, the thing which, unaided, produced us, and in which we shall have our existence.

It is in all senses prior to us, and will live on, feeding on our remains, long after we are gone. Thus (raised almost to the level of a secular religion, which for many it is) the voices of the media, the political parties, and almost all popular writers, join in a unified chorus condemning our misuse of the earth.

This thinking has some very non-Christian consequences for the way we are supposed to regard, for example, animals. They, of course – in this thinking – are equally the products of the processes which have produced all of us, and so of course, they are just as important as we are; thus materialist philosopher Peter Singer condemns as “speciesism” any attempt to suggest that animals may be used to serve our needs (an attitude firmly condemning, for example, scientific research).
And animals – in our society – are certainly more important then religion, as seen in several fine Medieval churches in England which are rendered virtually unusable by a surfeit of bat droppings; any congregation who even thought of removing those dirty intruders would provoke English Nature to hit them with the full weight of the law.

Popular morality, of course (“if it feels good do it”) is firmly based on the idea that all of our inclinations are part of our essential nature, which is sovereign and should never be questioned – because “nature” is “good”. Hence any desires we may have are validated, and authorised, by the un-questioned belief that they are all firmly genetically-based (see also Quote 18).

Of course, these things I refer to are different kinds of things – but they all come from the same root: world-view. Authentic Christian thinking – as Rose Sanger knew – takes the opposite approach to them, from that outlined above. The Judeo-Christian tradition stresses the need to be caring stewards of the world and its resources – and firmly condemns greed, spoliation and rapacity; but even stronger, is its warning that our physical nature (or inclinations) is our biggest source of danger – ask anyone in the grip of an addiction – and only by rising above it can we truly know the freedom that Jesus wishes for us.