- Technocracy, Ecological Crisis, and the Parliament of the World's Religions
"Why is Nature not a Mother, but a Stepmother who refuses to feed us?" Nikolai Fedorov, a nineteenth-century Russian philosopher, asked after a particularly horrible famine. "Why is it natural to ask why something exists, yet unnatural to ask why the living die?" he continued. Reflecting on the meaning of life itself, he further wondered, "Is this all for the participation of all in material comfort, or in the work of understanding the blind force which brings hunger, disease, and death?" "This is why we must transform Nature into a life-giving force," he triumphantly concluded.
Nikolai Fedorov was a rather strange fellow. He has been called the father of transhumanism and the Socrates of Moscow; he was even an inspiration for Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, who famously went on to pioneer modern rocketry and astronautics. But he is not often credited as a forerunner in deeply grounded Christian ecotheology. Two questions often rouse the Russian imagination conjointly when it comes to the problems in the world: (1) What must be done? (2) Who is to blame? Fedorov, like many Russians of his time, was acutely aware of these questions and, like many people today, answered: we are to blame.
Christian ecotheologies often come to this conclusion—and even more often return to the paradigmatic relationship between humanity and nature and how this relationship is seriously breached. Typically, the logic is this: Christianity at some point betrayed the biblical mandate of stewardship in favor of dominion. Dominionism is the cause of empire, industry, exploitation, as well as the total and complete rupture of humanity from nature. It is the source of our alienation from nature and the cause of our imagining ourselves as lords of the world over and against nature, something to be subdued—or, to the word, dominated. There are, against this, better models for ecological living. Christians, as mandated in the Book of Genesis, ought to be stewards of the environment and live in harmony with nature. This, of course, is something I agree with fully.
But the line does not stop there. What is to be done? We are to become stewards of the environment and live in more-perfect harmony with nature. Christian ecotheologies—from Lynn White Jr. to Leonardo Boff all the way to Pope Francis—very frequently conclude there is something even more basic at its root. The source of our problem may be an ideology of dominionism, but the fruits of this ideology are something else: the globalization of technology, or more ominously as Pope Francis put it in Laudato Si, "the globalization of the technocratic paradigm." [End Page 311] Pope Francis says the basic problem to our ecological crisis is this: "The way that humanity has taken up technology and its development according to an undifferentiated and one-dimensional paradigm" (emphasis in original). This paradigm "exalts the concept of a subject who, using logical and rational procedures, progressively approaches and gains control over an external object." It is the logic of dominionism manifested through the globalization of a uniform, omnipresent system of control made apparent through technology. It exploits not only human beings but the environment as well.
Jacques Ellul made the same case in his genius and seminal text The Technological Society. Ellul argued that the entire system created in the postwar world operated on one principle: efficiency. Every living creature and the entire natural world only held value in its ability to be exploited and made efficient for the sake of reinforcing said system. This was taken to its logical conclusion as being an influence on the Unabomber in his manifesto The Industrial Revolution and Its Consequences. The consequence, in this sense, was total control over the natural world and ultimately humanity's subservience to the technological system—the machine. This is the stuff of dystopian science fiction, but also startlingly prescient.
Ellul and the rest of the theorists positing an adverse relationship between technology and environment (or even humanity) are obviously not wrong. But why does there still seem to be such a strong impulse within the discourse and culture to affirm the idea we might...