OIKOS3 February 2021
We've taken to watching Channel 4 News as this seems to be able to devote more time in examining matters of importance, rather than just reporting them in a news update. So we've just watched a conversation between Jon Snow and Sir David Attenborough, during which the apparent conflict between ecology and economics was highlighted. You may now have a guess about what follows here.
I have made this point many times in many places, but the significance does not weaken with time. The root of both words ecology and economics is in the ancient Greek word oikos (pronounced eekos) which in my Greek lexicon has a host of meanings, but which brings together the ideas of house or dwelling, the household within it, the lineage of those who own it and even society, people and nation.
One other word with the same root is ecumenism, and I have put these three together thus: ecumenism is about how we relate together; economics is about how we do business together; and ecology is about how we care for our planet together. They are inseparable. Each without the others will lead to disaster. And the point that Sir David was making about ecology and economics was that these two must be linked together if we are not going to place life on earth in jeopardy.
But we must add ecumenism to the other two. It is about far more than just church unity, mere ecclesiastical joinery - it is about coming together as community, as the human family, in which each member cares for the other. The Greek oikumenē means the whole inhabited earth.
Paul Tillich was a Lutheran pastor in Germany during the 1930s, fiercely critical of Hitler. He emigrated to the USA, becoming one of the most influential philosophers and theologians of the twentieth century. One of his sermons is entitled "The Shaking of the Foundations" in which he berated humankind for so tragically misusing science. In his words, "The greatest triumph of science was the power it gave to man to annihilate himself and his world." He accused humankind of destroying creation for its own profit, of using scientific knowledge not for peace but for disruption and destruction.
Tillich and Attenborough sing the same song. If humanity does not begin to act as a family of nations and peoples, if humanity does not stop treating the planet as an infinite resource to be consumed, and if humanity continues to allow the world's richest one percent to own half the world's wealth, then disaster is inevitable. This cannot go on. When will we ever learn?
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