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Must man be centre-stage?

03 August 2010

Robin Gill enjoys a provocative book


Anti-Human Theology: Nature, technology and the postnatural
Peter Manley Scott
SCM Press £60
Church Times Bookshop £54

THIS is the first book in what promises to be an exciting SCM Press series, ReVisioning Ethics. The series editor is the scientist and theologian Professor Celia Deane-Drummond, already well known for her theological writing on genetics and biotechnology.

In her foreword, she argues that the purpose of the new series is “to look in a provocative way at some of the assumptions we make about the human condition in relation to the non-human and the natural world”.

Anti-Human Theology fulfils this aim admirably. It offers a deliber­ately provocative critique of such assumptions, using ten previously published articles by Dr Peter Scott (Senior Lecturer in Christian Thought and Director of the Lincoln Theological Institute at the University of Man­chester) together with a short new introduction.

Scott is already known for his two CUP monographs, Theology, Ideo­logy and Liberation (1994) and A Political Theology of Nature (2003). He is thoughtful and widely read, although his elliptical style is not for the faint-hearted. The range of topics covered in this collection is impressive, with articles on GM crops, the Human Genome Project, hybridity, and a variety of other novel technologies that confuse the boundaries of what is “natural” and “unnatural”, and what is “natural” and “human”.

A constant theme is that human technology challenges our assump­tions about both nature and the human. He argues at length that other theologians tend to ignore this theme (strangely, he overlooks George Pattison’s important work), or they resolve it too simplistically.

At the heart of this collection is his concept of anti-human theology. Here the deliberately provocative side of his work is most evident. It might, at face value, be thought to be espousing a theology that is ex­plicitly against human beings. A book, say, on anti-slavery would usually be a book that was indeed against slavery. In reality, he is claiming more modestly that “by the anti-human, I mean roughly this: as a theological concept, the anti-human is a contribution to re-thinking the situation and status of the human: that theology is not quite as humanocentric as might at first be thought.”

He goes on to argue that such a theology should be Trinitarian and concerned with the “interconnec­tions between things”; the “agencies and interest of the non-human”; and an interaction between the human and non-human which is “more dynamic, interactive and peaceable”.

Such a focus (even if sometimes over-egged) is very welcome both in this book and in the new series, although I hope that other books will be more affordable.

Canon Robin Gill is Professor of Ap­plied Theology at the University of Kent.

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