Happier People, Healthier Planet: How putting wellbeing first would help sustain life on earth
SilverWood Books £13.95
A Christian Guide to Environmental Issues
Martin J. Hodson and Margot R. Hodson
Church Times Bookshop £9
Sabbath and the Common Good: Prospects for a new humanity
Echo Books £14.95
(This title can be obtained from www.sarumcollegebookshop.co.uk)
I CONFESS that I am not among the “new dandies” who apparently spend £1000 a month on clothes; nor, thankfully, have I had to join the thousands queuing for a foodbank. The growing disparity between the richest and the poorest people is contributing to growing unhappiness in Britain today. Add to that a declining capacity for the earth to sustain an increasing number of people, coupled with growing over-consumption, and we are heading for a rapidly declining sense of well-being.
Teresa Belton, social scientist and educationist, argues that we need radically to rethink the way we live: most of our consumer lifestyles wedded to “economic growth” create “ill-being”. She concludes that making a priority of the things that, as most of us know, contribute to human well-being — good relationships, creativity, playfulness, capability-building, bonding with nature, developing spiritual values — will also make for a healthier and more sustainable earth.
In Happier People, Healthier Planet, Belton describes research on numerous case-studies of very different people whom she calls “modest consumers”, illustrating the enjoyment and benefits of living more lightly, with less waste, and more awareness of ecological impacts. She weaves together these individual stories with the big themes: countering the consumer culture, mitigating the effects of climate change, and restructuring our economics in the light of the ecology of our earthly “household”. She draws on E. F. Schumacher, Herman Daly, Tim Jackson, Amartya Sen, and many others in a widely referenced book, writing at an attractively accessible level.
The other two books are written from an explicitly Christian viewpoint: the Hodsons’ is conversational, clear, and user-friendly; Browning’s is magisterial, theological, and carefully academic.
George Browning retired as Bishop of Canberra in 2008, the first Convener of the Anglican Communion Environment Network, and played a significant part in helping the 2008 Lambeth Conference to address environment issues. That Conference called for the development of a “sabbath theology” to help the Church respond more appropriately to the environmental crisis.
His important book Sabbath and the Common Good is, in part, a response to that call. With academic rigour, apt quotation and wide referencing, Browning argues for an understanding of sabbath as a framework for global common good and as a basis for contemporary human vocation. He outlines our current political, economic, and environmental context, all of which point to the urgent need for a level of human cooperation which can enable health and sustainability for humanity and the whole of creation.
Browning explores sabbath as a window through which human vocation can be understood afresh. There is a useful, if lengthy, exploration of Anglican method in social theology, with reference to past Lambeth Conference resolutions on scripture, catholicity, the common good, human flourishing, and vocation. The heart of the book offers a biblical theology of sabbath, linked to the universal reign of God, and God’s indwelling presence as shekinah in Hebrew history and its fulfilment in the healings and teachings of Jesus and the Early Church, which restored the understanding of sabbath as a celebration of creation.
There are sections on Jubilee, the Beatitudes, Wisdom, the Cosmic Christ, and Jesus’s death and resurrection as a new creation. A fresh look at human vocation in the light of 21st-century environmental issues indicates how the sabbath principle of hallowing and blessing, linked to well-being, peace, and wholeness, moves us to an interdependent community of creation; to a critique of contemporary economic systems in the light of the calling to equity and justice; to the needs of future generations, and to the obligation to live within economic and ecological limits, particularly of consumption and population growth.
Our situation, Browning argues, is less an environmental crisis than a crisis of human vocation.
This fine book, beautifully produced, is both a theological primer in ecological theology, and a passionate exposition of our human calling within the contemporary mission of Christ’s Church.
Dr Martin and the Revd Margot Hodson have been a husband-and-wife team leading the way in Christian environmental studies for some years. He is an academic plant biologist, she a “busy vicar” in rural Buckinghamshire, having previously been a college chaplain and lecturer at Oxford Brooks University. Both are closely linked with the Christian environmental organisations A Rocha and the John Ray Initiative.
A Christian Guide to Environmental Issues is an accessible pocketbook providing a basic Christian perspective on many of the issues of concern to environmentalists today: how are we going to reverse the damage that human life and consumption is doing to the earth — and, therefore, to our own livelihood and that of other creatures?
The book uses autobiographical anecdotes from the Hodsons’ joint travels on sabbatical in Spain, and individually in various other countries. It includes short stories from colleagues and friends. There are biblical reflections on nature, covenant, salvation, God’s sovereignty and human responsibility, sabbath and sustainability, exile, incarnation, and resurrection and hope. It says very little on human sin and selfishness, and divine judgement.
The biblical reflections (together with some usable “eco-tips” for sustainable living) are woven into scientific and historical material on great issues in sustainability: biodiversity, climate change, water, population and consumption, energy, soil, food, and development. Each chapter ends with some resources and questions for group Bible study, and leaders’ notes are provided at the end.
The Hodsons’ book will be a most valuable resource for congregational use. It could go a long way to making unnecessary the question that, puzzlingly, I have been asked too often: “Why have we never heard anything like this before?” And not only that: it could re-excite enthusiasm, joy, delight, and action in our Christian responsibility and privilege of caring for God’s earth and giving a voice to all creation to sing God’s praise.
Dr David Atkinson is an Honorary Assistant Bishop in the diocese of Southwark.