Christian Alternative, 2015
Pbk 60 pp
Reviewed by June Raymond
This is a refreshingly intelligent and well argued book. Beck, an Anglican priest and a Canadian, feels that traditional attempts by the church to embrace an Earth centred spirituality do not go nearly deep enough. The churches have tended to regard creation as sacred only in so far as it reveals God to us and the focus is on our obligation to be responsible stewards rather than being in a real relationship with the rest of creation. Beck’s religious faith is important to him and he makes the case for Christian animism. The definition of animism that he uses is the attribution of a living soul to inanimate objects and natural phenomena and he argues that this is that is compatible with Christian tradition and the Bible. It enables us to enter into the sacred web of Earth as a spiritual entity of which we are part. This relationship is ancient but has been lost because of Christian fear of paganism and in modern times even more because of scientific reductionism which he says explores only quantifiable parts and ignores the relationship each part has to a greater whole. He describes his own faith as one in which he does not worship the Earth and creation as a god or goddess but regards it as sentient and as a neighbour to be loved.
This is a very short book of barely fifty pages and it is divided into three parts. The first defines Christian animism in some detail. He also shows why this is such a vital emphasis. Today’s world has a destructive mindset. He says, The contribution of the scientific materialism we live with to ecological biocides is staggering and profound. In the second part of the book he writes about different traditions both Christian and non Christian that have helped him to understand his path. He has clearly absorbed a great deal from the Cree Native American world view and has the grace and humility to do this with extreme sensitivity. Celtic Christianity is also an important influence as is modern Buddhism. The third and final part is the shortest and makes some suggestions as to what a modern Christian animism could look like and how we might try to live it.
I found this small book profound and really useful. Green spirituality is sadly suspect to many Christians who are afraid of falling into heresies such as pantheism and various other ‘unchristian’ forms of paganism. Beck does not try to convert those with fixed views but rather to show a path to Christians for whom the current forms of Christianity do not go far enough in leading us to engage with our world, as sacred and part of who we are. Oddly he does not mention the Catholic tradition going back to Teilhard de Chardin and including Thomas Berry and Matthew Fox. But in every other way this is an impressive little book which presents a clear and convincing account of an important new understanding of the Christian tradition.