Christians and Catastrophe – review
Christians and Catastrophe, by Jonathan Ingleby, Wide Margin, September 2010, 38 pages, ISBN: 978-056594303, RRP £3.49.
At a time when our television screens confront us with images of Pakistan devastated by a deluge of water and when we are bombarded daily with messages that we are in the grip of the worst global recession for 70 years – not to mention the numerous wars and famines to which we have become almost immune – this essay by Jonathan Ingleby is a timely and challenging reminder of how Christians could and should act in response to catastrophe.
He acknowledges that the catalyst for this work is a book by Slavoj Zizek, First as Tragedy then as Farce, and speaks of the coming disaster and how Christians might act given the urgency of the present situation. His argument is that many of the trends we see – socially, economically and environmentally – are diametrically opposed to the kingdom of God and that it is our duty to resist them. A large part of his discourse is given over to examining the biblical perspective of catastrophe and the ‘end times’ and draws on both the Old and New Testaments for examples. He dismisses both the evangelising response of Christians (let’s make sure people are saved) and those who would huddle in the comfort zone of the church. Instead, he proposes that we become fully engaged with this world in its present state – neither denying or despairing – as there is an inextricable and eternal link between our present world and the world to come, citing that it is Creation as a whole that will be redeemed and not just individuals.
Ingleby also explores the idea that we carry our memories with us into the future life and for this reason what we are and what we do now are of supreme importance. Even if disaster is inevitable, we are urged to strive to save the environment and to prolong the life of the world. However, he cautions that we should avoid survival at all costs because justice is more important. Those of us in the developed world cannot and should not secure our survival at the cost of the poorest of our neighbours in developing nations who will suffer most from the coming environmental crisis. Apocalyptic Christians, he believes, should ally themselves with secular ecologists in order to resist the destruction and to offer a different way of life. He urges us to act with a sense of urgency and for Christians of all backgrounds to work together. The church should be a sign of the kingdom and a channel of healing for the ‘diseases’ of our time. In other words, the church should become a community of shared memories, the most important being the celebration of the Eucharist together because of its promise of hope and resurrection even in the darkest times. Christians need to offer another way and continue to shine their light into this darkness.
There were times when reading this essay I felt slightly frustrated at the lack of more concrete proposals, the failure to evidentially support certain statements and the large volume of quotations from other authorial sources, aside from the Bible. However, in fairness, it is likely that this is not intended as a blueprint, but rather a wake-up call aided by a series of signposts to help us on our journey into an unknown future. For this reason alone I would heartily commend it.