pastor in exile

Too much to handle

We are living in a fourfold crisis at the moment: climate change, a pandemic, war, and a financial crisis, all at the same time. No wonder we are troubled.

Two days ago, my wife told me that she was taken aback by the speed covid has been out of the news after two years of dominating headlines. And true, the online newspaper I read has seven articles on the Ukraine, some listicles and fun articles next to lighten up the situation, and then one news ticker on Covid. And that is it.

Climate change, which should surprise nobody, is as present as the financial crisis. On both, I find–nothing.

I am not going to talk about click-bait in the press now. It is a big problem, but I think that there is something more prevalent here.

We human beings are not capable to think as complex as we would need at the moment. We focus on the last crisis because we are overwhelmed by the complexity of more than one thing happening at the same time.

Others stick with their pet crisis, both disappointed and reinforced by the seeming disinterest of most.

We have been doing this to ourselves for ages. Remember the saying “divide et impera”? Divide and conquer. It has been uttered either by Niccolo Macchiavelli, when explaining the duke of Medici on how to govern his people, or by king Louis XI. We do not know for sure. Early 16th or late 15th century, respectively.

It was used to describe the age old tactics of dividing the people you conquered into different interest groups to govern them more easily.

Soon thereafter, during the enlightenment and the budding of modern science, the principle has been applied to scientific thinking. It goes hand in hand with our materialistic view of the human body as a machine, the human brain as a computer. The sum is comprised of the parts, and once we understand the parts, we understand the whole.

This is the approach of the left hemisphere of the brain: simplify and draw a map of the world around us, and then navigate according to the map, manipulate the world with it, but forget about all the detail not represented by the map. Another saying comes to mind: to mistake the map for the territory.

That is why we approach our crises as separate and concentrate on one at the time. Yet, they are interlinked and show a meta-crisis, and this meta-crisis is exactly this. We focus on details, priding ourselves that our solutions are multi-facetted and complex, while they are usually linear, simplistic and local.

Already, people fall into camps again around the Ukrainian war, fighting over whether it was the fault of Russia as an aggressor or NATO and the West because of their insensibility to Russian needs over the last few decades since 1989. Some see this as the sick vision of a leader driven into craziness by long covid, while others see it as a man’s religious dream to re-instantiate tsarist Russia and Russian orthodoxy.

We do the same with the Bible or Quran. We take single verses and stories, artificially divided in chapters and verses, and construct a doctrine around them.

We are overwhelmed by the complexity of the whole.

It is time to grow. This time with its fourfold challenge is calling us to grow and mature, to change our viewpoint.

Johann Wolfgang Goethe wrote 1814 in Sprichwörtlich:

Entzwei und gebiete! Tüchtig Wort; Verein und leite! Bessrer Hort.

Divide and rule, a sound motto; unite and lead, a better one.

In the past, humanity grew when pressured by external and new challenges. While the challenges we face today are not all new as we have faced war, plagues, and financial crises before, climate change is new and unprecedented. In dimension, at least.

And before you say that climate has changed before, even when humans were already around, it has never become such a substantial threat to our survival. I am not saying that the little ice age was easy. I am saying that this will be much harder.

During the little ice age, temperatures where between 0.1 K and locally 2 K lower than average. 2 K are about 1.1° C, and we are talking about limiting global warming at +2° C, not including the 1.1° C climate has already warmed in comparison to the period from 1850 to 1900.

But this text is not about the severity of climate change. Yet, talking about the little ice age: during that time, we find plagues, wars, and financial crises, and a change in thinking as we grew from traditional thinking to modernity.

Maybe times like these are not unprecedented, but just have grown in severity as they are global instead of local in nature.

I do not know how we will change and what the systems and solutions will look like that we will put in place, but I do know that it is time to gather and think about them.

This will demand of us what Master Yoda so aptly said to Luke:

You must unlearn what you have learned.

Actually, we will have to re-inspect all that we know, but not piece by piece, because that would lead us back to the illusion of divide and impera.

Spiral Dynamics has a principle called transcend and include. It has been proposed to change the order to include and transcend. I am pretty much against changing the order, as it would mean to include from the old viewpoint without first changing perspectives.

Do we have to become blank slates for that? We will never be blank slates, and it is important to recognize that. We will always look at things our way, but being aware of that will help us broaden our view.

One of the things that happens at the moment in Russia: they get back to their old worldview. Communism was a typically Western view, believing that people are born blank slates and can be made into whatever we train them to be. This has been postulated by behaviourists and is at the core of post-modernity. Thus post-modernity sees sex and gender as fluid, and many other things as sociocultural constructs.

We have to become aware of the fact that we are always biased. Working together with those of different imprint and bias will help us overcome and not fall for our own biases.

Let me apply this to church.

I think that it is time to re-think church altogether, not piece by piece. Yes, this will be a hard undertaking, as most love the tradition more than the purpose, the form more than the content. Maybe implementation has therefore to be done in palatable ways, but the thinking should happen without boundaries, pre-requirements, and pre-set non-negotiables.

Will the church as it is today survive? I think it will, but I decide once I have transcended on whether to include or not.

You might now think that I narrowed down my focus coming from existential crises to maybe in your view outdated superfluous religious remainders. This tells me two things: first, the church truly has to change if that is the outside view on it, and second, we have truly lost our relevancy and our purpose in drawing people onward in their evolution to become what God intended them to be.

Will humanity conquer the challenges it faces at the moment? If they change their thinking, they might. Will the church play its role in this? If it changes its thinking, it might.

I am calling the church to transcend and then see on what to include.