[Column] Great Transition

by Chun Chul, Professor of Theology at Hanshin University, Director of The Center for Religion and Science

On Oct. 10, 2018, a precious guest arrived at the Graduate School of Theology of Hanshin University. Dr. John Cobb, the theologian who molded process thought into a representative modern theology of the 20th century, gave a lecture on the topic of “Dialogue between Religion and Science for the Transition toward Ecological Civilization,” at the 3rd International Conference organized by Hanshin University’s Center for Religion and Science Center (CRS). Cobb is a master of theology not only for the students of Hanshin but for the professors as well. Cobb’s novel ideas for process philosophy exerted great influence in theological debates.

Process thought in the 20th century was a passionate venture towards a new philosophy of God, nature, and the world. But the message Cobb had for us living in the 20th century was cooler and grave. The theological issue that Cobb, now far past the age of 90, is concerned about is no other than “ecological civilization.” He warns of the industrial civilization that humanity has forged today, emphasizing the imperative need for a new theological transition and appealing to his successors to participate. The turtle has a plastic straw embedded in its nostril. The trash someone threw away is threatening its life, and people struggle to pull the straw out. The turtle’s nose bleeds. It is not important to find the person who discarded the trash. Not because the turtle cannot sue them, but because that perpetrator’s lungs and blood vessels are also filled with broken-down microplastic particles. The plastic has returned as a boomerang does. All life finds home in an ecosystem, and ultimately, on this blue Earth. And today, we are experiencing the sad reality of a civilization that cannot help but worry about the future generations born to be born on this planet.

Civilization is said to be filled with truth, beauty, art, adventure, and peace. Ecological civilization is not necessarily completed by adding ecology to this list. Rather, the main point at the core of an ecological civilization is an alternative lifestyle sustainable for all the living, beyond humanity and society. The meaning of ecology expands with sustainability. An ecological civilization does not only occur through the individualistic transition to an environmentally friendly and ecological lifestyle. A concern for the future community is also critical to an ecological sensitivity.

Concern doesn’t cut it, either. Ecological civilization also extends to the attitudes towards nature and society, technology and science. It is an especially important time to reflect how much human knowledge about nature has matured. A society that overcomes the privatization or exclusive monopoly on science through public values, is also a road to an ecological transformation of civilization.

It is clear that the trajectory of ecological civilization is not pursuing a return to a pre-human state, but rather headed towards the post-human. At the heart of this immense transformation are not professionalism, monopoly, or exclusion, but rather civic engagement, societal trust, and horizontal communication. Such will provide the foundation for a periphery larger than the center to cooperate and take action for the future together. In the process of creating this ecological civilization, religious sensitivity is highly needed and required . The modern role that religion can play is to provide a macro-level direction, balance, and attention to the suffering of the weak in the shadows of society, as well as of nature. With a consciousness of time and space that has not yet occurred and the contemplation of future generations who have not been born, the fragmented identities of religion can build resonance and solidarity with society, science, and technology, a coalition critical for the fundamental transformation of civilization. Thus, Dr. Cobb posed to us this the 21st century theological task of ecological civilization.

After his visit to Hanshin University, Cobb participated in the Paju Ecological Civilization International Conference organized by the People for Earth Forum. Cobb finished his trip with an ecotourism event at the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). Did his heart beat faster at the thought of an ecosystem paradoxically well-reserved by the DMZ? Cobb’s gait was quicker and healthier than weaker young people. But the heels of his shoes, visible amidst the dust, were fairly battered. I felt moved by these worn-out shoes, feeling that they spoke to the faith and life of John Cobb, who shares much of his with his successors and disciples.

so uncomfortable as to tell his faith and life, not only in theology but also in his many passions for his followers and disciples.

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