Eco-Humanism: Tomorrow's God?

Don Cupitt's review of 'Eco-Humanism' by the New Zealand theologian Lloyd Geering was published in the Sea of Faith magazine.

The New Zealand SoF's 1994 conference was attended by 240 people. The explanation for its popularity is of course Lloyd Geering, who has been a notable public figure there since his "heresy trial" in 1967.

Lloyd's story parallels Robertson Smith's a century earlier. Both were Presbyterian ministers and Old Testament professors. Both came under attack because—like D F Strauss—they taught in seminaries and were therefore in a position to influence the next generation of ministers. Happily—and again like Robertson Smith—Lloyd found refuge in another university, when in 1971 he moved from Knox College, Dunedin, to become the foundation Professor of World Religions at Wellington. And since Wellington is the capital and the centre for the media, Lloyd had a chance to exploit his notoriety and to influence national thinking.

He has certainly made the most of the opportunity and his stamina is astonishing. He was born in 1918, so is now getting into his late seventies. The first of Lloyd's books that I read was God in the New World (Hodder & Stoughton, 1968), a useful compendium of Sixties-style radical theology. Faith's New Age (Collins, 1980) was helpful to me at the time of the row over my own book of that year. Tomorrow's God (Bridget Williams Books, Wellington, 1994) shows him moving on again, because he now emphasises much more strongly the extent to which we have created language (and with it our own form of consciousness), we tell all the stories, and we are the builders of our own worlds. We are the makers of meaning and we need to acknowledge our responsibility for developing our own religions, and for our idea of God, the central symbol of meaning.

All this leads Lloyd to divide human history into three epochs, each with its own distinctive type of world-view. In the "ethnic" period religion is monocultural. The religions of tribes people, of the early city-states and of countries like ancient Egypt are examples. In the "transethnic" period, beginning with the Iron Age, multicultural world religions take advantage of writing to spread the message of a charismatic founding prophet or teacher such as Jesus, the Buddha or Muhammad. Life is seen as a journey in quest of a personal salvation that is to be attained in the world above, or in time to come. Finally, the Enlightenment marks the transition of our new global secular humanist culture, whose religion is love of the Earth and of humanity. "Tomorrow's God" turns out to be something like eco-humanism.

From this it is clear that Lloyd Geering still likes to cast his teaching in the form of a Grand Narrative, a big story about where we have all come from and where we are going. His plot owes much to Feuerbach and Karl Jaspers, to C G Jung and Teilhard de Chardin. Readers of Sea of Faith magazine will enjoy this book.