Shuck and Jive

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Solar Living

I am enjoying Don Cupitt's latest book, Above Us Only Sky: The Religion of Ordinary Life. In it he describes what he calls solar living:
So what form can religion take? If there is only this life, which is a movement of signs, and my own life, which is just one identifiable strand in the whole process, then the task of religion is to give us the courage and strength to commit ourselves wholeheartedly to
life. Only we create the world, and only we can redeem it. By solar love of life we can inject meaning and value into life for everyone.... living is, or tries, to be, purely affirmative. It is also purely expressive. That is, we are not labouring to purify our souls so as to be ready for the Day of Judgment, and we do not spend our lives in forging a unified self to be a kind of monumental achievement. No, there is no Soul or Real Self, because everything that we are is flickering, shifting and ambiguous. The only way in which we can get ourselves together and become ourselves is in and by our self-expression, through which we put out, or present, images of ourselves. But as soon as I have expressed myself time moves on, and my expressed self must be abandoned without regret, because of course solar living requires us always to move on and never to become 'attached' to any version of ourselves. Solar living lives by dying all the time, as it continually leaves selfhood behind. That is how it conquers the fear of death, by making a full acceptance of death into part of the way we live. pp. 61-63
I started blogging two and half years ago. It was the result of a personal depression. I was depressed over the loss of our world with its cars, economic growth, and progress. This age is coming to an end. This age of sustaining and growing our economy through non-renewable resources (oil, coal, gas, etc.) is ending. I was just coming aware of it (slower than many, but apparently not all).

We are right now at the top of the peak and are sliding down the right side. As this reality sunk in, I became very depressed--seriously depressed. I started this blog as therapy. Because as I was despairing about our future, I couldn't get over my personal anxiety about what this loss entails.

I could not stop worrying about myself, my personal finances, my job, my home, my future. What would I do about
my food, my shelter, my health? Then of course, I felt guilty that I was only thinking about myself. I went into a period of self-blame for not saving more, for not knowing how to grow beets, for having a mortgage and other debts--in short, for not "providing" as I felt I should. I felt that I should have known this was coming and prepared for it.

I think this is what is keeping us from looking at reality. It is too painful and anxiety-producing. We cannot imagine life in any other way than as we know it. This, I think, is a psychological or spiritual issue. We can learn and argue from a standpoint of reason. It is clearly obvious that we have peaked. By plunging our non-renewable resources through a growth economy that cannot sustain us, we have reached our summit. But it is too painful to admit. There must be 500 years of coal, or still unknown deposits of oil, or oil shale that will keep us going for hundreds of years. When someone offers up that kind of palliative, we eagerly consume it along with our next tank of gas.

Yet we know. And we refuse to know.

So I have struggled and wrestled with my inherited religious tradition to see if I might find a psycho-spiritual resource or a "theology" for this new millennium, this new age to come that is not here but arriving quickly. How do we live when one age chaotically transitions to the next? How do I personally live, knowing that I cannot "provide" the way I have, knowing not what the future will bring, but knowing that life--my life--twenty years from now will be completely different than it is today?

Perhaps this is where Don Cupitt's concept of solar living is helpful:

the task of religion is to give us the courage and strength to commit ourselves wholeheartedly to life.
This is life. The chaotic transition is life. We won't come out the other side for perhaps a century or more. We here today won't see that promised land where our descendants sustain themselves on renewable sources of energy. We might glimpse it now. We must prepare for it now, but we won't get there.

Our trek will be a chaotic wilderness trek. Our economies will fall; our standards of living (which for Americans were unjust and unsustainable to begin with) will fall. The age of petroleum will be seen by future historians as a strange blip that brought with it amazing knowledge and the ability to see into the deepest corners of space. It also brought the near destruction of the planet (if future historians are around it won't be complete destruction, but that isn't a sure thing from our vantage point).

We must begin this trek, bravely, with a commitment to life, with a willingness to let go of our attachments, with an attitude of solar living, to create and re-create ourselves anew each day.

Perhaps most importantly, we need to see this loss (and grieve it we must) as a necessary precondition for a sustainable future for our descendants on this beautiful and fragile home.
Life is us, life is all this, now. p. 116


  1. Here's a song for you, John. The photos don't have a thing to do with the song, but it's the only version I could find on youtube. I'd like to try singing it at church one day, if Mike will learn the guitar part. Here are the lyrics:
    "Apocalypse Lullaby"

    Hurricanes will come
    Earthquakes break the walls
    Oceans rise
    Empires fall

    Enter world, light unshown
    Follow heart, follow home
    Here we are, light unshown
    One round heart, one round home

    Spin the speed of light
    Tetrahedron blue
    One last paradise
    You can make for you

    Enter world, light unshown
    Follow heart, follow home
    Here we are, light unshown
    One round heart, one round home

    Faster than a ship
    Further than bomb
    See the glowing grid
    Send love throughout the throng

    Enter world, light unshown
    Follow heart, follow home
    Here we are, light unshone
    One round heart, one round home

  2. That is a beautiful song, and fitting for my mood! Thank you! Get Mike on that guitar; I would love to hear you two sing that!

  3. I thought you'd like it. I think I made a copy of it for you - look in your pile ;-)

  4. John, I find it a hoot how atheists manage to make good money off of religion, just like the fundies.

    Truly, you have your reward! LOL!

    (By the way, did you know that Ingersoll got huge fees for his lectures, and in todays terms he was a multi millionaire?)

  5. Andrew--and the topic of this post is? If you are going to be an ass at least be on topic.