November 17, 2005
Books: The Comforting Whirlwind - God, Job and the Scale of Creation, by
Bill McKibben (Cowley Publications, 2005, 73 pages).
J. Storrs Hall, author of Nanofuture, calls Bill McKibben a technophobe.
McKibben’s attitude toward our future is almost exactly opposite to
Hall’s. Where Hall sees technology giving us new and exciting
adventures, Mc-Kibben sees us trashing the planet and ourselves long
before we get there.
Both writers agree that we face serious environmental problems. For
Hall, the winning response is to put on the waders and plow forward
through the muck, to emerge victorious on the other side. For McKibben,
the response is to stop where we are and find contentment here and now.
Stay on this side of this particular River of Problems, ’cause immersion
would kill us.
McKibben offers an extended sermon, emotional and frequently invoking
the sacred because, he says, religion is “the only institution left in
society that understands some goal other than material progress.” Yes,
god – nature? – gave us the ability to trash the planet, to invent spray
paint and dry cleaning, but that’s just an extended ability to do what
all animals do – build, consume, construct dams and paths and hoard food
and so on. What god gave us that’s unique, McKibben says, is our ability
to witness his creation and love it, and so that’s what we are supposed
to do. We are also uniquely given the gift of conscious self-restraint,
so we must use that.
Although The Comforting Whirlwind is depressing (with its descriptions
of how badly we are mauling our home, this planet), its author calls for
joy – joy at beaches and ostriches and pine trees and mud and air and
sky; joy like when a snowstorm puts the power out and you can’t drive or
watch TV or run the dishwasher and you calm down and chat with your
family and neighbors and feel peace. If we start embracing that kind of
joy, the hope is, perhaps we’ll pull back just in time.
McKibben says, “What we need to be figuring out, in this time of crisis,
is nothing less than what the proper relationship is between people, the
earth, and God.”
Hall says what we need to be figuring out, in this time of crisis, is
how to build self-replicating nanomachines.
How much overlap exists between those two things, that’s for the reader