The Mind and the Machine: What It Means to Be Human and Why It Matters by Matthew Dickerson is a good read. Although I thought it occasionally verbose, the contribution he makes to the discussion around humans being both physical and spiritual beings is important on many levels.
One of the themes he argues for is a biblically faithful ethic around ecological responsibilities (pp. 145-158). He convincingly submits that “the potential environmental problems that arise out of naturalistic thinking are answered by a worldview affirming a spiritual as well as a physical reality” (p. 147). Just as God continues sustaining and caring for the creation (Colossians 1:15-17; Psalm 104), his image bearers must wisely steward the environment entrusted to us (Genesis 2:15-17). The creator God has given the cosmos a purpose and humans, as God’s image bears, must facilitate the fulfilling of this purpose and not merely consume the environment for our own utilitarian ends.
Referencing Wendell Berry, Dickerson states “the creation itself is good, that it was pronounced good prior to human arrival on the scene, and that its goodness is independent of any usefulness as a resource to humans” (p. 151, emphasis his; see Genesis 1:11-12 on God’s pronouncement). Indeed, the first command issued by God is for humanity to care for creation, wisely and benevolently overseeing its order and well-functioning, which is itself a reflection of God’s loving care for us. The biblical story never grants permission to consume the environment in whatever ways we choose (cf., pp. 152-153). In some sense, environmental abuses are antithetical to being human and is a key indicator of a broken relationship with our creator God.
Although Dickerson does not push his ecological theme in this direction, I would like to proffer a consideration about another kind of “environmental” concern. It may be a stretch but this thought came to mind while reading The Mind and the Machine. The “environmental” concern hardly gets attention in blogs, books, or papers, as far as I know, so I thought it worth mentioning.
By way of analogy, one of my co-workers regularly asks a rhetorical question to get our team to identify and set priorities saying “What’s the closest gator?” He explains: “If you’re in a river being threatened by alligators, you want to turn your attention to the closest gator.” Similarly, our foremost “environmental” concern and “closest gator” will always be our physical presence or our bodily dwelling. If indeed believers are called to be wise stewards of the environment, then why do we repeatedly disregard the one physical environment over which we seemingly have the most control? Why is our physical well being neglected as we persistently treat our bodies like pleasure palaces consuming a disproportionate amount of sugar, salt, fat, caffeine, carbohydrates, etc. that far exceeds our daily needs?
Over-eating, lack of exercise, too many stimulants, extreme sugar dosages, et al. seem to characterize the habits of so many Christians that I know. Nourishing our minds with solid theology and feeding our imaginations with the wonders of God’s Word, character, and creation is valuable beyond measure. But if our physical well being is repeatedly neglected, then I wonder how effective our growth in knowledge is if we fail to express our beliefs through healthy physical habits. Put differently, do our physical habits support and facilitate our cognitive activities allowing us to thrive wholistically?
I say this, not just because I know so many believers who are guilty of this “ecological error,” but because I’m no stranger to the “lust of the flesh” when it comes to too many epicurean delights and too little healthy exercise. The Church that has plenty desperately needs a sound theology of the body and solid biblical teaching on wisely caring for our physical presence. I appreciate Dickerson highlighting our “closest gator,” even if he did not intend on doing so.
In a personal email, Matthew Dickerson pointed me to an article he’s recently written (published in Christianity Today, 5/23/2011) that unpacks some important ideas on the stewardship of the body as it relates to being “left behind” and Christ’s return. Check out “Who Gets Left Behind? How end times theories shape the ways we view our earthly abode”.