- The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 24 Mar 1983, p. 289-299
- Scott, The Most Reverend Edward Walter, Speaker
- Media Type
- Item Type
- Viewing things from a Christian perspective. The speaker's personal religious beliefs. A brief review of our culture and knowledge. New possibilities brought about by new knowledge. Making choices not in the context of absolute freedom, but in the context of various possibilities that lie before us. The speaker's suggestion that we need to be accountable to God at all levels of our knowledge. Some personal reminiscences and thoughts. The real test of a belief as it affects one's actions. Making decisions; facing the consequences; reflecting upon those consequences and thereby benefiting from our experiences. An example to illustrate this thought. Knowledge and responsibility. Finding the deeper meaning of our lives in our relationships with others. Relationships at the corporate level. Reconsidering our relationship with nature. The need to strive for a new vision of the kind of world that we want to see come into existence, and in which we want our children and our children's children to live in. Developing a sense of accountability to that which transcends not just our own life, but the lives of all people.
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- 24 Mar 1983
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- Full Text
- MARCH 24, 1983
New Knowledge, New Possibilities, New Responsibilities—A Christian Perspective
AN ADDRESS BY The Most Reverend Edward Walter Scott, PRIMATE, THE ANGLICAN CHURCH OF CANADA
CHAIRMAN The President, Henry J. Stalder
Distinguished members and guests, ladies and gentlemen: In ancient Rome the Christians died for their faith. In the Inquisition, the unfaithful died. Today, the Church gives only guidance. We have come a long way.
In a constantly narrowing world, in times of faster and broader communications, we believe that our wide knowledge about remote matters allows us to set ourselves up as judge. We often take a God-like attitude of righteousness. It happens time and again and I suspect that many a good politician or a very religious person is not vaccinated against this.
We need our technical progress but we also need God. We need the church and the specialists and the church remains the specialist in moral teaching.
On the one hand the media nourish the fear of the future and on the other hand governments try to convey confidence by offering political, tactical, and strategic options. In between we find the various peace programs and peace movements, which can be as dangerous as war itself if wrongly understood or if the tools get into the wrong hands. May I quote Lenin, who, in his search for progress, said the following: "Every peace program is a deceit of the people and a hypocrisy if those programs are not primarily geared towards conveying the message of the necessity for a revolution by the masses."
Our guest of honour has greatly taken to heart the problems of our days, and his impressive background allows him to comment with authority on developments of our times.
The Most Reverend Edward Walter Scott was born in Edmonton, Alberta, in 1919, son of the Reverend Thomas and Kathleen Scott. The University of British Columbia conferred a B.A. upon him in 1940 and two years later he obtained his Licentiate in Theology from the Anglican Theological College in Vancouver. The same year he became a parish priest. After a long and impressive ecclesiastical career he was consecrated as a Bishop in 1966. In 1977 he was elected Primate of all Canada and four years later named Moderator of the Central Committee of the World Council of Churches. In 1978 he was awarded the Companion of the Order of Canada, the highest decoration in our country. His honorary degrees include five doctorates of Divinity and a doctorate of Civil Law.
Ladies and gentlemen, I take great pleasure in introducing to you the Primate of all Canada of the Anglican Church and the leader of the World Council of Churches, the Most Reverend Edward Walter Scott.
Mr. Chairman, ladies and gentlemen: It is both a great privilege and a great responsibility to have been asked to speak to this club.
That phrase, "A Christian Perspective," in my title for this talk was very deliberately chosen. One must see things from a Christian perspective, and in some of the areas I am going to mention today, there will be honestly held differences of opinion. I don't think that is a bad thing. My experience has been that when people are willing to explore ideas together, to challenge each other and push each other, then development of a Christian perspective can take place. If there is just an unthinking acquiescence in views, that perspective cannot develop and the realities that exist cannot be understood. I believe that I am presenting a Christian perspective because I seek to think, feel, and act on the basis of certain faith affirmations which find their focus in Jesus Christ. Let me set some of them forth very briefly.
I believe that God is, and that God created all that is. In other words I do not believe that the world is an accident; I believe it is a creation. Secondly, I believe that you and I and all human beings are made in the image of God, and that, as creatures of God, we are accountable to Him. I believe that there is a transcendental accountability that stands over every one of us, so that all of us are under judgement in relationship to that accountability. I believe also that all human beings--you and I and all others--are sinful, that we fall far short of what we were meant to be in God's plans and purposes. I believe that God acted in the person of Jesus Christ to reveal His nature in terms that people can respond to and understand. He did this both to enable people to experience life in its fullness and also because He did not want to condemn creation but wanted creation to find a wholeness, a complete salvation. I believe that God the Creator is still active in the world, and that He invites people like you and me, made in His image but imperfect, to be co-creators with Him. Because I speak from within this framework, I claim that I reflect a Christian perspective.
Now, if I can get back to the first part of the title, "New Knowledge, New Possibilities, New Responsibilities."
You and I live in a culture where new knowledge does not come by accident. For a long period in history, new knowledge came almost by chance, but that's no longer the reality of our world. We live in a world where there is research into every aspect of life. There may be some of us who would like to limit research into some areas, but the reality is that there is no aspect of life now where research does not take place, quite consciously and quite deliberately. We set out in disciplined methods to learn more and to understand more so that new knowledge is continually becoming available. This means that new possibilities are also being opened up, because new knowledge always brings with it new possibilities. And that confronts us with one of the basic aspects of our humanity, the responsibilities of making choices and decisions.
We have to choose not in the context of absolute freedom--I can't really envisage what that would be--but in the context of various possibilities that lie before us. People with a limited background or framework of thinking probably see those possibilities as being very limited, but people whose imaginations have grown and whose insights are wise will see a far wider range of possibilities. And it is, in fact, through these choices and decisions that we make, both individually and in the whole complex pattern of corporate structures, that the future of the society is shaped.
Because I believe that we as preachers are accountable to the Creator, I believe that this new knowledge with its attendant new possibilities always brings with it new responsibilities. It isn't good enough to say that because something was done in the past it is all right to do it now; we have to look at the new responsibilities that have been laid on us. I would suggest that we need to be accountable to God at all levels of our knowledge.
In the period that started with the scientific method, that period that sometimes has been called the Age of Enlightenment, there was a kind of general optimism that the new knowledge would produce a new kind of world, a world in which the major problems of humankind would be solved and life would become fuller and more complete. The promise of science and technology was very great and the promise is still there. But I think we have to recognize that during the last half century new knowledge has become available to us that challenges the idea that knowledge automatically brings a better world and a fuller life. This new knowledge forces us to come to terms with the threat of science and technology as well as its promise. The promise and the threat are very closely linked and part of our responsibility has to be to choose between the uses of science and technology that will fulfill the lives of human beings and those that can destroy those lives.
When I was working at the University of Manitoba, the then president of the university, Dr. Truman, gave an address to the freshman students in which he said that one of the responsibilities of the university was to help people learn facts. Without facts you can't think, you can't relate one thing to another. Facts, therefore, are very important things in any kind of decision-making. But decisions are never based purely on facts. There's no situation in which we have all the facts; there are always things that are unknown to us about any situation. Values enter into our decision-making as well as facts. Our values are the things we feel are important. We've all heard people say that it really doesn't matter what they believe, all that matters is what they do. Of course, that is one of the most stupid statements ever made. The things that you and I really believe, the beliefs we are prepared to bet our lives on, determine what we do. Beliefs, then, are fundamentally important things in society and in the lives of people. The difficulty is, of course, that between what people give lip service to, what they say they believe, and what they really believe, a very wide chasm can exist.
I tell a story sometimes about a guided tour through the smelter in Trail, B.C. The group stopped in the room where the molten metal is poured into the moulds to harden into ingots. One of the tourists said to one of the workmen, "You must get burnt a great deal working in this room." The workman's reply was, "No, not really. First of all," he continued, "when you are working in molten metal you learn to be careful. The other thing is that this room never gets much cooler than about 110 degrees fahrenheit, so you are always coated with perspiration. In fact," he said, "you can even touch the liquid metal as long as you bring your hand quickly away, the way you would to test an iron to see if it was hot enough to iron with. You don't get burned from the iron." Then he asked the group of people if they believed him. Everybody nodded yes, and he said, "Well, who's going to be the first to touch the metal?"
The real test of a belief is whether it affects your actions. I suggest you and I--all of us--are shaping the future by our beliefs and our actions. The possibilities which will be realized depend on the choices we make, which, in turn, depend upon our values and also upon our taking an active rather than a passive role.
One of the aspects of being a responsible person is that one must be willing to make deliberate choices based on the facts available and on one's values, and then one must follow up those choices--make them work, not just allow them to drift aimlessly. If we seriously believe this, the issue is not "are we helping to shape a future?" but "what kind of a future are we helping to shape?" I'm convinced that we have to be much more conscious about this process and accept much more responsibility for it than we so far have, because I think that many of our previous decisions have brought about undesirable conditions that were never directly willed or intended. Every time we make a decision there are consequences to be faced, and it is only as we reflect upon history and face those consequences that we can learn and benefit from our experiences. All too often we don't reflect enough upon the results of our decisions.
I have picked one example out of many available to try and illustrate what I am talking about here. I don't know whether any of you here read a report on population resource development and environmental impact that was commissioned by President Carter in 1977 and published three years later. It was published as the Global 2000 Report. President Carter had asked for a projection of present trends to the year 2000. What he was really asking was what kind of a world will we be facing in the year 2000? This was a pretty disturbing report. In summary, it said, unless present trends change, the world in 2000 will be more crowded, more polluted, less stable ecologically, and more vulnerable to disruption than the world we live in now.
But trends are not inevitable. This report and others like it indicate some of the areas where changes must be made in public policy. It is policy decisions that will determine the conditions that will shape the lives of our children and our children's children, but if we are to have an impact on the Earth and its future there must also be changes at the person-toperson level. It is at the person-to-person level that we find the things that enrich and give meaning to our lives.
Let me just quote from the findings of this report. Forests--the conversion of forested land to agricultural use and the demand for fuel wood and forest products will continue to deplete the world's forests. These are now disappearing at the rate of eighteen to twenty million nectares--an area half the size of California--every year. As much as 40 per cent of the forests now standing in poorer countries may be gone by the year 2000. Most of the loss will be in the ecologically sensitive tropical and sub-tropical areas. The loss of tropical forests, along with the impact of pollution and other pressures on habitats, will cause massive destruction of the planet's genetic resource base. Between five hundred thousand and two million plant and animal species, 15 to 20 per cent of all the species on Earth, could be extinguished by the year 2000. These extinctions and the degradation of the tropical forests will seriously affect such things as water resources, air quality, and so on.
We can link some of the Global 2000 information with information that comes from the World Watch Institute--some of you may know about the Institute. It's a private organization concerned with the world's soil. It has been documenting the increasing rate of soil erosion in Africa, Latin America,
Russia, and North America, in fact, in virtually every part of the world. There is now serious erosion almost everywhere. The world's topsoil is being lost. It is true that world food production has doubled since 1950, but it has been doubled only through the adoption of agricultural practices that have led to excessive soil erosion and, very often, have cost dearly in energy consumption. Now the world's increased population has already begun to outstrip the production capacity of many local biological systems. We are, as Dr. Brown, the president of the world-wide Institute, has suggested, indulging in biological deficit financing. We're borrowing against our future and the future of our children. This means that the high prices we now face for some of what we deem to be necessities are not simply the result of a shortage of non-renewable resources, but the result of our inability to produce our renewable resources fast enough to meet an expanding demand. We're in grave danger of consuming the productive resource base itself.
This new knowledge that has become available projects for us a not very cheery picture of the future. But I do not believe that trends are inevitable, I believe they can be altered. It is here that I think we have to face the question of our responsibility as human beings.
What I am suggesting is that because you and I are placed in the world, in particular in this country where we are given a high level of education and tremendous access to current knowledge, we have a responsibility to grapple with some of these problems. I am convinced that we are able to change present trends, and in order to do that I think we have to examine present patterns of management. Among the first of those patterns we ought to examine are the value patterns. I think we have to look at those value patterns as they relate to each of us individually, as they affect our relations with other individuals, and as they affect the relations between corporate groups and individuals, and corporate groups and other corporate groups, and even as they affect the relationships between larger groups, such as nations. I also think we have to examine our relationship with nature. I am convinced that we must once again recognize ourselves as beings who exist within relationships.
We all find the deeper meaning of our lives in our relationships with others. First of all, there has to be that internal relationship, that sense of integration within ourselves. If we don't have any clarity about who we are and what we are individually then we'll not likely have any sense of meaning as a person. Now I think this is a relationship to other people as individuals and here I think we have to raise some questions about the pattern of life that we have very often drifted into without examining very carefully. One of the problems of our society is that we tend to see people's importance relative only to what or how they produce and consume. We do need production and consumption. We can't live without things--without food, without clothing, without shelter--but if we can see human beings as valuable only because of what they produce or consume, we're losing some of the essential dignity of what it means to be made in the image of God with a capacity for creation and relationship. I think we need to develop a fuller sense of what is involved in our relationships with other people, our relationship with nature, and our relationship with God, the source of all being.
We all have functional relationships and friendship relationships and I'm afraid that all too often we tend to look at our functional relationships in non-personal terms. We view the other people in that functional relationship as things rather than as people; as employees or as managers. They are employees, they are managers, but they are also people with the ability to interrelate with each other and with us.
In relationships at the corporate level--between labour and management, between people and government, or even between nation and nation--I think we have to work much more conscientiously towards agreements that are, to use a phrase out of a book of business management that I read, win-win agreements rather than win-lose agreements. Our concept of success in recent years has almost demanded that in order for one side to win, the other side must lose. I think we must recognize that it is a far better situation if we all win. I think we have to quite deliberately focus more attention upon corporate relationships that are win-win, relationships where both parties benefit.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we have to reconsider our relationship with nature. After the Age of Enlightenment, with the use of the scientific method, we have tended to think of ourselves as being above nature; we are the lords of creation. We have felt that nature was ours to do with as we wished. Ecological research is beginning to show us that we don't stand over nature--we stand in nature, we are dependent upon nature. We must recognize that there needs to be a creative balance between nature and humankind. We must rekindle a respect for nature.
I think that what we need to strive for in our age is a new vision of the kind of world that we want to see come into existence; a new vision of the kind of world in which we want our children and our children's children to live. Having given some real thought to that, we then have to accept the responsibility of bringing that world about. Armed with facts and defended by values, we must make conscious decisions to ensure that life in the future will be fuller and richer, that we won't face the constant deterioration of our world, and that there will be a greater sense of brotherhood and sisterhood between human beings. This world is possible, but only when each of us develops a sense of our accountability to that which transcends not just our own life, but the lives of all people.
The appreciation of the audience was expressed by Major General Bruce Legge, C.M.M., K.ST.J., E.D., C.D., Q.c., a Past President of The Empire Club of Canada, and the President of The Empire Club Foundation.