Paradise on Earthby Lloyd Geering
This review by Janet Trisk, a priest from South Africa, is reproduced with permission from “Portholes” a “News and Views” periodical of the Sea of Faith in the UK.
Despite its "booklet" size of 57 pages, Lloyd Geering's new work "Paradise on Earth" has the stature and depth of a full-length book. As I have come to expect (and respect) from him, "Paradise" is another example of Lloyd Geering's lucid, simple and profound writing.
In some ways "Paradise" is a sequel to "The World to Come", picking up on the idea of the inevitability of globalisation and our possible responses to it. Globalisation implies one interdependent world. Is this a good world, or might there be one better, the author asks. Might we hope for paradise? The author reviews the quest for Paradise from Abraham's wanderings, through Jesus' promise of the Kingdom of God, to Teilhard de Chardin's evolutionary omega point. That he is able to do so in fewer than 25 pages is quite remarkable. That he conveys a sense of the broad sweep without losing sufficient of the detail is extraordinary. In the broad sweep he identifies patterns of other-worldly versus this-worldly hopes for paradise, concluding that the vision from Mount Nebo in our own time now suggests that the view of Paradise for the twenty-first century is a view of paradise here on earth. Conceding that there are many different visions of this Paradise, the author nevertheless suggests that there are "some aspects of a desirable future world which will be reasonably common" (29). He suggests that a world in which there is clean, air water and food for all would offer the bare necessities. This, along with security of land tenure and clothing and housing for all, comprise the three elements of that common vision.
Is this paradise just a "pious hope" (31) asks the author, or can a faith in the future be awakened so as to make the vision a reality? I very much want to subscribe to the author's encouraging "hope…..against all the odds" (57). Maybe it is my inherently pessimistic nature, maybe it is the experience borne of a life lived in South Africa, that makes me doubt this possibility. As I write this review, violent re-occupations of land in Zimbabwe are taking place and a British drug company has instituted a law suit against the South African government for attempting to develop cheaper generic substitutes to drugs used to enhance the lives of those living with HIV/AIDS. Despite promises from countries in the North and West, debt relief continues, at best, to trickle though. It seems to many of us from the South, the two-thirds world, that no number of warnings that we indeed inhabit one world, will make a difference to the consumerism, violent injustice and cynical lack of care exhibited by so many of the world's wealthy.
Lloyd Geering also concedes that there is no easy optimism regarding this earthly paradise. Restrictions on our freedom, the chaos and disruption of change, the relinquishing of cultural and religious tribalism are just some of the obstacles which face us. Furthermore, he warns, the longer we delay, the more likely we shall bring about one or more global catastrophes. There is no time to waste in bringing about this brave new global consciousness.
This is a challenging book on many levels. It challenges my pessimism, my lack of hope. I am forced to ask myself: To what extent do those of us who fail to see hope become part of our self-fulfilling prophecy of gloom? I hope the book will challenge more people in the two-thirds world to question and disrupt the global injustices (and to recognise where we perpetrate our own). I hope it will challenge many in the one-third world to think about, and respond to, the situation of our interdependence. I hope fervently that it will not only be read by the "converted".
I want so much to believe in Paradise on earth. I also wonder to what extent it is as remote as any other Paradise for which humanity has searched? This should not prevent us from the quest though. Perhaps we will even discover that the quest itself is Paradise.
Janet TriskThis book is available from the St Andrews Trust for the Study of Religion and Society http://satrs.wellington.net.nz