At the heart of our modern predicament lies a way of seeing the world that is characterised by carelessness – a carelessness that is systematically taught and encouraged through the educational and industrial establishments that dominate the activities of the western world. I call this way of seeing ‘the apathistic stance’, and I wrote about it in my book:
“There is a Greek word apatheia which has come down to us as the word apathy. It means being uncommitted or uninvolved emotionally – an emotional distancing, a ‘not caring’. This happens in science because the scientist is pursuing the truth about the world. What they are trying to attend to is what the world is actually like – not what they want the world to be like. So a true scientist will put their own desires to one side and submit to the process of scientific method in order to pursue the truth. This requires a discipline – you have to be trained in how to investigate, in the attitudes of science, you have to learn what I call the apathistic stance. This is what you do in order to ensure that your own biases, your own emotional desires, are put to one side. This process is a way of learning more about the world, of learning in particular more about the physical and natural world, because the physical and natural world does not depend upon our emotional reaction to it. As with all tools, however, we need to learn how to use them properly – and this has not happened with regard to science. This process of emotionally disengaging from what we are trying to discover in order to discern more truth, putting our own desires to one side, is a tool, and we need to learn how to use the tool, how to put it into a broader framework. In other words, after gaining true information from employing the apathistic stance, we need to adopt a different stance in order to process that true information properly. We need to integrate it with our wider knowledge and understanding.”
(I am minded to do a ‘ten year update’ on the book – I finished the text in January 2012, and I think it still holds up)
As a culture we have neglected this second part of the process. In the religious traditions, the apathistic stance is a moment in our growth of learning – it is a distancing from our own emotions in order to grow closer to the truth. The point of the religious discipline is to integrate those new insights with the wider understandings and frameworks which give sense to those new insights (for no new insights can have meaning independently of such wider frameworks).
Instead of this integration we have been dazzled by the jewels that the apathistic stance has unearthed, all the fruits of technological and scientific development. We have not cared about the consequences – for if we started to care about the consequences we would no longer be apathistic, and we would no longer have our golden goose.
So we have built a society that slaughters the creation around us. We have excised our compassion, we have abandoned wisdom, we crucify creation for a mess of pottage.
The apathistic stance devastates the world.
To overcome this devastation, to heal the world, is first and foremost a spiritual task – and the most essential element of that task in our present time is to dethrone science; or, to put that in slightly different terms, the only way in which we can work out our salvation is if we restore theology to her proper position as queen of the sciences.