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On Innocence

Mary Klein
On Innocence (May 2024)

At its core, every creature is beholden to all of creation. Every creature is also built to protect its own integrity against the forces of time and space that would tear it apart. Whether rock, river, rabbit, or royal, every creature is obliged to protect itself in its own proper way, with “proper” redefined for each instance by the Power that animates creation.

As humans, we are beholden to more than gravity (like rocks) or temperature (like water). We are beholden to the Word and to the tree of knowledge that informs our tongues about the nature of our own words and deeds, whether they taste wholesome or corrupt. Once we have tasted both, we can perceive whether our intentions are benevolent or malicious. We can notice or ignore the ulterior motives that sweeten the deal when we act on behalf of our neighbors. And we can notice or ignore our neighbors.

As a species, we forsake our neighbors too often. Of the United Nation’s seventeen “Sustainable Development Goals” set in 2015 for 2030, none is likely to be met. For example, Goal One is “No Poverty.” In practical terms, this is an aim to reduce the world’s level of “extreme poverty” (less than $1.90 per person per day) down to 3% of the world’s population by 2030. Well, that goal is proving to be overly optimistic. The latest global measure of extreme poverty came in at 8.2% in 2019 – progress from 8.6% in 2015, but progress that has been too slow to allow humanity to reach the goal of 3% in 2030.

Similarly, the United Nations has recognized seven specified “Planetary Boundaries” as necessary for the health of the planet. Five of the boundaries had been exceeded by 2023. The boundaries quantify limits on critical ecological systems – atmospheric carbon, biodiversity, forest integrity, etc. – that must be respected if the earth is to remain safe for human habitation. The boundary for biodiversity, for example, was set at a rate of less than 10 extinctions per million species-years. The “current value” in 2023 was a rate of more than 100 extinctions per million species-years.

These two sets of global measures are described by economist Kate Raworth as, on the one hand, “a social foundation, below which [we find] shortfalls in wellbeing, such as hunger, ill health, [and] illiteracy,” and on the other hand, “an ecological ceiling, beyond which [we find] an overshoot of pressure on Earth’s life-supporting systems” (The Lancet, May 2017). Raworth has combined these two sets of measures into one “conceptual framework of social and planetary boundaries” that is commonly called “doughnut economics,” based on the graphic that Raworth uses to depict it. Raworth developed this model while working for Oxfam, and she continues to work with cities, businesses, teachers, and community groups worldwide to promote citizen action on economic policy. Between the two boundaries of her model – the social foundation and the ecological ceiling – she seeks to develop “an ecologically safe and socially just space in which all of humanity has the chance to thrive.”

For a person to make positive contributions towards a goal like this – an ecologically safe and socially just world – they must direct themselves towards a coherent vision, and they must emerge from a confident awareness of their own motivations. As James Nayler admonished in 1653, “Arise and deliver yourselves from the guilt of oppression and cruelty . . . declare against all violence and injustice . . . Take heed that you walk not by example of others, but in the light . . . be valiant for the truth . . .”

Let us welcome the flavor of oil and vinegar. Let us welcome the complexity of life. Even though a person might feel trapped inside an internal muddle of benevolence and malice, still, they can trust their Creator to guide their choices in producing suitable words and deeds. Let us welcome our chances to add to the goodness of Creation. ~~~

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