March 28, 2014 admin


‘No’, he said, ‘I’d rather have the meeting in the synagogue,’ before adding, ‘You see, I’m embarrassed to admit that I’ve never yet been inside one’. It was a privilege to host scientist, author and campaigner Colin Tudge last night. And, no, the above admission isn’t proof positive that he’s not Jewish.
Colin Tudge, who was features editor for The New Scientist, then a presenter for the BBC and who now lectures across the world, writes, and runs the Campaign for Real Farming, describes himself as ‘a friend of religion’. In the most urgent task of changing our attitude towards the earth, religious communities are key allies.
At school, Tudge remembered, the nature table was a shrine. He soon discovered it wasn’t true that most birds looked alike: ‘There was a glossy magazine with a picture of shorebirds mysteriously called “Oystercatchers and Knots”. I was hooked.’ Who cared about colds and flu when you could explore the ponds and mud? ‘I never wanted to be a professional scientist. I just liked being with the creatures’. He was shocked when he found that not everyone felt likewise. The Secret Life of Birds was written in answer to a friend’s questions:
           ‘What I really want to know about is birds. They keep coming into the garden. They fiddle about. What are they? What are they up to?’
At eleven Tudge started his first tree nursery. ‘A tree is a big plant with a stick up the middle’, he explains in The Secret Life of Trees. But why be a tree? ‘The advantages of treedom are both manifold and manifest’, he explains. ‘But being big is…  risky, because all the time a tree is growing, time and chance and other creatures are working on its downfall.’ One of those creatures is us.
‘What needs to change?’ I asked him. ‘The most important thing is attitude’, he replied. ‘The goal of all the world’s most powerful governments is “economic growth”. Other creatures hardly get a look in.’
To express this in religious terms would be to speak about idolatry, the setting of profit and advantage before reverence, respect for nature, stewardship and the service of God. A young woman recently spent a Shabbat in our community before travelling to Bhutan to study one of the only countries in the world which defines its national goals not in terms of GDP but of collective happiness. It would be good to hear what she discovered.
‘If you took a train across Britain what kind of farms would you like to see?’ I asked him. ‘Thick strips of trees, lots of fruit trees, coppiced hazel, also large hardwoods like oak and hornbeam, with fields of grain in between. Livestock too; most prefer the shade of trees and suffer in the heat. You need small, highly skilled farms. They’re just as profitable, but sustainable.’ Could our community become an outlet for them? ‘Certainly!’
Tudge attacked the prevalent Dawkinsian notion of ‘the selfish gene’. Genes, he argues in his latest book, are not selfish. Life is often ruthlessly competitive, but the best way to survive is co-operation. The misplaced concept of the selfish gene feeds a selfish ideology.
Why host such a talk in a synagogue? Because it goes to the heart of religion, which concerns how we respect the world, including how we consume; because this autumn brings the Sabbatical year, when the land’s produce is shared between poor and rich, animals and humans; because that should not be treated with utilitarian contempt which we are taught to view with reverence as filled with the presence of God.  

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