Why Safety is Inescapably Theological

Originally posted on October 26, 2019 @ 9:44 AM

askingThe moment Safety drifts into questions of life, death, suffering, pain, harm and ‘saving lives’ it has no way to go except a trajectory into theology. We observe this in Dekker’s book ‘The End of Heaven, Disaster and Suffering in a Scientific Age’ with dozens of biblical references and soteriological discourse. This is also the case in Petersons’ book ‘12 Rules for Life, An Antidote to Chaos’ with dozens of biblical references and again soteriological discourse. Neither are theologians nor claim any expertise in theology. The nature of their reformed and evangelical theology is embedded but hidden in the text.

Similarly, we see that when Safety gets tangled up in justifying zero, it all becomes about faith, belief, heresy, ‘cardinal’ rules, saving lives and freedom from harm.

Theological genres are deeply embedded in cultural patterns that appeal to sacred thinking as opposed to profane thinking about death, harm, and suffering. When questions about questions of life and suffering yields no answer Safety has little recourse but to immerse itself in language about mystery, grace and ontological language about ‘being’ and meaning. This also surfaces in language and symbols used in Safety about taboo, violation, defilement, uncertainty, blame, fault, failure and danger. Much of the soteriological discourse is also bound up in myths and ritual performance. In myths and ritual performance we see the placing of faith in meaningless processes that are attributed as efficacious such as SWMS, Risk Assessments, matrices and pyramids, that have no relationship to what is attributed to them.

For further reading try:

Becker, E., (1973) ‘The Denial of Death’.

Eliade, M., (1957) ‘The Sacred and Profane, The Nature of Religion’.

McGill, A., (1954) ‘Suffering, A Test of Theological Method’.

Weaver, N., (2013) ‘The Theology of Suffering and Death’.

I have written before about theology in the movie industry in ‘Fallibility and Risk, Living with Uncertainty’ pp. 29-30 & 137. (free download https://www.humandymensions.com/product/fallibility-risk-living-uncertainty/) for a great overview of this read:

Lyden, J., (2003) ‘Film as Religion, Myths, Morals and Rituals’.

Ostwalt, C., (2012) ‘Secular Steeples, Popular Culture and The Religious Imagination’.

Of course, the kind of Safety that is anchored to Engineering and Science (STEM) doesn’t even know when it is being theological. Indeed, it sees no significance in cultural language or the discourse that selects its own myopia. This is why Safety gets attracted to theological language as it jumps between discourses as if language can be used across cultures with no shift in meaning. This crossing of boundaries is one of the most significant challenges in translation between disciplines and understanding wicked problems (https://safetyrisk.net/risk-and-safety-as-a-wicked-problem/ ). We also see this yearning to transcend the fallible in the constant fixation on champions and heroes is safety (https://safetyrisk.net/the-last-thing-safety-needs-is-champions/).

The horizon of significance (Tillich) for Safety is its ultimate frame of reference to transcendence. The moment humans experience suffering or harm out comes the theological language regardless of whether it thinks one is atheist, agnostic or theist. When one invokes theological language one acknowledges that one has transcended from STEM thinking to theological thinking. This was observed in a recent piece on the Safety Differently website What’s Capacity? (https://www.safetydifferently.com/whats-capacity/ ) with reference to complex adaptive systems. When Engineering and Science don’t have answers to safety and risk, the language quickly moves to ‘mystery’, ‘grace’, ‘the infinite’ in the face of no control or guarantees about outcomes. Further regarding the significance of such transition read:

Lakoff, G., and Johnson, M., (2003) ‘Metaphors We Live By’.

So when one observes the next text on zero and heroes or, discussion of suffering and harm, note the use of theological language and the crossing of boundaries juxtaposed to the attributions of engineering and science and see what you come up with. Ask a theological question and find out how quickly such will be rejected and held up as nonsense in the face of what has been said.

One’s language is shaped by political, cultural and ethical discourse and the tension between these in risk and safety require a more sophisticated sense of transdisciplinarity (https://cllr.com.au/product/transdisciplinarity-and-risk-unit-16/) than currently exists.

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