Eco-spirituality / Christianity
Christianity has a particularly poor historical record on environmental awareness, showing an indifference at best and downright hostility at worst.
The Bible frequently refers to the superiority of humankind over the rest of creation, and often claims that men have jurisdiction over women. (See Ecofeminism.)
John Calvin sums up the Biblical stance in his commentary on Genesis:
"the end for which all things were created [was] that none of the convenience and necessities of life might be wanting to men."
John Calvin, 'Commentaries on the First Book of Moses, called Genesis.' 1, 98. Translated J. King, London, 1847.
There are notable exceptions to this general attitude. Some recent movements within Christianity have embraced Earth-centered spirituality, notably the 'Creation Spirituality' that is now sometimes called 'Green Spirit'. (www.greenspirit.org.uk ).
Green Christianity tends toward the 'Stewardship' philosophy: God has given humankind the role of stewards of the Earth, and so it is our duty to God to protect the environment. The ecology of the planet is to be protected because it is part of the glory of Gods Creation. God loves the Earth, & therefore so must we. Green Christians tend to talk in very anthropocentric terms about 'Responsible Dominion'.
Saint Francis of Assisi, who is often cited as an example of an ecologically aware Christian, wrote with unusual affection about the natural world:
"Praised be You, my Lord, with all your creatures, especially Sir Brother Sun....Praised be you, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the Stars....Praised be You, My Lord through Sister Water...through Brother Fire...through our Sister Mother Earth...."
Quoted by Joe Nangle in 'A Spirituality of Ecology ', Sojourners Magazine/September-October 1998
But Saint Francis retains the anthropocentric Christian view that humans have a God given superiority, and wrote that "Every creature proclaims: 'God made me for your sake O man!' ". ('Saint Francis of Assisi: His life and writings as recorded by his contemporarie', p. 145. Translated L. Sherley-Price, Mowbray, 1959).
An ecological Christianity must also resolve the issue of the apparent dualism inherent in their tradition. God and spirit are generally understood to be transcendent, leaving the material world of the body and nature somehow inferior or even evil. The original sin of Adam and Eve has left the earth cursed by God:
"on your account the earth will be cursed. You will get your food from it only by labour all the days of your life; it will yield thorns and thistles for you."
Genesis, 3, 17. Revised English Bible.
The consistent message of the Bible, which is reinforced by most theologians, is that God is separate from, and superior to, material existence.
Some green Christians see the incarnation of God in Christ as overcoming this duality:
"We who hold as a cornerstone of our faith that the Creator became part of creation arrive naturally at a spirituality of ecology. We see no contradiction between life in the Spirit and in nature."
Joe Nangle 'A Spirituality of Ecology'.
To be truly ecological, Christianity must overcome a deep rooted dualism and its reputation as "the most anthropocentric religion the world has ever seen." Lynn White, 'The Historical Roots of our Ecological Crisis'.
The notion of ecological Christianity needs some defending, but it is important work.
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