I’ve just returned from a wonderful seminar at the Ammerdown retreat centre together with faith leaders who are passionate about the environment.
One might think that after Paris action is all that matters. Certainly, we were all resolved to play our part in keeping government and the leaders of business to account. But action begins at home, with what we do in our own communities, communal buildings and homes. I’m very excited about the launch of Eco-Church, and have invited its creator Dr Ruth Valerio to speak in our community. There’s no reason why eco-synagogue, or eco-mosque, should not be developed along the same green-print.
But the discussions of text and theology were perhaps the most fascinating part of the encounter. Mary Colwell, who makes programmes on wildlife and the environment for radio and television spoke of the ‘catch-up’ theology has to do if it is to embrace a post-Darwin, and post DNA analysis world in which we understand that we share 50% of that DNA with a cabbage. More challenging still may be to reconcile the concept of a ‘good God’ with the presence of that God in a world of nature in which every leaf and tree is a battle ground in miniature in which species struggles with species for survival.
How then should we understand today the promise of ‘dominion’ granted to humanity by God in Genesis chapter 1? Does it point to a power we have exercised to our cost, or does it entail a responsibility of which we cannot become free? After all, do we really believe that all life is equal, and that humans should not be seen as having a special place in God’s ecology? Yet the occupation of that position with ruthless blindness to the place and value of other forms of life, except when sentimentality leads us to see them as ‘cute’, must surely be a crime.
Is ‘stewardship’ an adequate concept for the human role as God’s regent and servant on this earth, or is the expression too feudal, tasting too much of mastery in an age when we realise our constant dependence on even the bee the beetle and bacteria? How do we serve creation? It needs to be through acts of reason, as well as of love.
What then does it mean to be a ‘creature’ in such an inter-dependent world and what responsibilities are entailed? How important is the sense of kinship with all living being, and how is it related to the similar word ‘kindness’, which translates in Hebrew as the enduring covenant of hesed towards all life?
The fact is that certain texts, whether we are conscious of it or not, have over centuries formed the foundation of Jewish, Christian, Muslim and Western attitudes to creation, God and life itself. But their anthropocentrism may call for revision, or at least counter-balancing with other, more embracing and inclusive, texts if we are indeed to ‘serve and preserve’ the garden of life, as God enjoins the first man and woman, before setting them in Eden.
These questions will be central to the discourse of humanity and the direction of both theology and ecology over the coming critical decades.
It was wonderful to be among Christians, Muslims and fellow Jews who care equally and passionately about the written text of Scripture and the sacred text of nature, – life in all its dimensions.