Eco-Theology

Eco-Theology focuses on how religion and nature are inter-connected. It is a constructive theology. Its basic premise is that there is a relationship between religious traditions and the degradation (or even  the preservation) of nature and environment. It explores the interaction between sustainability of mankind with human dominance over nature. Eco-theology also explores the relationship between religion and nature with regards to ecosystem management. In other words, eco-theologians not just highlight the issues in the relationship religion has with nature, but also suggest potential solutions.

The relationship of theology to the modern ecological crisis got serious attention and debate in the West after Lynn White Jr, professor of History at UCLA, published the article, “The Historical Routes of our Ecological Crisis”. White had put forward a theory that it was the Christian model of human dominion over nature which had lead to the environmental devastation we see today. Seyyed Hossein Nasr, however, was among the early thinkers to draw attention to the spiritual dimensions of the environmental crisis. He had presented his insight in an essay in 1965. The following year, he expanded his essay into a series of lectures (Rockefeller Series Lectures) which he gave at the University of Chicago Divinity School.

Traditional Christianity has dualism at its core. Dualism is the concept of dividing our understanding of the world into two opposed or contrasting aspects, e.g. Spirit and matter, humans and nature, body and sore, heaven and earth. Dualism has no real biblical basis. However it has influenced Christian thinking, especially eco-thinking, for more than 1,500 years. Traditional Christian dualism argues that heaven is the sole dwelling place of God, it is where we will go after we die, and the earth and the universe will be destroyed by fire one day to make way for a new heaven and a new earth. Therefore concern for the environment is meaningless and the earth is there for exploitation.

The central Biblical concept which counters this destructive thinking is the single word “Shalom”. Shalom not only means peace but also wholeness, integration, completeness, and everything moving together in dynamic harmony. Shalom is the message that Jesus preached apart from the message of the kingdom of God. Therefore Shalom should be our message too. Shalom is the physical wellbeing of all things. Shalom challenges injustice in all its forms. Shalom is what Christians are called to establish on earth. We will all be part of a renewed creation,  not somewhere else, but here. The original Hebrew phrase v’yirdu means dominion with and not dominion over. We are called to companionship with creation. This is what God meant when he gave humans ‘dominion over the earth’.

For Lord Jesus, dominion is meekness, which is strength under perfect control, which is why He said that the meek shall inherit the earth. Meekness holds together three seemingly incompatible ideas: 1. Selfless anger and rage against injustice, 2. Deep and strong self control, 3. Gentleness which is energized by love and compassion.

Just like liberation theologies reject power structures, the main thrust of ecotheology is to reject structures that oppress the earth.

Ecotheologians claim to be improving Christianity and adapting it to meet contemporary ecological needs. However, as they do this, they are weakening the links between the traditional sources of meaning that have provided continuity and community for Christians all these years. Ecotheologians have created a theology that is more closely related to the contemporary cultural context than the historic content of traditional forms of Christianity.

Bibliography
Ecotheology – Wikipedia
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ecotheology

Christian Eco-Theology: First Steps | Student Christian Movement
https://www.movement.org.uk/resources/christian-eco-theology-first-steps

Beyond Christian Environmentalism: Ecotheology as an Over-Contextualized Theology – The Gospel Coalition
https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/themelios/article/beyond-christian-environmentalism/

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