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Liberative Solidarity: Contemporary Perspectives on Mission by K. C. Abraham


Rev. Dr. K. C. Abraham is a presbyter of the Church of south India and a leading Third World theologian. He is director of the South Asia theological Research Institute, Bangalore, India and director of the board of theological Education of the Senate of Serampore College. The book was published by Christava Sahitya Samithi, Tiruvalle, April 1996, and is used by permission of the publisher. This material was prepared for Religion Online by Ted & Winnie Brock.


Chapter 8: A Theological Response to the Ecological Crisis


There was a time when we thought that ecological crisis was not a serious problem for us in the poorer countries. Our problem, it was assumed, was confined to poverty and economic exploitation, and the environmental issue was rejected as a “luxury” of the industrialized countries. Social action groups and peoples movements in the Third World countries understandably have shown relative indifference to the problem of ecology But today we realize how urgent this issue is for rich and poor countries alike- in fact for the whole world. The threat is to life in general. The life of the planet is endangered. The ecological crisis raises the problem of survival itself. Moreover there is a growing awareness of the organic link between the destruction of the environment and socio-economic and political Justice.

The interconnectedness between commitment to the renewal of society and the renewal of the earth is clearly seen in the struggle of many marginalised groups all over the world. The indigenous people everywhere (Native Indians in the USA and Canada, Maoris in Aotearoa-New Zealand, Aborigines in Australia, tribal people in many countries of Asia), and many groups who have been traditionally dependent upon the land and the sea -- small farmers, fisher-folk, agricultural labourers -- have kept these two dimensions together in their movements for liberation.

A majority of the poor are also landless. Agricultural developments helps the rich landlords and not the poor. The poor in the slums of our cities are squeezed into small hovels and their struggle is simply for living space. Yet, to enhance and expand their comforts, the rich continually destroy whatever is left for the poor: their villages, their forests and their people. The stubborn resistance of the poor tribal women in the now famous Chipko movement against the Government’s decision to turn their habitat into a mining area, has brought to our consciousness the inseparable link between the struggle of the poor and ecological issues.

Today the cry of the poor in the Narmada Valley in India is not only to preserve their own habitat but to protect forests everywhere from wanton destruction. The ecological crisis is rightly the cry of the poor. The experience of deprivation and exploitation is linked with environmental degradation and therefore, their perspective on these problems should be the starting point of our discussion. It is not a problem created by scientists or by a group of people who fancy growing trees around their houses. It is the problem of the poor. It is integral to their struggle for justice and liberation, and basically it is about preserving the integrity of Creation.

Of course, committed scientists and other ecologists have helped us to deepen our understanding of the ecological problem. In the past, nature was thought to be an object for ruthless exploitation by the “developers” and scientists for the “good of humans”. Little thought was given to the perils of environmental destruction. A sense of optimism prevailed among them about the capability of science to tame nature. Those who raised any voice of concern about it were branded as “prophets of doom.” But today more and more scientists are joining others with a, crusading zeal, to make people aware of the ecological disasters. Marshalling convincing scientific data, they tell us that the environmental degradation caused by massive pollution of air water and land, threatens the very life of earth -- fast depletion of non renewal resources, indeed of species themselves, the thinning of the ozone layer that exposes all living creatures to the danger of radiation, the build up of gases creating the greenhouse effect, increasing erosion by the sea -- all these are brought out through their research. Related to these are problems of rapidly increasing population, spread of malnutrition and hunger, the subordination of women’s and children’s needs to men’s needs, the ravages of war, the scandal of chronic poverty and wasteful affluence.

I do not want to dwell at length on these problems. They are now well known and much literature is available on them. My purpose is to highlight the theological and ethical issue involved in this problem and to suggest a possible response from the church and people’s movements. To do this we need to clarify for ourselves some of the perspectives on the ecological problems.

PERSPECTIVES

Growth Model Must be Changed

 

The ecological crisis is created by modern industrial and technological growth and modem life-style. A paradigm of development, the western industrial growth model, is almost universally accepted. It is a process whereby we use enormous capital and exploit natural resources, particularly the non renewal ones. Ruthless exploitation of nature and fellow beings is the inevitable consequence of this pattern of development. Decisions about the kind of goods to be produced and the type of technology to be used are influenced by the demand of consumerist economy where the controlling logic of growth is greed and not need. It creates imbalances between different sectors and allows massive exploitation of the rural and natural environment for the benefit of the dominant classes. Much of the profit oriented growth which destroys the eco-balance, is engineered and controlled by the multinationals of USA, Europe and Japan. We are told that Japanese multinationals indiscriminately destroy forests and other natural resources m the Philippines, Indonesia and other Asian Countries. Japan is able to preserve its own forests and trees because there are countries in the surrounding region that supply their needs to maintain their modern life-style!

Industrial pollution has risen alarmingly The havoc created by the gas leak in Bhopal is vivid in our memory. Over use of fertilisers is turning our farmlands into deserts, and the fishes in our seas and rivers are dying. In Kuttanad area in Kerala a massive epidemic is destroying all the fishes.

Human demands for food and power are increasing faster than the resources, which are, in fact, dwindling. It is recognised that the negative impact of people on environment is the product of thee factors the total population, the amount of resources consumed by each person and the environmental destruction caused by each person. All these continue to increase, especially because of the new life-style of the rich, and the irresponsible use of natural resources which add a peculiar burden on the ecosystem.

A Conferences on Ecology and development clearly states:

While all are affected by the ecological crisis, the life of the poor and marginalised is further impoverished by it. Shortage of fuel and water adds particular burdens to the life of woman. It is said that the tribals are made environmental prisoners in their own land. Dalits, whose life has been subjected to social and cultural oppression for generations, are facing new threats by the wanton destruction of natural environment.1

We need to ask whether the present policies of the government will help us alter this form of development. The answer is likely to be that nothing short of a rejection of the dominant paradigm of development and a commitment to an ecologically sustainable form of development, will help avert the present crisis.

Ecological Crisis: A Justice Issue

Our ecological crisis should be seen as a justice issue. This is a fundamental perspective that distinguishes people’s view on ecology from that of the establishment, and even of the experts. Political and social justice is linked to ecological health. “We shall not be able to achieve social justice without justice for natural environment; we shall not be able to achieve justice for nature without social justice” (Moltmann).2 Several dimensions of this echo-justice are now brought to the fore though the experience of the struggle of the marginalised.

First, the connection between economic exploitation and environmental degradation is clear in the deforestation issue. The massive destruction of forests through avarice and greed results in atmospheric changes. The poor are driven out of their habitat for the sake of “development”. In a paper prepared by the Kerala Swatantara Matsya Thozilali Federation (Trade Union of Fisher People) it is said, because of the massive fish epidemic caused by the use of some pesticides, people refuse to buy fish today This has resulted in making the fisherfolk jobless. Again, the use of mechanised trawlers in the fish industry has resulted in threatening all fish life, and the traditional fisherfolk have still not recovered from the loss they have suffered.

Second, justice is actualized in just relationships. Unequal partnerships and patterns of domination are unjust. It is obvious that today human relationship with nature is not that of equal partners, but of domination and exploitations. Unjust treatment of the planet by humans is one of the principal causes of the ecological crisis.

Third, the uneven distribution, control and use of natural resources are serious justice issues. It is estimated that 1/5th of the world population inhabiting the Northern hemisphere consume, burn or waste at least 40-50 percent of the world’s non-renewable resources. Further, natural resources needed to maintain the life-style of an average American is equal to what is required by 200-300 Asians. Imagine what will happen if we extend the same American life-style to people everywhere.

Fourth, the fast depletion of the natural (non-renewable) resources today raises the question of our responsibility to future generations. If we extend the five-star culture to all the countries and segments of people, then the pressures on these resources will become intolerable. Already, we are warned that we cannot go on exploiting the deep-level water. That will disturb the ecological balance. Someone had compared the function of deep water to the middle ear fluid that helps the human body maintain its balance. The question, therefore, is how to use natural resources in a way that sustains life and not destroys it.

Ethics of Care, Alleviation of Poverty

We need to discuss two related concerns. The first is the concept of justice itself. The logic of justice as developed in the West emphasis rights and rules, and respect for the other. It can be applied only to human beings -- supposedly equally. It is a balancing of rights and duties. But to include the Cosmos in the justice enterprise, we need to affirm the ethics of care. Justice cannot be accorded except through care. Justice expressing compassion is the biblical emphasis. Prophets were not talking about balancing interests and rights, but about the caring, the defending of the poor by the righteous God. Defending the vulnerable and defenseless should also mean defending our weak and silent partner the Earth.

We can no longer see ourselves as names and rulers over nature but must think of ourselves as gardeners, caretakers, mothers and fathers, stewards, trustees, lovers, priests, co-creators and friends of a world that while giving us life and sustenance, also depends increasingly on us in order to continue both for itself and for us.3

Secondly poverty is also a source of ecological degradation, and the alleviation of poverty by the poor through their struggle for justice is an ecological concerns. We cannot separate these two concerns. Unless the poor have alternate sources of food and basic needs like fuel, they too will want to destroy whatever natural environment is around them.

Justice in relation to ecology has a comprehensive meaning. Negatively, it is placed against economic exploitation and unjust control and use of natural resources. Positively, it affirms the responsibility.

A New Sense of Interdependence

The ecological crisis has impressed upon our consciousness a new awareness about our dependence on the earth. We belong to the earth. We share a common destiny with the earth. This awareness has sharply challenged the modern view of reality and demands a revolution of previously held scales of values. The modern perception of reality thanks to the all-pervasive influence of western rationality, follows a mechanistic model. It is functional and dualistic- spirit /flesh, objective/subjective, reason/passion, supernatural/natural. But the ecological view is organic, in which the emphasis is on interconnectedness and mutual inter-dependence. It is to adopt the view of the so well captured in Martin Bubers’ famous distinction between I-Thou and I-It. All entities are united symbolically.

Sally Mcfague expresses this challenge thus:

Ecological perspective insists that we are in the most profound ways, “not our own” we belong from the cells of our bodies to the finest creation of our minds, to the intricate, constantly changing cosmos. The ecosystem, of which we are a part, is a whole: the rocks and waters atmosphere and soil, plants, minerals and human beings interact in a dynamic, mutually supportive way that make all talk of atomistic individualism indefensible. Relationship and interdependence, change and transformation, not substance, changelessness and perfection, are the categories within which a theology for our day must function4

We cannot here go into the implications of this rather provocative suggestion. Nothing short of a “paradigm shift?’ is taking place in theology. It is not merely anthropocentric.

Challenge to Ethics

The ecological perspective has also challenged our notion of ethics. In fact, the ecological model of mutual interdependence can provide a new orientation in ethics that can be source of human renewal. Our Lord asks us to learn from the birds of the air, the lilies of the field. Values that are essential for the survival of life are those of caring and sharing, not domination and manipulation; domination and exploitation can only lead to the silencing of nature and to the ecological death of both nature and humans. The new perspective affirms our interrelatedness one to another and nature. The scale of values that is essential for sustaining the interrelatedness and wholeness of creation is different from the dominant value system of modern society. One may state them as follows:

conservation, not consumerism
Need, not greed
Enabling power not dominating power
Integrity of creation, not exploiting nature

 

THEOLOGICAL CONSIDERATIONS

The Church’s response is shaped by its understanding and interpretation of its theology. A crucial aspect to be considered is the relation between human and nature.

The Relation Between Humans and Nature

One may suggest at least three topologies that have influenced modern thinking on this: Humans above nature; humans in nature, and humans with nature. We can see biblical parallel for each of these. But our effort is to see which ones come closet to the central vision.

Humans above nature

This may be the hidden ideology of the scientific and technological culture of the period. Science was considered as power and not as a source of wisdom. “Modern Technics”, wrote Bertrand Russel in the late forties, “is giving man a sense of power which is changing his whole mentality. Until recently, the physical environment was something that had to be accepted. But to modern man the physical environment is merely the raw material for manipulations and opportunity. It may be that God made the world, but there is no reason why we should not take it over”. Perhaps, very few scientists today make such a claim so unambiguously, yet this confidence in science and technology and the instrumental, manipulative use of nature, is very much present in modern culture.

Attempts are made to provide a biblical basis for the development of technology in the West. They are primarily based on the exegesis of Gen. 1:28-30 and Psalms 18:6-8. During the late ‘60s, a beat-seller in theology was The Secular City by Harvey Cox, and an influential book on mission was Arand Van Leeuwen’s Christianity In World History. Both these books show a preference for the view “humans above nature.” They provide a biblical and theological basis for the technological manipulation of nature by humans. They unequivocally affirm that technology is a liberator, an instrument in the hands of God for releasing humans from the tyranny of natural necessities. They paid little attention to the biblical witness against this attitude;

The Earth mourns and withers
the world languishes and withers, the heavens languish together with the earth.
The earth lies polluted Under its inhabitants;
for they have transgressed the laws
violated the statutes, broken the everlasting covenant

-Isaiah 24:4,5

Thus says God, the Lord
who created the heavens and stretched them out
who spread forth the earth and what comes from it,
who gives breath to the people upon it
and spirit to those who walk in it.

-Isaiah 42:5

In the Bible, the planes of human history and nature are never set in opposition as these interpreters seem to be doing. The two planes are held together in the biblical witness of faith. Liberation, according to Exodus, is a struggle to possess the land. Faith in Yahweh, the Liberator, is also an affirmation that God is sovereign over earth.

In an interesting study on Land in the Old Testament, Walter Brueggemann points to the significance of land for Hebrew religious experience. The land as promise and as problem: promised land, alien land; landlessness and wilderness -- all these appear at different stages in the history of the Hebrews. There is, of course a tension between landedness and landlessness; the former becomes a cause of exploitation and the latter leads to total trust in Yahweh.

The Christian practice that directly or indirectly supported colonialism and capitalism comes out of this view of “humans above nature”. Lynn White, the California Professor of History, holds this view responsible for the modern ecological crisis. His words are strong.

Especially in its western form, Christianity is the most anthropocentric religion the world has seen. Christianity, in contrast to ancient paganism and Asia’s religions, has not only established a dualism of man and nature, but has also insisted that it is God’s will that man exploit nature for his proper ends... Hence we shall continue to have a worsening ecological crisis until we reject the Christian axiom that nature has no reason for existence, save to serve man.

Humans in nature

This is a reaction against the first typology It maintains that there is no distinction between humans and nature. One gets an expression of this view in the writings of some Romantic poets. Some of the environmentalists, in their facile enthusiasm, lend support to this. Biblical support may be found in the verse:

All flesh is grass
‘and all its beauty is like the flower of the field.
Surely, the people is grass,
the grass withers,
the flower fades,
but the word of our God will stand forever.
- Isaiah 40: 6-8

 

Yet it is difficult to conclude on the basis of this verse that the biblical idea is to treat human life as grass. There is a mystery of their being, and there is a distinction between human and other creatures, but the difference is not superiority because it comes with an awareness of responsibility.

The command of God to Adam and Eve in Gen. 1:28-30 to have domination over creatures is problematic. In its original Hebrew, domination is a harsh word. It is to tame and control the forces of nature that are destructive and violent. Taken in isolation and purely in this context, that word gives a basis for a ruthless exploitation of nature. But in interpreting biblical images and words, we need to see them through the prism of our Lord’s saving mission.

“In the light of Christ’s mission,” says Moltmann, “Gen. 1:28 will have to be interpreted in an entirely new way. Not to subdue the earth, but free the earth through fellowship with it!” We may ask what is our understanding of dominion? Is it not from one whom we call Lord, Domino, that is, Jesus Christ and Him crucified?”

Lordship, therefore, has a new meaning. It is responsibility for the other in love. The overriding emphasis in the Bible with regard to human relationship with nature is on human responsibility for nature.

Human participation is necessary for maintaining the Cosmos Over against the threat of Chaos. “The Earth is the Lord’s and all that fills it, the world and all of its inhabitants.”

Because he founded it upon the seas and established it upon the rivers - Psalms 24:1,2.

Scholars point out that the Hebrew words for sea (yam) and river (nahar) are also the words for ancient, near-eastern gods of chaos. If humans break the covenant, disobey the laws of God and unjustly treat the neighbor, then, creation will return to its primeval chaos. To maintain creation, cosmos, human participation of responsible love and justice is necessary.

Human participation is also needed to keep the earth fertile and productive ( Gen. 2:5, 3:17-19). Man is called the gardener and tiller. Again, humans have no right to exploit and plunder the earth. Some of the symbols and practices that emerged in the history Israel clearly articulate this. Sabbath and jubilee year are two of them. Rest is a way of preventing over exploitation of the earth. Also, the drastic change in ownership is a poignant reminder that humans are merely trustees. They are called to maintain the integrity of creation. Human responsibility for the whole creation is to participate, with love and care, in God’s continuing act of creation

Human responsibility and co-creatureliness is further emphasised with the affirmation that all creation, along with humans, long and groan for perfection and liberation. All distortions of creation, compounded by human violence, disobedience and greed, will have to be redeemed in Christ (Rev. 8:13-28). The final vision of a new heaven and a new earth (Rom. 21:1-4) is accomplished by God and human beings together.

The Church’s Response

Although Christianity was born in a different cultural ethos where a holistic view of reality was in vogue, the Indian Church’s theology and practice have been, with some notable exceptions, heavily influenced by western missionaries. With the result, at least in our Protestant churches, little thought was given to link faith with ecology. We are all inclined to view with suspicion any talk of nature in theology. Church practices sometimes adopted symbols and customs that arose out of our natural environment but seldom were they integrated with the mainstream thinking or practice.

However, the Church’s record here is not altogether dismal. There have been bold experiments, responses which have the potential for challenging us. We need to critically examine them and affirm whatever is helpful and relevant. Mention must be made of a world consultation on “Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation” held in Seoul, Korea, in 1990 where representatives of Protestant and Orthodox churches gathered together to make affirmations and covenants on their responsibility to creation. Perhaps, it was the first time in the history of the churches that such a significant step was taken to express concretely the Church’s response to the ecology crisis.

Three models

There are at least three models that are available in church’s life and practice for its response to ecological concerns.

(a) Ascetic, monastic model: Perhaps, this is the oldest form of the church’s response aimed at integrating some concerns relating to ecology as well as the crisis created by the misuse of the natural environment. Renunciation was the key. Greed is identified as the source of the problem of ecology. By adopting a simple life-style they showed a way to suppress greed. “Small is beautiful” is the slogan coined by moderns who have been highly impressed by the monastic models of life. Living in harmony with nature and keeping their needs to a minimum, the monastic communities proclaimed the message that the earth is the Lord’s and that it should not be indiscriminately used to satisfy human avarice and greed. It was also, a powerful protest against a wasteful life-style that is devoid of any responsibility to the world of nature.

We see a similar response in the characteristic Indian/Asian model of relating to the concerns of ecology Our sanyasis and ashrams were centres where life in harmony with nature was consciously promoted. One is reminded of a scene in Kalidasa’s Shakuntala. When Shakuntala has to leave Kanva Mum’s ashram m order to join Dushyanta’s household, the plants and creepers of the ashram, and also its birds and beasts, mourn her imminent departure. Their hearts bleed at the idea of her separation from them.

In the Church, this model has been instrumental in calling people to their responsibility to lead a life that is in tune with nature. The problem is addressed to individual life-styles. While the values enshrined in this model are important, they are not adequate enough to effect structural changes and radically alter relationships that have assumed a systemic character. Today, we face a situation where individual greed is organized as structures, as capitalism, market economy. They are forces that are deeply entrenched in society. They have a logic of their own. A constellation of power -- ideology, multinationals, market and media control -- influence our collective life. Individuals at best can only raise a voice of protest. What we need is collective action and countervailing power that can alter the course of these trends. Certainly the monastic ideals could inspire us.

(b) Sacramental/Eucharist model: Life and all its relationships are brought to the worshipful presence of God and they are constantly renewed. All things are received as gifts; therefore, they are to be shared. The cup is offered, blessed and shared. Psalm 146 is a beautiful poem that affirms the cosmic setting of our worship. We praise God in the presence of and in harmony with all creation. They are together with us as we praise God.

Again, in the tradition of the Church, the human person, through his contemplation, realises his cosmic being. Scientists today say that the volume of each atom is the volume of each universe; Cosmic power can be absorbed by humans. Tribals are more receptive to the power or earth. Particularly in the Protestant tradition, we have neglected this tradition of cosmic contemplation as a source of renewal.

One of the problems with this model is on the level of practice. For many Christians, the meaning of the Eucharist is confined to ritual observance and not as a way of active engagement with the world. The body broken is rarely taken as an imperative for sharing. We need to recover its dynamic character and motivate people to be open to God’s creation and re-creation.

(c) Liberative solidarity model: According to this model, the Church is in solidarity with the weakest; with that part of the whole creation. It is by far a contemporary model, but its roots are in the Bible. Liberation theologians have forcefully articulated the biblical motif for liberation in Exodus and other passages. Salvation is liberation. But, particularly because of their immediate context, for them liberation is primarily political and economic. We today want to affirm that the liberation that is witnessed to in the Bible includes liberation for Creation. According to Paul in Romans, the work of the Spirit, freedom, extends to the total renewal of Creation. Christ’s work of redemption takes in the whole universe (Rom. 8:19-23). Christ, the Lord of history, initiates a process of transformation that moves toward cosmic release (Eph. 1:1-10; Col. 1:15-20. The unity between the hope for the inward liberation of the children of God and the hope for the liberation of the entire physical creation from its bondage and oppression, is the theme in Roman. The work of the Spirit is to renew all of the earth. Ktisis, translated as Creation, includes not only women and men, but all created things, including demonic powers. It is in the search for liberation of all aspects of human life, histories, cultures and natural environment that we can truly affirm that salvation is the wholeness of Creation.

There is something common to the interpretation of liberation as a historical process in Exodus and the liberation process in Creation in Romans. The liberation in Exodus is linked to the cry of the oppressed, and in Romans the glorious liberty is promised in response to the groans and travails within us and in Creation. God has heard the cry of the poor, and God is taking sides with the poor. In the same manner, the renewal of earth comes in response to the cry of the poor and of the dumb creatures, and of silent nature. It is interesting to note that when God decided to spare Nineveh (Jonah 4:11), it was out of God’s pity for the “more than 12,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left hand (the reference is to babies), and also much animals.” God is not interested in preserving great cities for the sake of their skyscrapers, supermarkets, and giant computers!

We are committed to a vision of human wholeness which includes not only our relationship with one another, but also our relationship with nature and the universe. We are also committed to the struggle for the transformation of the poor, the weak, and the disfigured and over-exploited nature. Both together are decisive for our faith, mission and spirituality.

The covenant idea in the Bible has also influenced this model of liberative solidarity. Both the Abrahamic covenant set within the framework of history and the Sinai covenant which affirms God’s continued care and commitment to the human structures and law, have assumed great significance in our theological construction and biblical interpretation. But the Noahic covenant and its cosmic setting are often forgotten. God is faithful in his promise to the whole of humanity and all of his creation. It is this broader meaning of covenant that is reflected in the World Convocation organised by WCC on justice, peace and integrity of creation. It calls all the churches to make a covenant based on God’s covenant for the well-being of his total creation

The convocation calls the churches to translate their response to God’s covenant into acts of mutual commitment within the covenant community Four areas have been selected for specific “acts of covenanting” They express concrete commitment to work.

• for a just economic order and for liberation from the bondage of foreign debt;

• for the true security of all nations and people;

• for building a culture that can live in harmony with creation’s integrity;

• for the eradication of racism and discrimination, on national and international levels, among all people.

In India, churches should enter into an act of covenanting, and commit themselves to fight for the marginalised -- Dalits, tribals and women -- to build a just economic order, to commit themselves to sustainable development; justice, peace and the integrity of creation in our context.

A New Spirituality

We need to evolve a form of spirituality that takes seriously our commitment to the earth. Mathew Fox has coined the phrase “creational spirituality” and even initiated a new movement among the western churches. A deep awareness of God’s gift and presence in creation is its hallmark. This spirituality is not in conflict with liberational struggle. But it is stated as an Important ground reality. “Awe is the starting point -- and with it; wonder. The awe of being is part of this amazing universe... The awe is not of a pseudo- mysticism about a state or a political party but of our shared existence in the cosmos itself. 5

In the Buddhist tradition, greed and acquisitiveness are identified as the source of bondage. Material progress is to be tempered by non-acquisitiveness and sharing. Aloysius Pieris wrote: “In the Asian situation, the antonym of ‘wealth’ is not poverty, but acquisitiveness and avarice, which make wealth anti-religious. The primary concern is not eradication of poverty but struggle against Mammon -- that undefinable force that organises itself within every person, and among persons, to make material wealth anti-human, anti-religious and oppressive”.6 Unfortunately, in its development, Asian spirituality become preoccupied with individual moral behaviour or with forming an exclusive community -- a spiritual aristocracy. In both the cases, the spirituality of non-acquisitiveness lost its neighbourly thrust.

The spirit of non-acquisitiveness, of sharing, of harmonious relationship between humans and nature -- these are the hallmarks of true Asian spirituality.

This is also the spirituality of the poor, derived from their closeness to the earth and the sea, and their communication mode of existence. It sustains them in their struggle. How else can we explain the staying power of the marginalised and oppressed who are being continuously crushed by the onslaught of violent forces? Alas, in our activist mode we pay little attention to this and learn from it.

Therefore, today a conscious effort should be made to express the biblical insights on creational spirituality. Materials for Bible study, worship and Christian education that help us celebrate, learn God’s design for creation and human responsibility should be made available. “Steward” images that emphasis our responsibility, accountability and answerability ought to be studied. Many psalms praise God, the creator. Prophets see the vision of Shalom as the fullness of creation where harmony is the characteristic mode of existence -- beasts and humans dwell together, the lion and the child play together, swords are turned into plough shares. All these establish a connection between social justice and ecological degradation.

We should learn from our Lord himself: his closeness to the earth, asking us to learn from the birds of the air, lilies of the field; his own commitment to a kingdom that grows as a seed that germinates and sprouts, his response to the hungry, his breaking the bread and the wine -- finally, the salvation he achieved includes the liberation of all and we hope for a new heaven and a new earth. Yes, there are passages that talk about a complete destruction of all -- but they are spoken in a way which will help us turn to God and to reject, renounce our ways of violence towards one another and to the earth. To read in a fatalistic way is to miss the central thrust of the Gospel.

A New Scale of Values

An ecological perspective on theology and spirituality challenges us to adopt a new scale of values. A revaluation of the presently held value system is called for. A WCC Consultation on “Sharing of Life;” asks us to commit ourselves to the following, accepting a fundamentally new value system:

   to the marginalised taking the centre of all decisions and actions as equal partners.

   to identifying with the poor and the oppressed, and their organized movements.

   to mutual accountability and power.

In adopting a new value system, we need to follow two important guidelines. Decisive are the questions: whom are we listening to? Whose interest do we present? In the case of the Narmada Valley project, are we listening to planners, bureaucrats and technicians or to those poor tribals who are displaced? In the fishermen’s struggle, are we carried away by financial wizards who tell us about the importance of the export market and of competing with other countries?

Secondly, one of the basic elements in value formation is the use of power. In Jesus we see that the power values are transformed into bonding values.

The New Testament clearly shows that Jesus was confronted with two views of power opposed to each other: self-aggrandising power and enabling power.

The former is the power that dominates, manipulates and exploits. This is the power of the autocrats; it can also be the power of the ardent crusader for the Gospel; it is the power of the profit-conscious industrialist and it can be the power of a party boss who strategises against the opposition; it can be the power of an authoritarian bishop or clergy. Some use it blatantly, others subtly. Some use it for ends which are evil, others use it to achieve supposedly noble objectives. The latter is the power that serves, cares for others and builds up people. Its strategy is an end in itself.

The temptations of Jesus, his constant struggle with the disciples, the Last Supper, the washing of the feet -- all these vividly show his own conscious rejection of the power that manipulates and his willing acceptance of the power that serves, the power that strengthens our bonds. The bonding values are integral to the ecological view of reality.

Thirdly values are expressed in life-styles, practices, and structures. While we cannot agree upon a uniform life-style, a conscious and judicious rejection of extravagant and wasteful use of natural resources should be priority and possibility for all. We need to put a limit to our needs. A slavish acceptance of all that the consumerist economy produces and what the market dictates would be contrary to ecologically responsible living.

In this connection, it is important to raise the question of the responsible use of the Church’s own resources like property and investments. Property development is an easy option to most of the urban churches. Here, we do not seem to follow any guidelines that express our responsibility to ecologically sound development. By this I do not mean the aesthetics of the building -- although in this area too we could do better! By commercially developing our church property, are we not endorsing the logic and value system that governs much of commercialisation which is ecologically harmful?

A few years ago, at St. Mark’s Cathedral, Bangalore we addressed this issue. Situated as it is in the heart of the city, many commercial developers had an eye on this precious piece of land that belonged to the church. A lot of pressure was brought to bear upon the pastorate committee. Naturally, we decided to turn to architects and developers for advice. But, at that juncture a colleague of mine suggested that we discuss the “theology of the building” as well. His suggestion was received with derisive laughter by company executives and business magnates of the congregation. Nevertheless, he made his point. “What is our Christian witness when we enter into such an activity?” he asked. “By the activity, he persisted, “can we raise any questions about the exploitative mechanism that underlines commercialisation?” The ecological dimension was not explicitly represented in the discussion. Perhaps today we should add that too when we discuss our plans for the “development” of church properties. The eviction of the poor for the sake of development even from church properties is common. What is most surprising is that, in matters like this, we seem to be uncritically accepting the logic of profit-oriented developmentalism.

A Concern of All Religious

Ecological concerns should be taken up as a common cause of people of all faiths. To protect our common home, we must mobilise the spiritual resources of all religions. United Nations Environment Programme has called all religions to celebrate together the “Environment Sabbath/Earth Rest Day” They have provided resources for worship drawn from Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Judaism, Sikhism and Islam. It begins with declarations -- appropriately described as “The Assisi Declaration” drawn up by representatives of different religions. They together affirm that “the religious concern for the conservation and ecological harmony of the natural world is our common heritage, our birthright and our duty.”

Listen to some of the excerpts from the prayers:
Supreme Lord, let there be peace in the sky and
in the atmosphere, peace in plant world and in the
forests; let cosmic powers be peaceful:
Let Brahma be peaceful; let there be undiluted
and fulfilling peace everywhere.
-Atharvaveda

 

May every creature abound in well-being and peace
May every living being, weak or strong, the long and the small
The short and the medium - sized, the mean and the great
May ever living being, seen or unseen, those dwelling far
off,
Those near by, those already born, those waiting to be born May all attain inward peace.
-Buddhist Prayer

 

O God! The creator of everything!
You have said that water is the source of life!
When we have needs, you are the Giver
When we are sick, you give us health
When we have no food, you provide us with your bounty
-Moslem Prayer

 

Be praised, my Lord, for brother wind
And for the air, cloudy and clear, and all weather!
By which you give substance to your creatures!
be praised, my Lord, for our sister mother Earth,
who sustains and governs us,
and produces fruits with colourful
flowers and leaves.
-St. Francis of Assisi

 

All these worship resources can be shared among people of different faiths. They can unite on Environment Day in praying for the earth.

Worship is not the only possible common action by different religions. They can unite in measures that prevent ecological degradation -- such as deforestation, pollution of lakes and rivers, and so on. Every congregation may be challenged to undertake a specific programme on environmental protection in cooperation with people of other faiths in the area.

Notes:

1. Daniel Chetti (ed.), Ecology and Development, (Madras: BTE/SSC and Gurukul, 1991), p. 96.

2. Jurgen Moltmann, The future of Creation, (Philadelphia Fortress Press, 1979), p. 128

3. Sally Mcfague, Models of God, (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1979), p. 13.

4. Ibid., pp. 8-9.

5. Matthew Fox; “Creation Spirituality” in Creation, Vol.2, No.2, 1986.

6. Aloysius Pieris, Asia Theology of Liberation, (New York: Orbis, 1988), p. 75.

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