This piece of mine was published last week in the Sydney Morning Herald and the Sunday Age.

In her novel Unsheltered, Barbara Kingsolver depicts a young science teacher in the 1870’s. Thatcher Greenwood is ensnared in controversy about Darwin’s new theory of evolution. He is set up to fail as he tries to elaborate the tenets of scientific observation in a public debate with the local Creationists. Kingsolver narrates the scene before Greenwood at the Vineland Town Hall in New Jersey.

The view from his perch was harrowing: a crowd of human faces and no other species. How could anyone get a sensible bearing on life from the stage of an auditorium, or make any useful statements from that position?

How indeed, could anyone “get a sensible bearing on life” from a  hall full of humans? It is a good question which sharpens the awareness in current climate debates. Most of our education and decision making takes place with only one species present. 

Historically Christian theology has been guilty of a reading of the Genesis creation song that diminishes the Divine to a punitive finger-wagging autocrat. That the earth itself and all its creatures, plants and landscapes have been utterly taken for granted, arises from anthropocentrism. Narrow definitions of sin and personal salvation utterly bypass the gifts of creation and instead place “mankind” to rule over creation and “subdue” the earth. There are, thankfully, many theologians who take a deeper reading and speak eco-theologically.  But one practice which unwittingly distracts us, is our habit of gathering in built environments with little awareness of the more-than-human world. 

In Jesus’ day, he mostly met and taught people outside, on desert hillsides, in villages, or from a boat near the shore. Most journeys were taken on foot, in the outdoors – for all the hours of the day that it took to walk places. So, plenty of time to be in creation and to get a bearing on life that was not just about humans.

Thom van Dooren in his book Flight Ways examines the current period of cumulative extinctions. In a slow and largely unseen violence  the task to “hold open space in the world for other species” has been ignored. He quotes Rob Nixon who observes that the continued use and abuse of substances known to accumulate and kill other species, is so out of sight it’s not identified as violence at all. 

I wonder how we’d address the environmental crisis if opinions and values were shaped outside – aware of the damage to forests, rivers, oceans and the creatures that inhabit them. In our places of worship the prayers of confession need to  name the damage we have caused.  We’ve been averting our eyes and addressing the needs of only one species.

1 thought on “Faith: Environmental debate is dying on the inside”

  1. Love this Julie, thank you for this insightful piece ❤ I will take from this little steps to honour the importance of being outside and ‘open’ for us to truly see, breathe and ‘live’ in the environment and other species instead of slowly but surely ‘die’ from being inside and ‘closed’ off to it all…with my little family.

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