Toward a More Just Land: Ecojustice Hermeneutics
Toward a More Just Land: A Brief Look at Ecojustice Hermeneutics
|Snapshot of a Recent Cohort Visit to St. Paul's Garden in Memphis, Tennessee|
In my coursework for the Doctor of Ministry in Land, Food and Faith Formation, I've been looking at the interrelatedness of food justice and land misuse. I am convinced that the two are directly related and have substantial consequences on the livelihood of our communities locally and globally. I want to raise a few biblical views, that is, a hermeneutical look through the lens of ecojustice and how we can begin to frame our relationship with creation in a more life-giving way. After all, we are part of God's creation. And so is the land.
Against the backdrop of developing a critical ecojustice hermeneutic, the creation story in Genesis 1 provides fertile ground for the debates of how the biblical passage informs and impacts human attitudes toward the environment. In the praxis of critical theological reflection, what does it look like if we consider, as some scholars suggest, that centering the theological framework around the language of dominion and subduing as being inherently subjugating in its interpretation, rather than the pastoral caring role of tending to and stewarding the land, is one of the causes of misuse and injustice. In Ecological Hermeneutics: Biblical , Historical and Theological Perspectives, the author points to an article published in 1967 by professor Lynn White that suggests there is an implicit bias in the way the creation narratives are read and understood, to the point that its misinterpretation of humans having agency over the land and animals in an anthropocentric sense, is the cause of the ecological crisis that the world is facing. Anthropocentrism is the sense of regarding humans as the central or most important element of existence, especially as opposed to God or animals. This viewpoint leads to the belief that God created the universe for the exclusive benefit of humanity.
To counter this interpretation, the author points to German Hebrew scholar Norbert Lohfink, who focuses on Genesis 1:28, and the argument of whether the passage, “Be fruitful and multiply and have dominion over every living thing that moves upon the earth,” was meant to be a perpetual command or one that was fulfilled in Exodus 1:17, is at the center of the problematic concept of anthropocentrism within the framework of ecotheology. To be sure, the Hebrew words “kabash” and “radah” in Genesis 1:28 are interpreted as subdue and have dominion. What if the basic sense of kabash is really to put the foot on something as in claiming ownership? If that is true, then the sense of subduing the earth gives a false impression because it is meant to suggest having tender and sympathetic rule in the way that a shepherd leads, and commands care for what has been entrusted to the shepherd. The author also argues that from the creation story, God’s intent was for there to be a peaceable existence between humans and non-human animals.
Finally, consider that there is a plausible cause of the current environment crisis as “the divergence of the human economic system accompanied by over-population and over-production, to the point that ecosystems are under threat because of the economic systems. Another German environmentalist, Ragnor Kinzlebach, posits that the strategy for addressing this problem is in what he calls the die ökologische Versöhnungsstrategie, a manner of reconciling the fractured relationship between the economic system and the ecosystem. This can be achieved through prioritizing the protection of land, animals, and nature; placing a restriction on the increasing population growth; and pushing for a recasting of our financial systems and imposing a penalty on those who are responsible for the degradation of the environment. I would argue that if we "recast" our financial system, and ensure that there is an even distribution of wealth for everyone, that could potentially eradicate poverty, end marginalization, and bring everyone into the fullness of who God created us all to be. I would also posit that if the persons who are charged with managing the systems and structures that regulate land, labor, and how the food leaves the farm and arrives at our tables, did it in a way that is consistent with a caring and compassionate God-ordained way, our health would be better, our healthcare costs would see a downward turn, and people would be thriving instead of just barely surviving. What are your thoughts?
David G. Horrell et al, Ecological Hermeneutics: Biblical, Historical and Theological Perspectives (New York: T & T Clark International, 2010), Kindle Edition, Location 477 of 5487