Q You have written that those “who engage seriously with
religion and the ecological crisis soon realize that the Christian
tradition has not been able to deal effectively with evolution.” How so?
Christianity split from science in the 15th century, and in some
respects it became very belief-oriented. Now, evolution is the dominant
understanding of the process of the natural world. We have an
evolutionary history that links us to the biosphere and complex forms of
life. We are a process of evolution ourselves. We’re kin with other
Some Christian traditions would say we are not animals.
That is just not true. Most of our theologies are about the human.
Christians pay very little attention to the fact that dinosaurs reigned
for 350 million years and we’ve been around for maybe two million. We
think we are the top of the food chain. But that is incorrect from an
evolutionary point of view. So if our theology is dependent on the idea
that we are completely different from the rest of the natural world,
there is no conversation with science and evolution. Christian theology
wants to put us in the role of master and commander. That is a
theological error. It’s really idolatry.
Q You are critical of the idea of “stewardship,” a word we use a lot in the church.
Stewardship helps us be responsible. It helps us be better caretakers,
but it keeps the human-supremacy idea in place. I think a deep ecology
or cosmological ethic that takes evolution seriously is better. It
teaches us that God is present in all life. It’s not that God is present
in us, and therefore we should care for Creation, or that it’s been
given to us to care for; it’s that Creation is a creation of God. All of
it. Including us. So stewardship helps us with responsibility but not
with world view.
Q What’s wrong with how Christians have understood the world?
Well, there are a few problematic things. One of them is
fall/redemption theology. If we continue to believe that life on Earth
is what [16th-century mystic] Teresa of Avila calls “a long stay in a
bad hotel” and that our ultimate meaning, purpose and destination are
elsewhere, then I think we will not be attentive to the ecological
crisis, because at the end of the day it doesn’t matter. There is
something very worrisome in fall/redemption theologies that say we are
redeemed from the planet.
Q Is dualistic thinking also part of the problem?
Christianity has absorbed whole sets of dualisms. One of the dualisms
is matter and spirit. But they are interconnected to others: heaven and
earth, good and bad, men and women, mind and body, emotion and thought,
humans and nature, nature and culture. There’s a whole set of
hierarchical dualisms, but they all function together to say that the
spiritual realm is superior to the physical realm. This theology got
coupled with the science, which said that nature is void of spirit. As a
result, Christianity separated itself very dramatically from the
natural world. The matter/spirit divide makes no sense to me. It would
make no sense to a scientist either. It would make no sense to many
theologians who work in ecology, because you can’t distinguish what is
matter and what is spirit unless you have all these other dualisms in
place that say humans are superior to nature.
Q You once described yourself as “ecologically illiterate.” What changed when you became more scientifically aware?
I was writing something on the politics of water that led me to
question how water actually works. I was dazzled by the science. You
know the phrase, “How does an acorn turn into a tree?” Well, seriously,
how does an acorn turn into a tree? I had no idea. I wondered how I
could be so trained in ecology and have missed what we call “ecological
literacy.” This disconnect became so stark. The more I learned about
science, the more wonder and awe I had, and the more religiously awake I
Q You self-identify as an eco-feminist theologian. What is the relationship between ecology and feminism?
The natural world has been seen as feminine. Women have been seen as
being more natural. Both have been oppressed together.That’s one
The second is that patriarchy is the
social, political, economic structure in most parts of the world, if not
all. So women are the first victims of ecological ruin in any part of
the impoverished world. When women are held so closely to the domestic
sphere in a patriarchal society, when they are responsible for food,
fuel and fodder, the immediate impact of ecological ruin on them is
greater. For example, when there are water shortages, women have to walk
many kilometres for water. Ecological issues are going to impact
everyone, but they affect women in a particular way. Also, the
environmental movement is carried by women. The leadership is often
carried by men, but the workers are often women.
Washington-based Center for Global Development recently rated Canada
last of 27 wealthy countries in the area of environmental protection.
The Fifth Estate just reported that the federal government has dismissed
over 2,000 environmental scientists. Is there a cover-up going on?
I don’t know if there is a cover-up going on, but there is certainly a
lack of interest. Our government has aligned itself with economics.
Canada’s economy is based on ecological extraction. We use the natural
world for economic purposes. But they are shutting down anyone who is
monitoring the ecological costs of their economic program.
don’t think it’s a wilful cover-up, but it’s a world view that’s based
only on economics and is totally short term. I do think they are aware
that if you keep the scientists and give them a public voice, the public
will know about the level of ecological ruin.
Q You now work in conflict studies. How does ecology relate to conflict?
Ecological ruin and violence are becoming connected. For example, China
is very aware that there are going to be serious food shortages, so it
is doing land grabs all over Africa, Russia, Ukraine — even Quebec. Some
countries are trying to buy icebergs. Companies are trying to buy the
genetic formula for food. There are governments that are acutely aware
of ecological ruin. The United States has a huge think-tank on
environmental security, but its answer is to protect resources and
militarize. The security forces around water and food are growing. The
militarization is carried by private security firms. We have to get
serious about training for non-violence, for ecological reasons, among
Q What impact has your research had on your lifestyle?
I’m feeling more guilty. I feel guilty when I get in a car, even though
I have to. It’s just this omnipresent guilt, in spite of the fact that
our family lives very simply. But as soon as I say that, I think of
people I know who live in intense poverty, so they live even more
Some of my colleagues have refused to travel. I have
not. I can feel that coming. I’ve done this work for 25 years. It’s very
easy to find despair. I did despair for 10 years. There’s lots of data
to make you despair, but I think that’s not a valid road.
Q It’s unsettling.
Always. [The early Christian theologian] Augustine has this beautiful
explanation of hope. Hope is not some kind of utopic, optimistic vision.
Augustine says hope is a mixture of anger and courage. Anger at the way
things are, and courage to see that they don’t remain the way they are.
I really like that. It’s my antidote to despair. It’s not that the data
has changed; it’s that I have to change in the face of that.
This interview has been condensed and edited.
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