Major Book Reviews -- Gaia and God: A Ecofeminist Theology of Earth Healing by Rosemary Radford Ruether

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GAIA AND GOD: AN ECOFEMINIST THEOLOGY OF EARTH HEALING, Rosemary Radford Ruether. HarperSanFransisco/HarperCollins Publishers, New York, 1992. 310 pp. $22.00. ISBN 0-06-067022-3.

Gaia and God is an admirably readable, wide-ranging account of world-views, claiming that the past has been too patriarchal and that the present needs a feminist corrective. Each of four sections--creation, destruction, domination and deceit, and healing--starts in past mythology, in religion, and ends in a contemporary descriptive account, typically with much science. Ruether's goal is prescriptive and therapeutic. There are three classical creation stories: Babylonian, Hebrew, and Greek, and there is the modern scientific story. There are biblical destructions: the Noah story, prophetic apocalyptic, and the Book of Revelation, somewhat oddly juxtaposed with the ecological crisis as religious "fantasy" versus ecological "reality" (p. 115).

Ruether gives a sociological account of the religious world-views: They are not really descriptions of nature or of impending world events but rather projections of social forces. They are "blueprints" (p. 33) for legitimating behavior; these myths are one social power structure establishing itself, or protesting, against another. Since the advent of science, changes in the scientific picture interlock with changes in the social blueprints. This explains the intensity of the struggle with Galileo, since the changed astronomical picture upset humans as the focus of God's attention and the church heirarchy as the mediator of that attention. This happens again with Darwin.

Ruether is principally interested in the social forces by which males dominate females. The Hebrew creation narrative puts human beings in dominion over the earth and women as helpers to men, though human beings are also ecological stewards. Western history unfolds this vision, forgetting the constraints, and resulting in our present crisis of exploitation without caring.

This rubric fits the scientific creation less well, however, because the stories of "the big bang" and that of evolutionary history describe events that occurred long before humans were on earth. It is hard to see what social forces they are being used to legitimate, though it is easy to see how they upset social blueprints. Even here, however, Ruether manages to find men at work; that is why the primeval event is termed "the big bang," rather than, more agreeably with a feminist perspective, "the cosmic egg." "The masculinist bias undoubtedly also operated here in the choice of a metaphor of destructive violence, rather than of gestation and birth" (p. 57). Well, maybe, but we really have little experience of eggs that hatch by flying apart from an infinite singularity at temperature of 10 sup -33 degrees, with a fantastically dense sea of hot quarks undergoing an instant inflation in the first 10 sup -43 seconds, expanding thereafter for twenty billion years. Likewise, men are at work in the Darwinian accounts; that is why the competition side of nature is overemphasized and the cooperation side is underemphasized. Men like destruction; women like interdependency (pp. 55-58).

In the section on domination and deceit, Ruether worries that men have named what is evil. "This false naming of evil as physical and social otherness, and the efforts of dominant males to secure themselves against evil by separating themselves from this otherness, creates ideologies that justify the doing of evil to others as a means of overcoming evil." Our accounts of evil "have been constructed from the vantage point of dominant males in a way that has functioned to justify their violent power over women, other subjugated people, and the earth" (p. 116). The idea seems to be that men incorrectly connected sin with "finitude," whereas sin is "the misuse of freedom to exploit other humans and the earth" (p. 141), a temptation against which men, misperceiving sin, were inadequately protected. …