The Paradise of God: Renewing Religion in an Ecological Age

The Paradise of God: Renewing Religion in an Ecological Age

The Paradise of God: Renewing Religion in an Ecological Age

The Paradise of God: Renewing Religion in an Ecological Age

Synopsis

"And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth." (Gen. 1:26) It has become a commonplace that Biblical religion bears a heavy share of responsibility for our destruction of the environment, and this passage from the King James version of the Bible exemplifies what is generally believed to be the Biblical attitude toward the earth. In this provocative book, however, Norman Wirzba argues that the doctrine of creation, when understood as a statement about the moral and spiritual meaning of the world, actually holds the key to a true understanding of our place in the environment and our responsibility toward it. Wirzba contends that an adequate response to environmental destruction depends on a new formulation of ourselves as part of a created whole, rather than as autonomous, unencumbered individuals. Drawing on the work of biblical scholars, ecologists, agrarians, philosophers, theologians, and cultural critics, Wirzba develops a comprehensive worldview that grows out of the idea that the world is God's creation. While the text of Genesis has historically encouraged a vision of persons as masters of creation, a more theologically and ecologically sensitive rendering, he says, would be to say that we are servants of creation. Our present culture, Wirzba believes, results from a denial of creation that has caused modern problems as diverse as rootlessness, individualism, careerism, boredom, and consumerism. The recovery of the meaning of creation can lead to a renewed sense of human identity and vocation, and happier, more peaceful lives. He concludes by offering practical advice for individuals who wish to begin the work of transformation and renewal. Moving beyond the usual political debates, The Paradise of God presents a compelling vision of a new religious environmentalism.

Excerpt

The destruction of many of the earth's habitats, whether we think it has reached crisis proportions or not, and the rampant injustice and violence that characterize many of our social relationships, suggest that we have not yet attained peaceful relations with each other and with the earth. Rates of soil erosion, water and air pollution, global warming, garbage production, species extinction, suburban sprawl, ozone depletion, deforestation, desertification, as well as class envy, worker anxiety, stress, depression, and boredom—all indicate a narrowing of our ability to appreciate the broad natural and social contexts that are necessary for a successful and healthy life. If we take seriously our identities as spiritual and biological beings, then it becomes apparent that long-term cultural health requires the preservation and promotion of those social and natural conditions that are constitutive of successful living. To despise these conditions is to despise ourselves. in our destructive haste to “get somewhere” and to “make something” of ourselves, we condemn our children and the whole creation to want. Indeed, the profligate character of our lives suggests that we do not believe our children have a future that matters.

In the past we could readily abandon the places we wasted and find new territory to occupy. Creation's fund, we might say, seemed inexhaustible and infinitely forgiving of our careless lives. But no longer. Though creation's gifts are enormous, they are not infinite. and so we are sensing for the first time in history that a revision of our most basic presuppositions—about human identity, vocation, and cultural progress—is in order. If in former times we could as-

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