A new Earth Day theology

On the 42nd Earth Day, April 22, 2012, it’s time for a change. No more flowers and beach balls that look like the earth. In Christian theological terms, it is time for righteous anger and judgment on the way in which the continued willful destruction of the planet’s ecosystem is causing widespread suffering and loss.

Flying semi-trucks and 4 feet of hail should now be our visuals for Earth Day.

The first Earth Day in 1970 is credited as launching the environmental movement and the idea of global warming. In 2012, the planet is in terrible trouble, and so is the environmental movement.

Global warming projections from thirty years ago have proved to have been remarkably accurate. Yet, there has been a steady decline in the number of Americans who say they see solid evidence of global warming.

A famous climate scientist like James Hansen, the lead author of the 1981 report, now feels he needs to get arrested in order to draw attention to what is happening to the planet and our legislative inaction about it. As much as that is an admirable, personal witness by a scientist, his reliance on charts and projections alone is not enough to counter the disinformation campaigns by so called “climate deniers.”Nor is the continued use of the term global warming.

“Global warming” is far too benign a term for the kind of violent and erratic climate change events that are now becoming commonplace in the U.S. as well as around the world. Global warming doesn’t sound like a condition that will result in the destruction of livelihood, home, perhaps even family or life. But these are effects of what is now happening to our planet.

“Global weirding” is a term coined by Hunter Lovins, cofounder of the Colorado-based Rocky Mountain institute. This is a much better description for the kinds of erratic and increasingly violent climate effects we are now experiencing. As I have argued in my book, “Dreaming of Eden: American Religion and Politics in a Wired World,” our climate is now “where the weird things are.”

Weird names the scary. And you should be scared. Weird names the disorderly, even violent climate events that are increasingly erratic and dangerous. You should be afraid. Everyone should be afraid of flying semi-trucks.

“Mother Earth is annoyed with you” is another way of talking about global weirding; the upheavals in earth’s temperatures are felt in these climate catastrophes and increasingly dangerous conditions around the world, from drought to flooding to more frequent and violent tornado and hail events. “Mother Earth” as a common cultural expression is supposed to mean the way in which the biosphere is the giver and sustainer of life. But, calling the earth by a female metaphor reveals how much the earth is subject to actions and policies that exploit rather than protect. There’s a kind of ‘war on women’ that applies to the planet too.

Judgment on injustice toward the planet, and seeing this injustice specifically as sinful, is the theological message we need today.Evangelical Christians emphasize “creation care” based on “stewardship” (Gen. 1:26), but this is frankly inadequate for a global weirding theology today.

Instead, we need to look at how the Bible actually talks about how climate catastrophes should be seen as God’s judgment. According to the prophet Isaiah, God says, “By a mere rebuke I dry up the sea, I turn rivers into a desert; their fish rot for lack of water and die of thirst.” (Isaiah 50:2b)

But lest that make us passive about global weirding (oh, it’s ‘God’s doing, not human actions!’), the judgment of God is upon humanity precisely FOR trashing the planet. And God is angry about it.

Even more to the point, Isaiah contains a passage where God is seen as a woman groaning in childbirth, and like a woman in childbirth God cries out in pain. This is itself a biblical image of God’s judgment on injustice.

“But now, like a woman in childbirth, I cry out, I gasp and pant. I will lay waste the mountains and hills and dry up all their vegetation; I will turn rivers into islands, and dry up the pools.” (Isaiah 42:14b-15)

God imaged as a woman who is in pain from giving birth, and angry at human sin. This is a shocking biblical passage, today as in Isaiah’s time, according to Hanne Løland. I’ve given birth three times, and let me tell you, the pain and the anger are both part of it.

The angry, birth-giving God, judging human sin against the planet is the theological reflection we Christian theologians need to provide for Earth Day 2012, and from now on. Our message to the whole society must be strong and direct so that people can grasp the extent to which climate catastrophe is already starting, and we must act.

God is judging our sin against the planet, and She is very, very angry about it.



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