In a Sunday morning colloquium at the Religious Education Association 2014 conference, Miriam Martin of Saint Paul University in Ottawa spoke on the subject “Ecology, Christian Discipleship and the Role of RE.”
When considering environmental problems such as global climate change, Martin said, “We have to recognize that a situation of violence exists.” To unmake violence, she added, first we have to acknowledge “the situation of violence.”
“Violence against against nature is basically predicated on the fact that we have such a deep separation from it and a false sense of disconnect,” Martin said. Just as we justify human violence against other humans by demonizing the “other,” so too human violence against other beings is justified by thinking of other organisms as the “other.”
Therefore, Martin said, we humans must look at ourselves and ask: Who do we say we are? Citing such thinkers as Sallie McFague (A New Climate for Theology, 2008), Elizabeth Johnson (Ask the Beasts, 2014), and Francois Euve (“Humanity Reveals the World,” in Ilia Delio, ed., From Teilhard to Omega, 2014), Martin called for a new theological anthropology.
In thinking about a theological anthropology, Martin reflected on the uniqueness of humankind. The unique ability of human beings to reflect on the whole emergence of the universe story comes with a great responsibility. “Humans are the uniquely responsible animals,” she said.
She came at the issue of responsibility from another angle, turning to recent work by religious Gabriel Moran, who asks: Are humans superior? Moran asserts that we cannot understand differences at higher or lower levels. Moran says there is one place where humans are superior, and that is “we are uniquely responsible.”
In terms of specifically Christian religious education, Martin referred to Sallie McFague, who says we cannot continue to “live in a way that consumes the world’s resources and undermines its most basic systems.” Thus, said Martin, there is not a separation between the damage being done to the poor, and the damage being done to the environment.
So what do we need to do? Martin said that Elizabeth Johnsons’ recent work offers a solution: “[Theology] needs to reclaim the natural world as an essential element both theologically and in practice.” Then, Martin said, we must bring these rigorous theological conversations into wider interdisciplinary dialogue. Finally, as theology reclaims the natural world, this can be brought out through ritual and through the arts. As a partial demonstration of this, Martin closed her presentation by singing one of her songs on the relationship between humankind and the natural world.