Critical Approaches to Faith and Environment

The 9 a.m. session on Tuesday, May 24, of the Sacred Texts Human Contexts conference, titled “Critical Approaches to Faith and Environment I,” included presentations by John Fadden, adjunct professor at St. John Fisher College, and Shalahudin Kafrawi, professor at Hobart and William Smith College.

In “The Apocalypse of John: Friend and/or Foe of the Environment?” Fadden gave an analysis of the book of Revelation. As a Biblical scholar, he said that we have to be careful about using a two thousand year old text to discuss contemporary issues. John of Patmos, the author of Revelation, was writing for a first century C.E. audience in the Roman Empire; he was not writing for a twenty-first century audience, and did not specifically address global climate change or other ecological concerns.

“He’s also not really concerned with the end of the world in the way we have perhaps come to associate with the apocalypse,” said Fadden, “especially what we have come to call dispensationalism,” a contemporary interpretive framework that inspired the Left Behind series of books. “That’s not really his interest,” said Fadden, and “as Biblical scholars, we have to be sympathetic to the first century audience.”

However, the intended audience of the Bible is often forgotten. For example, in 2005, during George W. Bush’s presidency, some observers believed that Bush was influenced by an apocalyptic attitude, and those observers believed this attitude had an impact on Bush’s environmental policies. Some of these observers went to far as to wish that Revelation had not been included in the Bible. But Fadden says you can’t really blame a first century text for George W. Bush’s environmental policies. “The problem is not the text so much as how you might interpret it,” he said.

Thus Fadden is interested in seeing if there is an alternative, “eco-friendly way of reading the text.”

Continue reading “Critical Approaches to Faith and Environment”

Join the elite

Those of us who are religious progressives continue to try to understand conservative Christianity in the United States, and more specifically to understand how a religious option that asserts the leadership of Jesus of Nazareth also seems to advocate for consumerism, individualism, and intolerance.

I’ve spent some time learning about the theology of the prosperity gospel, so I feel that I have some sense of how conservative Christians can support consumerism and individualism — and honestly, conservative Christians aren’t very different from many religious moderates and progressives in the U.S. If you live in the U.S., it’s hard not to see consumer capitalism and individualism as normative.

But I have had a harder time understanding premillennial dispensationalism. That’s the theological position that there will be a Rapture, at which time a select few persons will be raptured away by Jesus Christ to be the Bride of Christ. The best known pop culture representations of remillennial dispensationalism is probably the “Left Behind” series of books and movies; a reboot of the movie series just came out, starring Nicholas Cage. And most of us religious progressives stop with the pop culture representations of premillennial dispeansationalism. But a closer look at premillennial dispensationalism is worth our time.

On recent post at the Sojourners Web site, Dr. LeAnn Snow Flesher points out that premillennial dispensationalism is “an elitist theology”: a few people get raptured, the rest of us don’t because the rest of us are disposable. This helps explain why premillennial dispensationalism is compatible with the prosperity gospel, that is, with theologies of economics that privilege the few at the expense of the many.

Flesher goes on to point out how premillennial dispensationalism is compatible with intolerance:

“The entire doctrinal belief system necessitates a separatist perspective and lifestyle, an emphasis on individual salvation, and adherence to a homogeneous set of doctrinal beliefs. It does not in any way foster tolerance for an interracial, intercultural, and interfaith context, and certainly has no tolerance for many of the social issues we struggle with in our nation and world today.”

It’s worth reading Flesher’s complete post here.

Link to Flesher’s post from @anglobaptist.