Sunday, May 6, 2012

The Bible and the Environment

I have been thinking about developing a course to complement, in some ways, my Sexuality and Christianity course, in which I bring in feminist and queer biblical criticism.  I thought one important critical hermeneutic which I am less familiar with and most interested in is ecological.  Since I have been largely ignorant of it, I asked a friend for some book ideas. 

The first I have read is The Bible and the Environment by David G. Horrell.  It is a nice slim volume that provides a good primer for who is out there debating the Bible's role, positively and negatively, on shaping people's perspectives when it comes to environmental policies and more private choices and interests, what reading strategies (hermeneutics) are used on the different sides, and what biblical passages are the primary ones typically used to oppose or promote environmental policies and actions.

Interestingly, ecological criticism has had a fairly similar trajectory as feminist biblical criticism.  Firstly, there have been claims for each that the Bible has been the primary obstacle either to women's equality (see Matilda Gage's "Woman, Church, and State") or for shaping the Western Christian perspective that seeks to dominate and exploit nature (Lynn White, Jr., "Historical Roots of our Ecologic Crisis").  For both, the creation stories have been primarily at issue (creation of the sexes and Adam and Eve story for feminist readings; the "dominion" issue for ecology).  Eschatology has played perhaps a stronger role for resisting environmental policies than for resisting gender equality.  There has been a response to recover positive images and passages for women or for earth interrelationships, or re-read passages showing that those that seem to be harmful do not have to be read as so.  Another response has been to expose, resist, and then reject problematic passages of women (Trible's Texts of Terror comes to mind) or that do not appear to be eco-friendly.  One of the major exposures for feminist biblical criticism has been the thoroughly androcentric bias of the Bible; for ecological biblical criticism, the anthropocentric bias (although there have been "recovered" passages that decenter humanity within creation; e.g., the end of Job, or the passages where all of the elements of creation praise God--not just humans).  And there has been a backlash that resists the feminist or ecological hermeneutic. 

Overall, I thought Horrell provided a balanced discussion of the potentials and limits of ecological readings of the Bible, introducing how the Bible has been used to form perspectives that have supported or opposed environmental programs, alongside his own ideas of how to develop a responsible ecological hermeneutic that takes the recoveries and resistances into account.  It would be useful to orient oneself or to assign to I'd say an undergraduate class--a class either directly on the Bible and the Environment, or a class on critical readings of the Bible, where one introduces students to the various types of biblical criticism.

I will be looking forward to my next ecologically oriented readings concerning the Bible. 

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