Why are questions feared?

By  Simon Appolloni, Catholic Register Special
  • February 15, 2006
I was very concerned to read Dorothy Cummings’ critique on Heather Eaton’s book, Introducing Ecofeminist Theologies, published in your Dec. 11 issue. Not only did Cummings gravely err in her assessment of this important book about ecofeminism but she disparages a fine writer and a crucial new focus in theology.
My fear is that the almost puerile manner in which Cummings approached the complex and vital issues raised in the book will only serve to thwart dialogue with ecofeminists on some extremely important issues and beliefs, the likes of which are contributing to the ongoing violence toward women and the Earth.

In attacking those who ask the tough questions that challenge age-old assumptions and worldviews, we foster a culture of repression within our own church, which is helpful to no one at this crucial time.

Allow me to clarify briefly.

We cannot begin to properly dialogue with ecofeminists without acknowledging the patterns of domination and oppression evident in our own culture and tradition. Unfortunately, Cummings failed to mention how our human dominance is causing an ecological crisis that threatens the existence of the entire planet. That Christianity remains complicit in the crisis, relatively complacent and otherwise preoccupied in shuffling deck chairs on a sinking Titanic is an accurate analysis.

It is unfair to say ecofeminist theology lacks in its understanding of Christianity. For one, as Eaton explains, Christianity is many things. As for ecofeminist theology, it is multilayered and complex, with Eaton likening it to a “roundabout�? of divergent and multifaceted ideas and methodologies, all of which share a desire to heal the wounds caused by a world enthralled by the domination of women and Earth.

Cummings mentions that she does not know a single Catholic or Anglican who doesn’t take evolution seriously. But when you think of it, we do have difficulties with evolution when it is taken to its fullest meaning. To truly embrace evolution from a Christian point of view implies that the divine is active, present and moving through life and history and that we are, therefore, not bound by the past, and that includes ideas, worldviews and dogmas.

Eaton is not overstating her case when one considers that Catholics were not officially free to recognize Darwin’s Theory of Evolution, published in 1859, until 1996. Our worldviews scarcely evolve.

Despite Cummings accusations, ecofeminists are not Catholic-bashing but rather demonstrating that our previous theological language and categories cannot accommodate our new experiences and help us deal with our mammoth ecological crisis. Fundamental changes are necessary such as the rethinking of the heightened position we offer to the human.

Take the notion of stewardship as one example, a common Christian response to complex environmental problems. If analysed fully, stewardship implies that humans know best, that somehow, while the Earth got by very well for the first four billion years of its existence, humans are now needed to manage it. To pass over stewardship uncritically, as ecofeminists are trying to warn us, implies that God was bored and unconcerned with His creation for almost 13 billion years before deciding humans are what will matter most.

Questions like these aren’t the ramblings of angry feminists, as Cummings implies, but the thought-out questions of many Christians who are finding no ready answers in their own tradition.

My question to Cummings is this: why do we fear the questions? Eaton’s book on ecofeminism is essentially a book of questions that have been asked in light of real and quite often painful experiences.

(Appolloni is a member of the Elliot Allen Institute for Ecology and Theology in Toronto.)

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