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Gaia and God: An Ecofeminist Theology of Earth Healing.

I read these books during Advent while Christmas carols played softly in the background. The music soon became the metaphor through which I read. "Do you see what I see? . . . Do you hear what I hear?. . . Do you know what I know?" The mighty wind, the lamb and the shepherd boy invite us to share in their insights and their wisdom. Then the tone of the music changes. The mighty king pronounces, "Listen to me, people everywhere: A child, a child sleeping in the night. Pray for peace, people everywhere."

But the shepherd had announced a child shivering in the night. The king's call for the people everywhere to pray for peace made me realize that seeing and hearing a sleeping child and a shivering child demand different responses.

Gaia and God by Rosemary Radford Ruether and But She Said by Elisabeth SchAssler Fiorenza are the works of the mighty wind, the lamb and the shepherd.

They are written from the perspective of shivering children, women, men and the earth itself. They call for more than prayer. Ruether and Fiorenza see and hear something that most of us do not. They see the shivering child in oppressed peoples and in a troubled earth. They call us to take suffering and domination seriously. They expect that we do more than pray.

Not that Fiorenza and Ruether see or hear the same thing. Their works are as distinct from each other as they themselves are. Fiorenza challenges us to destroy the dominant models of biblical interpretation that have held some people in subordination and to construct models that foster emancipatory faith communities. Ruether calls for a turning away from the "toxic waste of sacrilized domination" to a new symbolic culture and spirituality that will enable healed relations with each other and with the earth.

Gaia and God

The title juxtaposes Gaia, the personification of the living earth, and God, as understood in the Western religious traditions. It does not suggest that the feminine Gaia replace masculine God as the object of our worship but that Gaia and God meet in a "coincidence of opposites."

Ruether, in an imaginative way, uses subatomic physics to help bring about this coincidence. She catalogs how theology has contributed to the "four horsemen of destruction": population explosion at the expense of plants and animals; pollution of air, water and soil; the sufferings of the poor; and global militarism.

But she also describes how theology may hold a key to the solution of many problems of modern society.

She organizes her material under the classic Christian categories of creation, sin, judgment and redemption. From ancient creation stories to today's ecological crisis, the author presents familiar stories and myths and then suggests the underbelly, the negative fallout that has accompanied them.

For instance, the biblical story of creation holds humans responsible for the evils in the world, both moral and natural. Yet, it sets humans over all other creatures. The rest of creation is condemned to destruction, domination and death as a result of human sin; at the same time, the rest of creation is being destroyed, dominated and doomed by humanity.

Creation stories from science also have both positive and negative consequences. The theories of evolution and the Big Bang gave us the survival of the fittest, might makes right and the primacy of competition over cooperation. They also teach the interconnectedness of all creation. All of nature, including human beings, are related, made of the same stuff and depend on one another for survival.

Beginning with the tales of world destruction from the ancient Near East and progressing to today's problems of overpopulation, militarism, extinction of species and pollution, Ruether portrays an image of a God who is unrelated to the earth, to the body and to mortality, a totally transcendent God.

An unrelational God gives rise to a people who declare themselves to be "God's people." They interpret their own suffering as a punishment from this unrelational God and call down vengeance and retribution on their enemies in the name of God. Apocalyptic patterns of "us against them" project evil on the other and dry up compassion and mercy.

Drawing on her extensive knowledge of classical literature, Christian tradition and the recent contributions of scientists, especially ecologists, Ruether moves toward an ecofeminist interpretation of the Christian message that sets the healing of the earth within the traditions of covenant and sacramentality.

But She Said

Feminist scholars have proposed that scripture has been interpreted down the ages through the paradigm of androcentrism and patriarchy. They even have suggested that the scriptures themselves are tainted by the prejudices and ideologies of androcentrism and patriarchy.

But Fiorenza goes further and insists that the rhetorical practices of the evangelists shaped and formed biblical stories to foster particular beliefs and practices in the communities for which they were writing. Scholars through the centuries have followed suit.

A critical feminist interpretation attends not only to the domination of women but to the interlocking system of racism, classicism, colonialism and sexism. Kyriology, the rule of the Lord, rather than simply patriarchy, the rule of the father, is rooted in scripture as well as in interpretations through the ages.

After reviewing several strategies of feminist biblical interpretation, she integrates them into a "rhetorical model of a critical feminist interpretive process for transformation."

Fiorenza advises that women read the Bible "against the grain" to unearth the rhetorical practice of the authors. A rhetorical model of interpretation looks behind the words to discover the author's aim in writing, the persuasive strategies used and the point of view represented. It seeks to discover how and why the author constructed the story in a certain way and to uncover the values that were being proposed. It asks what symbolic worlds and moral universes the author was attempting to produce. Finally it seeks an answer to the question, What does the Bible do to a person who submits to the author's worldview?

Fiorenza provides instances of what might happen if we were to become conscious of the biblical writer's rhetorical strategies. She presents Martha, Mary, the Syro-Phoenician woman and the women bent double as examples of women used by the evangelists to make a point or to prescribe some behavior for early Christians. But the women get lost in the process.

Fiorenza shares the work of one of her students who used the methods of historical exegesis and creative imagination to restore the voice of Herodias, the silent woman who bears the blame for the beheading of John the Baptist. As presented in scripture, Herod orders the beheading because he has been forced into it by Herodias.

Josephus, in recording the same event, does not mention the banquet but notes that Herod wanted to get rid of John because he feared an uprising. The evangelist presents John the innocent, Herod the slightly tarnished and the guilty Herodias, the evil, manipulating woman.

Rhetorical analysis searches for the biblical author's objective in the telling of the story. Fiorenza's concern throughout this work is to include those who have been excluded in the past. She listens to black, Asian and Latin American feminist scholars as well as to the "resident aliens," women students and professors in departments of theology and divinity schools.

I would suggest that any woman involved in or considering involvement in theological studies ponder well the chapter dedicated to Prisca, the teacher of wisdom. Fiorenza describes a situation I recognize from many conversations with "resident aliens."

Broadening feminist concerns

Feminist theologians, like feminist scholars in other fields, have tended to concentrate either on the oppression of women or on contributions of women that have been overlooked or misunderstood. Until most recently, "women" meant white European or American women. Third World feminists have begun to speak from social contexts that challenge such a narrow perspective.

Each book focuses through a feminist lens, not directly on women but on broader issues from the perspective of women. It is a natural development in recent feminist theology. Neither Fiorenza nor Ruether calls for a rejection or a repudiation of the Christian tradition. Rather, their efforts to put that tradition in conversation with the wisdom and the folly of the 20th century enriches the tradition and challenges us to live in a more Christian way: seeing the star, hearing the song and knowing the Child.
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Author:Coll, Regina
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Feb 5, 1993
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