The Redemption of All Creation

March 28, 2018 at 2:20 pm | Posted in Catholicism, Climate Change, constructive theology, Environment | 2 Comments
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In her new book, ecofeminist theologian Elizabeth Johnson argues compellingly that Christ is the redeemer of all creation, not only of human beings. What could be more timely, as the commemoration of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection approaches?

Creation and the Cross: The Mercy of God for a Planet in Peril. By Elizabeth A. Johnson. 256 pages. Published by Orbis Books. $28.

In January, Scientific American shared some disturbing news: researchers had determined that between 1990 and 2015, concern about the environment and climate change had declined among U.S. Christians. * Since the study didn’t distinguish between denominations, and since Pope Francis’s environmental encyclical was published in 2015, you may find yourself hoping, as I did, that U.S. Catholics don’t share this declining concern.

Unfortunately, certain powerful theological paradigms going back well before the Reformation make such a distinction unlikely. In her splendid new book, Creation and the Cross, theologian Elizabeth Johnson takes on one of them:  the notion that salvation is an exclusively human matter, having nothing to do with the rest of creation. “What would it mean,” she asks, “to rediscover the biblical sense of the natural world groaning, hoping, waiting for liberation?”

Johnson traces this dualism between redemption and creation back to the work of the eleventh-century theologian, Anselm of Canterbury, and, in particular, to his “satisfaction theory” of salvation, as formulated in his book Cur Deus Homo (Why God Became Human). Anselm’s answer to the question, Johnson explains, is that Jesus had to become human and die on the cross to pay back what was due to God for human sin.  This theory, we learn, has played a pivotal role in Christian theology and practice ever since. But Anselm’s satisfaction theory is an interpretation of the cross, not its only possible meaning. And like all interpretations, it is shaped by the social context from which it emerged, in this case, feudalism, where local rulers required subjects to make satisfaction—to pay—for breaking the law.

In contrast, Johnson proposes an accompaniment theology of salvation, in which Jesus’ brutal death “enacts the solidarity of the gracious and merciful God” with all those who suffer, including the poor, species that undergo extinction, and all the rest of creation. She traces this redemption back to the Creator God of the Hebrew Bible, the Holy One of Israel who promises liberation to the Israelites in Egypt and later in Babylon. But this redemption is not some trade-off, as the satisfaction theory implies, but a redemption poured out by a God whose compassion for us is that of a mother for her child, a redemption that causes streams to flow in dry land and wilderness to bloom.

And it is this liberating and merciful God who sends Jesus, not to pay for our sins, but to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives, to let the oppressed go free. But Jesus’ proclamation of God’s kingdom constituted a serious challenge to the Romans who ruled Israel during his lifetime. The cheering crowds who greeted him, especially during his entry into Jerusalem, as well as his confrontation with the money changers in the Temple, constituted such a threat to the unjust power of empire that the rulers crucified Jesus in order to silence him. Yet instead of death silencing him, the resurrection made Jesus present to the disciples in an entirely new way, enabling them to take the liberating message of the compassionate God to the ends of the earth and to all of creation. And through the early church’s recorded memories of the crucified and risen Christ, this understanding of the cross as an expression of the compassion and mercy of God spread throughout the world.

The culmination of this accompaniment theology is something Johnson calls “deep incarnation.”  The creator God Jesus Christ is, she explains, the God of all flesh, with flesh not signifying only sin, as the dualism between spirit and matter suggests, but the finitude and death suffered by all creation, including God’s own son. But with the resurrection, this “flesh was called to life again in transformed glory.” And, as St. Paul writes, the hope promised to all in this transformation “has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven.”

Creation and the Cross concludes with a call to us all to a conversion, in our actions as well as our beliefs, to love of the Creator/Redeemer of the whole world and the entire cosmos. Within this conversion, mistreatment of the earth is as much a sin as mistreatment of other humans. In order to repent we must understand ourselves as members of the whole “community of creation,” whose suffering is our suffering. The cross, then, is the icon of God’s compassionate love for everyone and everything.

For all Johnson’s disagreement with Anselm’s satisfaction theory, she does show her appreciation for another aspect of Cur Deus Homo, and to such an extent that she actually imitates it: the question and answer format Anselm uses to make his theology accessible. Of course, no book is perfect, and in the case of Creation and the Cross, Johnson’s interlocutor, “Clara,” sounds, from time to time, suspiciously like a theology professor. That limitation notwithstanding, the Q&A format, combined with Johnson’s gift for clarity and strategic summarizing, makes this book an ideal tool for helping us all expand our understanding of redemption to include all of God’s beloved creation.

In a review of this length, it is not possible to do justice to the range of biblical and theological sources Johnson draws upon to lay out her deep incarnation theology. The depth and accessibility of such material throughout the book makes Creation and the Cross an ideal resource for RCIA participants seeking to achieve an understanding of the faith. But really, given the feeble concern so many US Christians feel for God’s creation even in the face of increasing numbers of massive fires, extreme weather events, droughts and flooded cities, Creation and the Cross is a book we all need to read, and we need to read it soon.

 

This review appeared in the March 22-April 5 2018 issue of the National Catholic Reporter.

 

 

 

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Catholic Leadership on the Global Political Stage

March 16, 2018 at 9:57 am | Posted in Catholicism, religion, secularism, Vatican, war and violence | 3 Comments
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Guns

March 3, 2018 at 1:43 pm | Posted in war and violence | 2 Comments
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Perhaps you expect that this post will be about the Parkland shooting. Or about the NRA. Or the shocking! shocking! failure of Congress to do one blessed thing about gun control. Again.

But it’s not.

Instead, what I’m going to share with you today is one of my happiest childhood memories. It was back before 1952, so before I was five years old, when my beloved grandfather, Jim Dodds, gave me a double gun holster set that he had won at a country fair. I can still see the guns and the holster. I loved them. And I wore them as I watched very many cowboy and Indian movies and tv shows during my childhood: the Lone Ranger and Tonto; Davy Crockett; Daniel Boone; Roy Rogers and Dale Evans. And all those fabulous John Wayne flicks. I can even still hear  a number of the songs that they played in the movies and films: “Davy, Davy Crockett,King fo the Wild Frontier,” and the William Tell Overture at the beginning of the Lone Ranger.

I’d also like to share with you something that three different sports commentators said while my esteemed companion and I were watching Big East basketball on the tv a while back–after Parkland. The first one was talking about a successful shot of the ball by a guy from Creighton University. What he said was that the player had been “locked and loaded.” Then a commentator at the beginning of the next game spoke on two different occasions about “Villanova’s weaponry.” Then the final comment, later in the game, was that one of the players had been “cocked.”

Finally, a forty-nine year old (probably white) man who was being interviewed about gun control on NPR  said that young people today are much more thoughtless and violent in their use of guns than his generation was. His generation only used guns for hunting, but today, the young just shoot people.

If any of this interests you–if you’re looking for a more nuanced discussion of the shooting crisis in this country than those that blame the whole thing on the NRA, or on thoughtless teenagers–I recommend that you read Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz’s new book, Loaded: A Disarming History of the Second Amendment.* I plan to post a review of it here before long, but you may want to get your perspective expanded even before then. Hint: Dunbar-Ortiz argues compellingly that guns have been at the heart of American culture since long before the Second Amendment was formulated. Background checks probably aren’t going to solve the problem.

https://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_i_1_6?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=loaded+a+disarming+history+of+the+second+amendment&sprefix=Loaded%2Cstripbooks%2C118&crid=WDBKQNNLYXGE

 

 

 

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