Ecology of the Incarnation: A/theology, Ecocriticism, and the Gospel

A few months ago was involved in a discussion in which I was being asked to explain my commitment to veganism/vegetarianism. Throughout the course of the conversation I focused primarily upon ecology but, peppered my dialogue with religious, or more specifically Christian symbols, rhetoric, and language. Although, I did my my undergrad in Religious Studies, I am something of an outspoken atheist/non-theist/post-theist, a fact my conversation partner was all too aware. Needless to say my extended reliance of ‘Gospel’ language struck my associate as odd and questioned the intentionality of it use in our dialogue. Below is a bit of my explanation and response. I welcome your thoughts. Enjoy!
My use of gospel language is both intentional and habitual. This is indicative of my background and my residual framework. It still is something of a lense through a view things. But, there is something else going on that is intended. I remain sympathetic to not only the gospel language but, the impetus of what I believe the gospel tradition to be. Ecology, has, for me, allowed for a methodological bridge to discursively and dialogically reconcile my Atheism and my latent Christianity into something of a reflexive union. It provides me ethical practices but, it also opens the door for my atheistic ethicality, rooted in philosophic materialism (i.e. reality comprised of matter and energy), to have an enriched significance through an ecological or ecocritical partnership with Christian symbols.
For example, the incarnation, the idea that God became man, the Word became flesh, is the utter embodiment of God. This is the most philosophically materialistic of any of Christianity’s theological concepts or ideas, as its operative significance is wholly hinged upon divinity merging completely and bodily with ‘earthenness’. Here, God becomes indistinguishable from ‘creation’ and is kenotically self-emptied into the world and into matter. The ousia specific and essential to the incarnation “is not only specifically human, it is also creaturely” (10, *my emphasis added). This is because, as Sallie McFague makes clear, “the model of the body includes all life-forms, indeed, all matter on our planet,” and thus, the “body is a model that links us with everything in the most intimate way” (17). Thus, the modus operandi of the incarnation is not ‘God’ become ‘man’, this would be a diminution of the radical and revolutionary potentiality of the incarnation as its severely limits its scope.  Instead it is God become ‘creaturely’. The incarnation is ecology. This means that the applicability of the concepts and ‘ideas’ of incarnation, redemption, even resurrection do not and cannot stop at the door of the human. It does and must extend down to literally everything ‘earthen’. The orphan, the widow, and the stranger is synonymous with the sow, the calf, and the hen, the land, the water, and the air, dispossessed and disenfranchised. Who are ‘the least of these’ equated as the disguised ‘Christ’ anything and everything in need, ravaged by the wiles of empire, and voicelessly defenseless;  the ground hungry and needing something to eat, thirsty and needing something to drink; the environment itself as a stranger, or what Timothy Morton aptly calls “strange strangers”, needing to be invited in; the land stripped naked and yearning to be clothed; species in prison and sick needing to be visited. Who is my neighbor? All of the above and more.
Here, I’m trying to extend the circle of care and concern wider than simply our own species, realizing that the human/non-human/animal dichotomy is a false binary. Here, I’ve often quipped that I am religious but not spiritual. Although this is stated with a bit of sarcasm it is quite evocative of my position, I am devout, not in the way of a commitment religious institutions, dogma, or doctrine, but in the way of being devoted to the rigorous routinization of  ‘ritualized observances’ (terms used loosely) of moral and ethical praxis. This to me is essential to any and all philosophies, how is it lived out? Where, when, how, and what does it look like with boots on the ground, and carried through to their fullest conclusions? If it doesn’t translate into practical application and the alteration of one’s engagement with what Husserl referred to as the “life-world” I greatly question its validity and usefulness.
Linzey, Andrew. Animal Theology. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1995. Print.

McFague, Sallie. The Body of God: An Ecological Theology. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993. Print.

The Pathology of Boundaries…

I recently completed a course in Environmental Ethics. It was incredibly helpful and insightful as I have become increasingly concerned with ecology in both my thought and practice, especially since transitioning to Veganism almost nine months ago. The move to become vegan, itself, was motivated and brought on by a deep and thoughtful engagement with Aldo Leopold‘s Land Ethic from his work A Sand County Almanac, as well as Peter Singer‘s Animal LiberationBoth texts were required reading for a class I was taking at the time, Contemporary Issues in Philosophy. I also happened to be reading Daniel Quinn‘s novel Ishmael during this period. It, too, was quite influential in guiding my decision to become more environmentally focused and thus, to take up the vegan lifestyle. As such, the impetus of my current research and work is centered upon exploring the wider implications and intersections of ecology, philosophy, the humanities, and culture/society. This transition, itself, is something I hope to write about further in future posts.

Below you’ll find a short essay I wrote for the Environmental Ethics course previously mentioned. In this assignment I was asked to briefly reflect upon and respond to Leopold’s Land Ethic from the aspect of Reason, Emotion, or Physical Activity. I hope you enjoy it! Please feel free to comment and respond! I would would excitedly welcome your feedback!

In his editorial introduction to Hegel’s 1827 Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion, Peter C. Hodgson writes that the impetus or the “main theme” of “Western consciousness” is “the individuality of all things” and that this is especially and most accurately true of “human beings” (45). Individuation, separation, categorization, dissection, and fragmentation, these are but a few of the main ideals that form the basis for Western philosophy and Western psychology. From Social Contract Theory to Self-help and beyond everything is hinged upon the idea of the isolated, independent, and absolutely autonomous ‘subject’. Western consciousness has created a pathological sense or conception of ‘self’, i.e. the subjective I, the Cartesian cogito. Here, even the ‘self’ fails to be a unity but is divided into dichotomous dualisms and false binaries, mind/body, body/soul, or, as illustrated within the forum prompt itself, the clear-cut distinctions between Reason/Emotion/Physical Action.

This also leads to a pathological sense of species/nature which forms the backdrop for not only the way in which humans relate to themselves and to each other, but also to the world and the planet as a whole, i.e. humanity as separate and distinct from each other and humanity as above, opposed to, and/or ultimately separate from the biosphere. This is precisely what Aldo Leopold’s Land Ethics seeks to cure and correct. Leopold writes that “a land ethic changes the role of Homo sapiens from conqueror of the land community to plain member and citizen of it” (171). As such, the land ethic, first and foremost, is developmentally psychological in orientation and methodology. It is at once, as Charles Starkey demonstrates, “a psychological theory of moral development and ecological rationality that advocates a shift in the way that environmental problems are conceptualized and approached” (149) and “a developmental change in cultural psychology… that expands the domain of the moral beyond that of human beings, so that nonhumans are afforded moral consideration” (159). Leopold reinvigorates the the fact that “All ethics so far evolved rest upon a single premise that the individual is a member of a community of interdependent parts” (171). With this comes the realization that “all things are part of the universe, and are connected with each other to form one whole unity” (Berry, 16). As such, the ‘self’ too must be envisioned as an integral whole both internally and externally, an undivided self unmistakably part of the land, responding with Reason, Emotion, and especially, with Physical action. Of what avail are Reason and Emotion if they do not spur one to action? As Marx famously concludes “The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways; the point, however, is to change it” (574).
Sallie McFague makes clear “We do not have bodies…We are bodies” (16). We are not containers compartmentalized into separate isolated areas of Reason, Emotion, and Physical activity, each one caged off and uncontaminated by the other. We are none other than our material reality, that is, mind, reason, emotion, as a culmination “evolved from” and “continuous with our bodies” (McFague, 16). So, too, should we approach the biotic community, recognizing that we are “evolved from” and “continuous with” the Land.
Hodgson, Peter C. Editorial Introduction. Lectures of the Philosophy of Religion, One-Volume Edition: The Lectures of 1827. By G. W. F. Hegel. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006. 1-71. Print.
Leopold, Aldo. A Sand County Almanac: With Essays on Conservation. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001. Print.
Marx, Karl. The German Ideology, Including Theses on Feuerbach. Amherst: Prometheus Books, 1998. Print.
McFague, Sallie. The Body of God: An Ecological Theology. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993. Print.
Starkey, Charles. “The Land Ethic, Moral Development, and Ecological Rationality.” Southern Journal of Philosophy 45.1 (2007): 149-175. Academic Search Premier. Web. 4 Nov. 2013