Ecojustice and the Struggle for Life

Colonization does not mean only the domination of people, but also the exploitation of natural resources for the development and benefit of the colonizers. In the 1920s Western powers controlled almost half the world's territory. With neocolonialism and globalization, national boundaries are less significant and the whole earth has become "fair game" for unbridled profiteering. Women in the South witness their subsistence and their role as managers of water and forest eroded and changed by the arrival of multinational corporations. Deforestation, pollution, environmental racism, and other ecological disasters have wrought havoc on the livelihood of poor women who simply dream of sufficient fuel and clean drinking water. When the Amazon forest disappears at an alarming rate and global warming threatens the basic fabric of life, the earth as a living organism has been undermined and its sustainability crippled. These life-and-death concerns necessitate theological reflections that take seriously consideration of ecological, feminist, and liberationist perspectives.

Known for her prophetic voice for poor women's rights, Ivone Gebara of Brazil has written the most poignant and comprehensive ecofeminist theology from a Latin American perspective. Her book Longing for Running Water both critiques the epistemological framework of traditional theology and offers resources for constructing new understandings of Trinity, Christology, and anthropology (Gebara 1999). She criticizes the hierarchical, dualistic, and patriarchal world-view that creates the dichotomies of God/creation, mind/body, men/women, and culture/nature. Within such a framework, God is modeled after the male ruling class, is outside of nature and controls the whole universe. Anthro-pocentrism coupled with monotheism allows Christianity, from its imperialist stance, to destroy other religious expressions that it considers inferior and to marginalize women's claim to sacred power.

Gebara distinguishes her ecofeminism from that being developed by more individualistic, middle-class "new age" movements in the North through her attention to race, globalization, and the claims of the poor. She argues that the images of God as patriarchal father, all-powerful Lord, king of all persons and living things, and as omnipotent and omnipresent, have functioned to keep poor women and men dependent on the church and others. Proposing a God of immanence and relationality, she seeks to overcome the dualism of spirit opposing matter and to speak of the interconnectedness of all beings in the mysterious Body of the universe. Such an understanding of the divine underlines the basic relatedness of human beings and our ethical responsibility toward one another and the planet.

Gebara accuses traditional Christologies, most of them hierarchical and anthropocentric, of separating Jesus from all other human beings and from the natural environment. Jesus has been imaged as the Messiah who comes in the guise of a superman, a heroic figure to save humans from their sins. Such atonement theory sustains the culture of dependence and focuses on human beings alone. Gebara invites us to consider a biocentric understanding of salvation, alluding to Jesus' actions on behalf of the sick, the hungry, the outcast, and the oppressed, and his call for the creation of new relationships between human beings and the earth. Jesus is not the powerful Son of God who dies on the cross and is resurrected as our "king," she opines, but is the symbol of the vulnerability of love and compassion:

Jesus does not come to us in the name of a "superior will" that sent him; rather, he comes from here: from this earth, this body, this flesh, from the evolutionary process that is present both yesterday and today in this Sacred Body within which love resides. It continues in him beyond that, and it is turned into passion for life, into mercy and justice (Gebara 1999: 190).

Gebara's ecofeminist theology draws from and reconstructs the Christian tradition; Asian and indigenous feminists borrow insights from and welcome the contributions of other religions and traditions. While Chung (1996) has proposed a methodology that gives priority to and begins with Asian peoples' stories and religiosity, I have opted for a reinterpretation of the Bible and traditional resources informed by Asian cosmological insights. My concern is that the Bible has enormous power in the Asian churches and great impact on Asian Christian women. I also believe the Bible has rich insights for addressing our ecological crisis if it is not read in a predominantly anthropocentric way. For example, I have written on the possibility of developing an organic model of Christianity that understands sin and redemption not merely as disobedience or egotism of human beings, but as concepts and actions with significant cosmological consequences (Kwok 1997). Such a model pays attention to the plurality of images of Jesus in the New Testament, including the natural symbols: bread of life, the vine and the branches, and the hen protecting her brood. Jesus often shares table fellowship with the outcast, the tax collector, and the marginalized in society, while the miracles of feeding the hungry thousands testify to his concern for concrete human needs. His messianic banquet is open to all and welcomes people of all races.

An organic model may also revision Jesus as the incarnated Wisdom within the larger cultural and religious matrix of the wisdom tradition in the Asian traditions. Western feminist theologians have highlighted the figure of Jesus as Sophia-God, who embodies creative agency, immanence, and the promise of shalom, justice, and salvation. The Wisdom tradition can be examined and reflected upon from the vantage point of other wisdom figures and sages - such as Prajna, Guanyin, and Isis - in Asian and other religious traditions (Kim 2002). Thus, an organic model allows us to encounter Christ in many ways and many cultures, without being limited to a finite, historically conditioned human figure. The importance of Jesus as one epiphany of God does not exclude other christic images that Christians have constructed because of their diverse religious experiences and cultural contexts.

Feminist theologians in the South also look for cultural and religious principles and resources to overcome a mechanistic, capitalistic, and Darwinian mindset. Such cultural retrieval does not simply recreate a romantic past, but constructs a polemical discourse against the myth of globalization that proclaims no alternative exists. From the Indian background, Gnanadason lifts up the principle of Shakti, the feminine and creative source of the universe, characterized by harmony between humans and nature. Indian feminist ecotheol-ogy, she says, must draw from the well of the holistic vision based on their spiritual past, and not rely on the ideological and theological assumptions of Western paradigms. Citing the history of the Chipko movement, in which women protected the trees by hugging them, Gnanadason (1996: 79) says ecofeminist theology must come out of women's lived experience, "not only weeping with nature for deliverance and freedom, but out of years of organized resistance against senseless destruction."

Indigenous peoples have spoken passionately about the importance of the land in their sacred memory, rituals, and communal belonging (Weaver 1996). The conquest and pollution of the land is a sin against Mother Earth and a form of cultural genocide, depriving indigenous peoples not only of their means of survival but also of religious sites for cultural preservation. In their cosmologi-cal vision for theology and spirituality, Aboriginal and Pacific feminist theologians, such as Anne Pattel-Gray (1991), have emphasized a profound reverence for nature, communal ownership and stewardship, and women's roles in ceremonies and in providing sustenance for life. Similarly in Africa, religious scholars and theologians draw from the rich heritage of inclusive cosmological worldviews in different ethnic groups as resources for constructing a communal ethic of care, responsibility, and environmental justice. In the past, Westerners often labeled African religions pejoratively as animistic or as "nature worship." Feminist theologians have challenged such biases and recovered the significance of rituals and healing practices that teach about human beings' reliance on and collaboration with nature.

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