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Actualizing the Kingdom of God: An Argument for the Development of Christian Ecotheology

Actualizing the Kingdom of God: An Argument for the Development of Christian Ecotheology

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An essay for the 2012 Undergraduate Awards (International Programme) Competition by Melanie Bodi. Originally submitted for Religious Ethics and the Environment at McGill University, with lecturer Corey Labrecque in the category of Philosophical Studies & Theology
An essay for the 2012 Undergraduate Awards (International Programme) Competition by Melanie Bodi. Originally submitted for Religious Ethics and the Environment at McGill University, with lecturer Corey Labrecque in the category of Philosophical Studies & Theology

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Published by: Undergraduate Awards on Aug 31, 2012
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10/27/2013

 
Actualizing the Kingdom of God: An Argument for theDevelopment of 
 
Christian Ecotheology
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AbstractIn modern society it is far too easy to become disengaged and removed from the naturalworld as humanity steadily mechanizes society. The danger of this becomes apparent in the waythat society struggles in its relationship and treatment of the natural world. More specifically, thedivide between humans and animals seems to grow wider as time passes, allowing for terribleinjustices in the treatment of animals. Solutions cannot be left solely to policy-makers ingovernment. Despite modern secularization, religion still plays a vital role shaping the ethic of individual and collective lives. As such, religion can be remade into a powerful tool for positivesocial change.Christianity is one of the most influential religions in modern history with many practitioners in all four corners of the globe. Previous attempts to create a Christian ethos thatincludes animals has fallen short with changes having a “tacked-on” quality, never seeming tohave a strong place internally in the Christian ethic. Rather than feebly approaching from withoutthe tradition, this essay will investigate the possibility of a Christian ethic incorporating thenatural world that arises from the core of the belief system itself.H. Richard Niebuhr proposes a shift in Christianity to a radical monotheism that locatesGod at the centre of the creative order. This drastically changes the nature in which value isassigned to beings. Intrinsic value is not located in the discrete individual, but rather value becomes located through a creative order where all beings are relative to each other and God.Value is once again placed on relationality, affirming the interconnectedness of life on earth.Christianity can be resituated in the here-and-now rather than losing itself in the otherness of God.A reconfiguration of the three forms of Christian love follows. Traditionally agape has been extolled as the heart of Christian ethic. However, a deeper investigation reveals that agapeand eros join together under philia. The true heart of the Christian ethos is that of community andthe love that joins brother and enemy alike under God. With this understanding in mind it isevident how natural it is for the Christian moral community to expand to include the naturalworld.Undoubtedly, it is possible to locate a place for animals within the Christian moralcommunity. By including the natural world in a Christian ethic, humans are able to better  participate in God’s creative action. Ultimately, such an ethos would serve to actualize thekingdom of God on earth fulfilling Christianity’s divine goal. Only by taking humans off of theimaginary pedestal can Christians find a deeper appreciation for the world gifts given by God.Incorporating animals into the Christian ethic lays the groundwork for a Christian deep ecologythat would eventually include all of the natural order.
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There are many grievances that go unchecked in the world against animals. Animals arehunted for sport, killed for aesthetic purpose, genetically modified, experimented upon,vivisected, tortured, eaten, and enslaved. Echoing Kant, McGill guest speaker W.J.T. Mitchellnotes that how one treats animals manifests into how humans eventually treat each other.When such atrocities are only labeled unethical when performed upon humans, a question of ethics arises. Such homocentrism clearly demonstrates how society today is species-ist. This isan injustice that must be addressed. As Judith Scoville notes, Christian eco-theology has a“tacked-on” quality as environmental concerns tend to arise from without rather than fromwithin canonical Christianity, thereby necessitating constant justification (209). A secure eco-ethic regarding the treatment of animals is only possible if it arises from
within
the tradition.From the very core of its beliefs, Christianity offers an ethic for including animals in thecurrent circle of morality. Through an examination of H. Richard Niebuhr’s radicalmonotheism and relational theory of value, as well as a reexamination of the three Christianforms of love, a Christian animal ethic can be realized and the Kingdom of God, actualized. Niebuhr’s radical monotheism provides the foundation to such a positive Christian animalethic. Radical monotheism, with its deep devotion to the “sovereignty of God,” requires theinclusion of all of nature within the Christian moral community. As Niebuhr articulates,however, “sovereignty of God” does not mean absolute control over beings and events, butrather an absolute center wherein all of the creative order is relative to each other throughGod. “Value is value in relation to the One whom all being is related” (Scoville, 209).Clarified, this means that existence and value cannot be separated, as value is obtained by arelationship to God through his sovereignty (Scoville, 209). In radical monotheism, there can be no separation from where God is and is not; God’s sovereignty permeates the entire world(Scoville, 212). The Christian tradition has customarily resisted including the natural worldwithin its circle of morality. However, by revisiting the central precept of God’s sovereignty,it is easy to see how nature is entitled to a place within Christian morality. As Scovillesummarizes,“Niebuhr’s radically monotheistic refusal to separate creation and redemption, being andvalue, results in the unequivocal affirmation of the goodness of being that is often lackingin Christian environmental thought…Rather than beginning with the environment andattempting to relate Christianity to it, it beings within Christianity and includes thenatural world by the very logic of the core itself” ( 213).Christianity’s anthropocentric side idolizes humans as having a special relationship withGod. This thinking is based on a philosophy claiming that humans hold an inherent dignityover God's other creations. On this basis, animals and the rest of nature have largely beenexcluded from Christian thought. Many thinkers have sought to balance this reverence of intrinsic human dignity by assigning intrinsic value to nature through an extended Christianethic, where nature has value by virtue of being God’s creation. This establishes thefoundations for the assertion of rights on the behalf of nature. However, basing nature’svalue exclusively on its relationship to God has proven to be a faulty method, open to muchcritique. According to G.E. Moore, heralded by some as the “patron saint of intrinsicvalues,” intrinsic value is present within a subject only if said subject existed
by itself 
inabsolute isolation and its existence was judged as “good” herein. “Intrinsic value” thereforeis based on an individualism that contradicts the description of the natural world as “aweb,” “interrelated,” and “interdependent.” Authors such as McFague, Nash, McDaniel,Birch, and many others who favour a philosophy of intrinsic value generally recognize the
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