This blog series is about Elizabeth Johnson’s Ask the Beasts, which is a contemporary theological dialogue with Charles Darwin’s book On the Origin of the Species. There are many theological attacks on Darwin from people who want to take the Genesis creation accounts as precise history. However, Johnson’s dialogue with Darwin has produced deep insights into orthodox Christian doctrines about the creation, the incarnation, and the resurrection and last things.
She successfully shows that Christianity and Darwin’s theory are not necessarily in conflict. In fact it is Christian heresies that adopt a spirit-body dualism which are actually in conflict with Darwin. One should note that Johnson does not stray into a loose or watered down theology. She remains an orthodox Catholic throughout. The Nicene Creed is her standard.
I have to admit that a lot of people who have come under Darwin’s influence have left the reservation as far as Christian orthodoxy is concerned. Johnson shows that is not necessary.
Where she does come off as a liberal is in her chapter on environmentalism. She sees the current situation with regard to man and nature as one of androcentric, hierarchical human sin. Now I agree with her that pollution, over harvesting of the seas and forests, and disrespect for animal life are major problems, often the result of sin. The trouble, it seems to me, is that environmentalism and feminism have fallen into an ideological straight-jacket. For instance: environmental problems are androcentric (male centered) and not gynocentric (female centered)). Really?
She seems to me to support a low or no growth economy as a solution to environmental problems. The consequences of this in human misery are already visible where growth has drastically slowed in the world. So I would have appreciated more discussion of the trade-offs involved. She claims that environmental activism and social justice are not in conflict. But she did not present much evidence. Furthermore, she does not seem to consider how there may be technological solutions apart from politics.
But the problems of human-caused species extinctions and abuse to the environment are real. It is just a pet peeve of mine that much of the talk about this comes from urban and academic environments that are out of touch with farmers, fishermen, oil drillers, and loggers–the people who actually live in and work with nature.
I have lived most of my life in what I call “pick-up truck country” where people produce the foods and materials the cities depend upon. People out here know a lot about nature and are trying to balance respect for nature with our need to feed and supply the human race. It is not all sinful greed.
Ok. Enough of that.
I have loved this book.
Last winter my wife and I fled the polar vortex and spent nearly a month on Florida’s Gulf Coast. At that time of year the manatees come into the rivers where there are warm springs. The ocean gets colder (especially this year). The manatees come up the rivers. A few years ago manatees were in real danger of extinction. But they have been turned into a tourist attraction. This has had a lot to do with saving them. In January people flee the weather up north and the manatees flee the colder oceans. They meet each other just north of Tampa.
Is this not part of evolution too? The two species give something to each other. The adorableness (a word I think I just made up) of manatees is a trait that make humans want to save them. It is a survival trait.
Maybe it is just my social circle. But I seem to be surrounded by people who are crazy about animals. The connection and interdependence between humans and the world of animals is something that will continue to evolve. Our love for animals may be the salvation of some species, at least.
There is a final chapter about the community of creation. So I should conclude this series with one more post.