Genesis and earthcare
August 17, 2013 § 9 Comments
The theme for New York Yearly Meeting Summer Sessions 2013 was “Keeping Faith: Answering that of God in All Creation”. The Bible study for the week focused on the first three chapters of Genesis and what they might teach us about “answering that of God in all creation”. The facilitator, Ruth Kinsey, was the pastor of Farmington Meeting for a long time, though she now is retired, lives in Folkeways, a Quaker retirement community, and is a member of Gwynedd Meeting in Pennsylvania.
I thought Ruth did a great job of calling forth from the material a strong message of responsible earth stewardship and of reinterpreting some of the more problematic aspects of these stories. Nevertheless, many participants, I think, were deeply troubled by some of these passages, especially the verses on dominion over creation and the submission of women to men. And I have my own concerns, as well.
I think that Friends should not use the first three chapters of Genesis in defining Quaker earthcare, for several reasons. I want to return to each of these in future posts.
- Creation. First, the creation myths in Genesis one and two are not the true story of the earth’s creation. Why would we be guided by stories that have no relation to the evolutionary processes that really produced the human race and our world, processes that we must understand and respect if we are to be responsible earth stewards? We should ground our earthcare witness in the science that reveals the mind of God more truly than this myth can.
- God. Some would say that while the Genesis stories may not describe the true process of creation, they do give us valuable insights into the Creator, into God’s relation to creation, and our relation to God vis a vis creation. I disagree, however. I feel that these chapters either portray a God that does not exist or they misrepresent God in ways that make God irrelevant or even inimical to our earthcare concerns. We should ground our earthcare witness in the leadings that the Spirit of Love and Truth has given to our earthcare prophets, both Quaker and non.
- Stewardship. The theology of traditional Christian earth stewardship for which these chapters are the starting point offers principles of real value and power for earthcare witness. However, I feel that ultimately, traditional Christian earth stewardship leads to a dead end. I have written a book on this subject and I don’t want to use this blog to lay out the whole book, but in future posts, I do want to discuss some of what I call the 9+ principles of Christian earth stewardship vis a vis Quaker earthcare witness. If we took full responsibility for these principles, we would embark on a truly radical witness—but we won’t. No Christians will. And even if we did, it would not be enough.
- The Fall. The story of the Fall in Genesis two and three is the very foundation of the sin-salvation paradigm so central to traditional Christian belief. But there was no Fall. Where is the evidence for a pair of proto-humans who were living in a pure “state of innocency”, as George Fox put it, and then fell from grace, leaving the rest of humanity inherently corrupt and disobedient to God?
- As a parable, the story of the Fall may be trying to teach us something about human nature, our situation here on earth, and about God. However, I feel that the story of the Fall distorts the reality of human nature and of the world we live in, and, as I have said before, it defines a relationship between God, humans, and the world that has a shadow side; I feel that this shadow too strongly dims any light that these verses might offer us.
- We do have an inherent tendency to disobey and to do wrong; I’m not denying that. But we also have inherent tendencies to obey and to do good, to create, to procreate, to organize socially, to nurture our young, to wage war—sinfulness is just one of a complex and extensive constellation of human instincts or predilections, and not, i my opinion, the most important at all. Why single sinfulness out among them all as the one that truly and decisively defines the human condition and the God we worship? Well, I plan to return to this topic of what I call the sin-salvation paradigm in later posts. And I want to focus especially on how the story of the Fall actually undermines faithful earthcare.