Dissident Catholic theologian Dr. Rosemary Radford Ruether recently lectured on how the theory of “ecofeminism” should reshape traditional Christian concepts of God, the environment, and society. She also denounced the domination of alleged oppressors, especially “elite white males” and Israel.
Speaking to an audience at Garret-Evangelical Theological Seminary on May 20, where she once taught, Ruether relied on “ecofeminist theology” to reach her conclusions. She said ecofeminism “brings together three concerns: concerns for ecology, for feminism, and for global justice.” Ruether primarily blamed the “master group of elite white males” for using their patriarchal theology to enable their oppression of women, the poor, and the “lower” races.
Perhaps most radically, Ruether challenged the traditional Christian understanding of God. She claimed that God was more akin to a cosmic force than the transcendent deity familiar to most believers. She described God as the “material spiritual power for the renewal of life” and the “creative energy that continually liberates us” from oppression.
Echoing strains of pantheisms, Ruether rejected the idea that God is physically separate from nature. Christians needed to reimagine God according to ecofeminist theology, while also realizing that God, humanity, and nature share the attribute of consciousness. She denied that human consciousness was “infused into our body by a God outside the universe.”
“Rather, human consciousness, in my view — human consciousness is an intensification of interactive awareness that exists to some degree on every level of reality, from subatomic physics to organic molecules to photosynthesizing plants to increasingly aware and communicating animals,” Ruether said
She argued the fact that humans enjoy a high level of conscious intelligence should lead them to “harmonize” their needs with the rest of nature. In turn, this process of “reintegration” with nature should “reshape our image of God.”
Ruether specifically asserted “that we need to rethink the concept of [God’s] transcendence.” She said that elite men used the concept of transcendence to hold God “captive” in order to justify their oppressive misogyny and racism:
In other words, the idea of transcendence has to stop being thought of as some sort of dualism between the here and some very far away place outside of the cosmos. This is a dualism that very easily aligns itself with the dualism of mind and body, and male and female, and racial dualisms, and tends to identity God with a split off, elite male rationality while femaleness and lower races are identified with mindless matter. And this is not a transcendent God actually, but it is really the apex of a hierarchical system of domination and control. And this kind of God is in fact a captive to the justification of patriarchal domination.
But this was not only doctrine that came under fire from Ruether. “I think the ecofeminist must also rethink the categories of good and evil, and mortality and immortality,” she said. She denied that evil had to do with the human body, but rather represented the “distortion of relationships.” Mankind’s pursuit of immortality often produced evil through oppression and greed.
Under ecofeminist theology, she even argued against the reality of immortality: “Ecofeminism does not posit some original immortality at the beginning of creative work or creation, nor does it look to immortal life as the redemptive future which has escaped from the conditions of finitude.”
She thus concluded that “we need to kind of dismantle, or at least turn away from, this emphasis on immortality.”
Not content with redefining God, eternity, and the paradigm of good vs evil, Ruether also called for remolding households, society, the global economy, and more to conform to her ecofeminist theology:
So we say we need to develop new households – new households that model just and sustainable relationships between humans, men and women, races, and the natural world. And these household communities need to be attractive models of sustainable technology, harmonized social relationships, and celebrative cultures. And we need to shape these households, not to withdraw into them, but rather as kind of the bases for networking an alternative economy and society, to reshape the larger global systems, for a sustainable earth community.
While Ruether dedicated most of her time to addressing the oppression of “elite white males,” she also denounced the “Jewish state” of Israel. “Zionism,” she said, had created both “social injustice” and “environmental catastrophe.”
“Now appropriation of this land [Palestine] for a Jewish state has had devastating environmental effects,” Ruther said.
She claimed there had been a rise in temperatures, decreased rainfall, increasingly dense populations, and widespread death of indigenous birds in the region because of the formation of Israel. She also blamed Israel for alleged food insecurity and water scarcity facing Palestinians.
“To sum up then, there is an emerging worldwide ecological and economic crisis of survival around the world which is forcing many societies to reexamine how religious cultures have reinforced the domination of elite humans over the rest of humanity and over nature,” Ruether said.
As Institute on Religion and Democracy President Mark Tooley has noted, Ruether has previously pushed the idea of “Gaia,” the concept that the earth itself is a goddess. In the past, the ecofeminist has also agreed with the Islamic denial of the Trinity and the divinity of Christ. She said her views diverged from Muslims when it came to the virgin birth. She noted that Muslims “are pretty sure that Mary is a virgin, too – which is more than I believe.”