Earth Bible: Related Speeches
Principles for An Ecojustice Hermeneutic: An Introduction
Norman Habel, November 1998
The Earth Bible: Reading the Bible from the Perspective of Earth
Response to Norman Habel by Diane Jacobson, November 1998
Principles for An Ecojustice Hermeneutic: An Introduction
1. The Principle of
The universe, Earth and all its components have intrinsic worth/value.
2. The Principle of
Earth is a community of inter-connected living things which are mutually dependent on each other for life and survival.
3. The Principle of
Earth is a living entity capable of voicing its cries against injustice
4. The Principle of
The universe, Earth and all its components are part of a dynamic cosmic design within which each piece has a place in the overall goal of that design.
5. The Principle of
Earth is a balanced and diverse domain requiring responsible custodians who function as partners with, rather than rulers over, Earth to sustain its balance and diversity
6. The Principle of
Earth and its components not only suffer from human injustices but actively resist them in the struggle for justice.
Earth Bible: Reading the Bible from the Perspective of the Earth
Thank you. I am very pleased both to be a part of this project and to have the opportunity to offer a few comments today. My remarks will be brief in order to provide a greater opportunity for open conversation about this project.
First, I want to thank Dr. Habel for instigating and taking leadership for this project. Certainly the world is in need of rethinking and changing its environmental ideas and practices. This reality is commonly, if not universally, acknowledged. What is less commonly considered is the central role that the Bible has played historically and continues to play presently in our ecological drama. So this project is not only timely, it is also potentially of great import. I am particularly struck by the reminder by Norman of Lynn White's comment from 1967, that "especially in its Western form, Christianity is the most anthropocentric religion the world has seen." The Earth Bible project provides us with an opportunity to face this reality in a systematic way. The hermeneutical principles as they stand are helpful and challenging. They offer a compelling set of principles for reading and exegeting biblical texts that will, I believe, give rise to any number of interesting, and potentially compelling papers.
My remarks will center on the two different challenges arising from these principles. One challenge comes from what might be considered the deconstructing task and the other challenge from the constructing task implied by the principles.
The first challenge of the principles I take to be the implied challenge to the Bible's theological adequacy as a witness for eco-justice. This adequacy is to be measured by bringing the six principles to bear. Using a juridical metaphor, one used very effectively by Norm in his own work on the book of Job, this project aims to put the Bible on trial with regards to its handling of, its dealing with the earth. The rules of the trial are the stated principles.
For this task, having specific principles - specific rules of court - is exceedingly helpful. They provide both discipline and specific parameters. They help to keep a scholar from slipping into an apologetic or revisionist reading. One can look at any biblical passage or groups of passages and ask prosecutory questions: Does this passage explicitly deny purpose or intrinsic worth to the earth? Does the earth have voice? Is the earth treated only as an object? Or have historical interpretations of this text been such that the voice or intrinsic worth of the earth has been denied?
This last question presses the point that in evidence is not only what the Bible "means to" or "should" say but also what the history of its use has shown it to say. The reality of abusive reading forms part of the witness against the text, though here one must be careful, because the principles imply that the problem is not merely one of interpretation, the problem is also with Scripture itself. What is called for is a disciplined hermeneutics of suspicion. In a feminist critique of the Bible, the goal is that women become subject rather than object. The goal is to reveal biblical objectification and subjugation of women. The goal here is parallel - to reveal biblical objectification and subjugation of the earth. I suspect this latter goal will prove to be even trickier than the former as all biblical readers are stuck, more or less, with the reality of our human perspective.
The second part of my remarks center on the constructive task implied by the principles. Here I begin with a question: do any or all of these six principles find their source in the biblical text itself? That is to ask, might we claim that all or some of these principles are, in fact, biblical principles? One of the strengths of certain feminist critiques of Scripture is that the principles themselves can be said to arise from Scripture. At some level, women have experienced the Bible as liberating, and this level undergirds the principles of feminist exegesis. Feminists tend to point to certain banner passages such as Genesis 1:28 where the created image of God is both male and female, or to Galatians 3:28 where male and female are united in Christ. Or feminists claim their center in certain scriptural principles such as justice, preferential treatment of the poor, or the like. Again I suspect that such a move is more complicated in dealing with eco-justice principles. But a move in this direction is perhaps implied in the "b" sections of comments found under each of the six principles in the handouts. In these sections, emphasis is given to those passages which support the principle in question. Notice however, that the stance of these sections is not that the principles themselves arise from these texts but that these texts support the given principle Or perhaps, according to the principle, certain texts are commended.
My question wants to take us one step further and ask whether any particular passage or biblical principle actually stands behind the stated eco-justice principle commending it. I ask this not to denigrate the role of experience or science in the formulation of these six principles, but rather to enter into the question of biblical authority in these matters. Perhaps my biblical apologist tendencies are simply irrepressible, but I would claim that we are again embarking on a journey in which Scripture interprets and critiques Scripture. The obvious example in respect to the principle of custodianship is the implicit critique or correct of the subduing/dominion language of Genesis 1 and Psalm 8 by the tilling/serving language of Genesis 2. In regards to the two principles of intrinsic worth and interconnectedness, I, for one, believe Job, particularly in the lament and the answer of God, interprets and critiques Genesis 1 and other priestly writings. As an aside, one of the very passages most significant in supporting feminist principles, is one of the most problematic passages for eco-justice principles.
As a corollary question to the issue of biblical underpinnings for the six eco-justice principles, I would suggest that other eco-justice principles do arise naturally from the text of the Bible. The two I have in mind are specifically theological, and thus, for reasons that Norm has stated but might further clarify, are perhaps not appropriate for the project. But I give them to you anyway because I think they are worth pursuing. The first is the Principle of Incarnation. I would suggest that though the Bible certainly distinguishes between the Creator and the creation, a distinction I would uphold, God is made manifest not only in human beings, but also in other earthen vessels. For example, in Exodus God appears in both a pillar of cloud and a pillar of fire. The second is the Principle of Promise. In the Bible, the earth is also the vehicle of divine promise. Under this category one could take a look at the problematic distinction made by some between eschatology and apocalyptic, with the latter category implying the desirability of the destruction of the world.
I look forward to working on this project. I myself am going to begin by looking at some of the texts in which the Chaos-Kampf tradition is found, centering on Psalms 74, 90, and Isaiah 51, perhaps with some reference to Job and Exodus. For now, I give you (back) to Gene Tucker/Norm Habel.
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