Needed for Creation Care: A Great Religious Awakening

How do we create the kind of changes that will keep our world’s climate at a tolerable level? Sallie McFague argues that it requires a world-wide cultural conversion, from consumerism to sustainability. This kind of massive conversion, of billions of people, would seem impossible to achieve. But religions know how to do this, and religions are our best hope for saving the planet from human-caused climate change.
Sallie McFague, who died in 2019 at the age of 86, influenced a generation of feminist theo­logians with her work in ecofeminist theology. For 30 years she taught at Vanderbilt Divinity School. Her primary concern was the metaphors we have for God. Restricting God to “Father-Son” metaphors limits our understanding that God is not a distant being but one with us. We are able to meet God in all things and everywhere. Later in life she took this insight into published works in which she wove ecology and economics together with theology to argue for the need for a great religious conversion in order to save God’s world from human destruction.
In her book, Blessed Are the Consumers: Climate Change and the Practice of Restraint (Fortress Press, 2013), McFague notes that in all the scientific and technical articles that focus on stopping global heating the conclusion is the same, “it is really a spiritual problem—a problem of changing hearts and minds so that people will live differently.” But people do not change easily, and not quickly enough, and certainly not merely because of government or scientific encouragement.
The only part of human culture that has been successful in bringing about a widespread change of hearts and minds, she says, is religion. All religions ascribe to some version of the idea that you find yourself by losing yourself and that material accumulation is not the way to a good life. She quotes Gary Gardner in his report in State of the World 2010, “the greatest contribution the world’s religions could make to the sustainability challenge may be to take seriously their own ancient wisdom on materialism. Their special gift—the millennial old paradoxical insight that happiness is found in self-emptying that satisfaction is found more in relationships than things, and that simplicity can lead to a fuller life—is urgently needed today.”
This season I will continue to explore this idea of sustainability as a religious responsibility as well as to continue to offer ways in which to make it a part of our daily life. Watch for more next week, and thank you for your commitment to caring for God’s creation!

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