The term “ecofeminism” was coined in 1984 by Francoise d’ Euabonne to describe women’s ability to work towards the purposes and goals of the ecological movement. Since then, it has been adopted by many intellectuals who aim to connect, historically and philosophically, the phenomena of women’s oppression and nature’s exploitation. Ecofeminist theology serves the goals of ecofenism from a theological perspective.
The following theologians [in alphabetical order] are considered as major theorists and representatives of Christian ecofeminist theology: Mary Daly, Ivore Gebaras, Catharina Halkes, Catherine Keller, Anne Primavesi, Eleanor Rae, and Rosemary Radford Ruether. Christian ecofeminist theology has made some positive contributions to contemporary theological thought. It has attacked every philosophical theory that depreciates the natural world or the human body, and has intellectually contributed to the struggle for social justice and eco-justice.
However, from an Orthodox Christian point of view, the ecofeminist criticisms of traditional Christian doctrines can be met by the following points:
- The Bible is not simply a human product nor a collection of myths[i], but God’s revelation. The Orthodox scholar Skouteris observes that theology’s point of departure is not the human intellect, but God who reveals Himself to people and becomes the subject of theology[ii]. In other words, man does not search for God by creating certain theological beliefs but God makes Himself known to man/woman.
- The Christian faith must not be understood as a philosophical theory created by some intellectuals[iii], but the outcome of people’s acceptance of Jesus of Nazareth as the Christ. Jesus was accepted as the Messiah, by thousands of people, who experienced Him as perfect God and man (1 John 1:1-3). These people authorized the evangelists to write the Gospels.
- Socio-cultural developments do not have to change the theology of the Church[iv]. Nevertheless, they can affect the pastoral guidance that the Church offers to its members. On the Orthodox view, social changes can be real and permanent only when people change as persons and become people of love and people of Christ (1 Cor. 3:1-3). Orthodox scholar Galitis observes that temporary socio-political achievements are neither permanent nor beneficial for human’s deep existential agony. For the Apostles, social justice was not a guarantee for people’s happiness. On the contrary, human redemption in Christ leads to blessedness[v].
- Scientific discoveries cannot challenge the validity of the scriptures’ revealed theology[vi]. Science deals exclusively with the natural and the material world. It cannot offer us any theological knowledge (God is not an object to be studied scientifically). God can be known only in a personal way; and personal knowledge depends on revelation.
- The teachings of the Bible, as a whole, cannot be considered negative simply because certain “Christians” have committed crimes in the name of God[vii].
- Orthodox Christian theology affirms an ontological hierarchy. God created the world (Gen. 1:1). He can exist without the world, but the world cannot exist without Him (Ps. 90:2). Human beings were placed in the world as its stewards (Gen. 2:15). This ontological hierarchy is not destructive –as ecofeminists label it[viii]– as long as it follows God’s will.
- The life of Christ and his sacrifice on the cross gives a powerful counter example that the ontological hierarchy of the Bible does not lead to injustices and oppression[ix]. Christ became the servant of all (Luke 22:27). He blessed the natural world by his baptism in Jordan (Matt.3:13) and by the use of bread and wine at the Last Supper (Matt. 26:26-27). Christ is the savior of the world (1 John 5:20), not only a teacher of ethics[x].
[i] As Primavesi claims. See: Anne Primavesi, “From Apocalypse to Genesis: Ecology, Feminism and Christianity” (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1991) ,192.
[ii] Konstantinos Skouteris, «Η Εννοια των όρων Θεολογία, Θεολογείν, Θεολόγος, εν τη διδασκαλία των Ελλήνων Πατέρων και Εκκλησιαστικών Συγγραφέων» (Athens, 1972) ,.53.
[iii] As Daly believes. See: Mary Daly, “Gyn/Ecology: The Metaethics of Radical Feminism” (Boston: Beacon Press, 1979), 75.
[iv] As Merchant claims. See Carolyn Merchant, “The Death of Nature: Women, Ecology and the Scientific Revolution” (New York: Harper Collins, 1983) , 143-144.
[v] George Galitis, «Η προς Τίτον Επιστολή του Αποστόλου Παύλου» (Θεσσαλονίκη, Εκδ. Πουρνάρα, 1985), 303-304.
[vi] As Gebaras claims. See: ‘Ecofeminism and Panentheism’ [Ivore Gebaras interviewed by Mary Judith Ress]: “Readings in Ecology and Feminist Theology”, ed. Mary Heather Mackinnon and Moni McIntyre (Kansas City: Sheed & Ward, 1995), 212.
[vii] See the criticisms of Rosemary Radford Ruether in her books: “New Woman, New Earth” (New York: The Seabury Press, 1975),“Sexism and God-talk” (Boston: Beacon Press, 1993) and “Gaia and God” (UK: Harper Collins, 1994).
[viii] Ecofeminists theological system is panentheistic. See: Catharina Halkes, “New Creation: Christian Feminism and the Renewal of the Earth” (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster / John Knox Press, 1991), 153 and Eleanor Rae: Women, the Earth and the Divine” (New York: Orbis, 1994), 72-73.
[ix] As Keller claims. See: Catherine Keller, ‘Talk about the Weather: The Greening of Eschatology’ in “Ecofeminism and the Sacred”, ed. Carol J. Adams (New York: Continuum, 1993), 43.
[x] As Primavesi understands Christ. See: “From Apocalypse to Genesis”, 237. See also, Ruether: “Sexism and God-talk”, 121 and 138.
Rev.Fr.Dr.Vassilios Bebis is the Presiding Priest at Saint Nektarios Orthodox Church in Rosindale,Boston and a Senior Fellow of the Sophia Institute.