By Deanna Zantingh
The text of this article is drawn from a roundtable session of A Rocha Canada and St. Margaret’s Anglican Church’s Be Not Afraid/Consider the Liliesconference. An audio recording of this session can be found here.
I stumbled on a publication this week that a former professor of mine had retitled for me from a rather bland title to the title: “The Wisdom of Asking Better Questions.” Out of that process I realized that sometimes out of these questions we can spin a number of other questions and so that’s what I’d like to do for the next five or so minutes.
When I first heard the question, “Is the Earth Cursed?” I thought of this in one of two ways. Was it asking “Can we have hope for the future?” Or was it asking “ontologically is the land cursed, as a state of being?” And to this second question I have to say — absolutely not.
I think the story of the Hebrew Scriptures, the more I sit with it, point us toward the reality that everything has been made good and very good. The arc of that story, to me, presents us with the perennial challenge of being human — the challenge of living in the land in good ways before God and with all beings. I think it is also a story that warns us of all that is at risk of being lost and unleashed when we do not do this.
And all of this leads me to ask new questions too, like:
“Are we in our own time and place living in the land in good ways?”
“Do we even know what that might or could look like upon stolen lands that are being carved open by extractive desires, amidst rearranged and diverted rivers and dwindling animal habitats?”
Is the earth actively being cursed? By who?
The answer to this last question I think of course is “yes.” I think the signs of disequilibrium are all around us–in our communities, and families, and in the anxiety that young people feel. And I think this in turn prompts us to ask new questions, like:
“Who is benefiting from this?” And “How do we benefit from it?” “Who is actively cursing the earth?”
And while the present realities of the earth groaning affect us all, they do not affect us all equally. The majority of the world, women, the poor, Black, and Indigenous communities bear an unequal burden for forms of so-called development, while the rich reap most of the benefits. Black and Indigenous communities have faced waves of environmental racism for decades.
Already in the 1970’s, Black theologian, James Cone, wrote an article entitled, “Whose Earth Is It Anyways?” In this article, written over 50 years ago Cone tried to direct the attention of the human community broadly (and, I might add, white theologians, academics, and communities specifically) to the need to take seriously how the same system of domination is at play in the oppression of people and the oppression of the earth.
Cone goes on to say that “The logic that led to slavery and segregation in the Americas, colonization, and Apartheid in Africa, and the rule of white supremacy throughout the world is the same one that leads to the exploitation of animals and the ravaging of nature.” He continues “… the Fight for justice cannot be segregated but must be integrated with the fight for life in all its forms.”
So if we take this seriously, I think it points us to who some of our teachers might be.
Potawatomi ecologist Kyle Whyte makes a really clear link between climate change and histories of colonization. He says this is merely the newest wave of colonial violence that Indigenous communities have already been enduring for centuries. And when we can look at it that way, and see that this climate change reality is, as Whyte suggests, merely an experience of déjà vu for Indigenous communities, that is part of a larger domination system.
The question of how to have hope in the midst of anti-life systems, is not a new phenomenon or reality for all people, there are some who have centuries of experience in fostering life amidst death-wielding forces…. To put this bluntly, as Indigenous feminist Dian Million suggests, “It is not that Indigenous people don’t know what makes for life, health, it is that we know what makes for life beyond any one individual’s wellbeing.”
I think this points us to the colonial roots of this climate crisis and it can help us ask new questions about how climate change is both a social and an ecological crisis. Climate change is never just an ecological reality; its roots and effects are socio-ecological, born of spiritual ways of viewing and being in the world that will require deep conversion.
But I think this awareness also invites us into more relational ways of finding solutions — “You can’t know something unless you love it.” (Borrowed from Rachel Krause?) We can’t solve the pressing problems that climate change is causing without doing it as a solid human community across lines of divisions. And so …Is friendship a solution to climate change? I think it certainly has to play a significant role.
We are all interrelated and interdependent. Theologian, Catherine Keller, suggests that every entity in the universe can be described as a process of interconnection with every other being. We are not ontologically cursed — we are ontologically connected — and right now we are not heeding that connectedness.
In his article James Cone also made three suggestions which I think are still really important today:
1. We need a critical assessment of how we got here. We need to do some “extractive” work on our own epistemologies – our own ways of knowing and being.
2. And we need to have a willingness to look outside of where the dominating culture has rooted itself and look for other resources that are ethical, from other cultures that can help all people think about how to care for the earth better.
3. And then the last thing he said, which I think I find most hopeful, is that we need mutual dialogue — and he said that dialogue already assumes that there is respect and knowledge of our neighbours and an honest and humble reality of wanting to be in relationship with others, and that this feeds the earth’s healing.
The survival of the earth, therefore, is a moral issue for everybody. If we do not save the earth from destructive human behaviour, no one will survive. That fact alone ought to be enough to inspire even the privileged among us to join hands in the fight for a just and sustainable planet.
Systematic theologian, Karen Baker Fletcher, writes that “Our task is to grow large hearts, large minds, reconnecting with earth, Spirit, and one another…” she continues, writing as a Black theologian, that “Black religion must grow ever deeper in the heart.” To which I add, all religion must grow ever deeper in our hearts and in the land. Instead of extracting from the earth, we need a spiritual extraction of the ways of being that are making us sick — ownership, control, fear, greed, Add all of the ways these are tied to many diverse histories of trauma as well.
Is the earth cursed? How can we rebuild connections within and between the human family, our Creator, and the more-than-human world? On stolen lands that are being ravaged for profit, what systems might we need to disconnect from?
I have a lot more to say here, but I will conclude briefly by sharing a quote from Daniel Heath Justice whose main work is in Indigenous Literatures:
“I don’t see the world as a trash fire. I see the world as relatives who are under incredible strain and who are in a lot of danger. And I think thinking about the world as a trash fire does an injustice to our relatives as well as to ourselves.”
Deanna currently lives in Tkaranto (Toronto) on the traditional lands of the Huron-Wendat, the Seneca, and the Mississauga of the New Credit; lands governed by the Dish with One Spoon Treaty. She is a PhD Student in Eco-Theology at the Toronto School of Theology and a Research Manager at the Critical Health and Social Action Research Lab.