"Faith Encounters the Ecological Crisis"A Different Spirit

by Mary Greenstein

JustFaith’s JustMatters offers a module called “Faith Encounters the Ecological Crisis” which includes an 8-week course, Ecology, Spirituality and Hope. The module was developed by the author, Margaret Swedish, around her book Living Beyond the End of the World. The following review of the book and associated blog, www.ecologicalhope.org , examines its spiritual integrity for a Christian audience. An excellent lens to interpret the spiritual jargon used in the book and subsequent module is the Vatican document, Jesus, Christ, the Bearer of the Water of Life, A Christian Reflection on the New Age. In Living Beyond, Eco-feminist theologians are quoted throughout as well as the theme of Thomas Berry’s new cosmology for collectivist living. In terms of religious ritual and spirituality a preference for nature worship including Gaia and Wicca influences pervade. Flowing from this perspective is a spirit of fear – the basis for recommending human population control and reproductive services.

Was this false prophet sent to stir things up, to make us (Christians) feel uncomfortable? Ms. Swedish, project manager, reveals the following:
“The module is particularly aimed at a Christian audience, though this project has a broad inclusive approach to the term 'spirituality.' Having laid out the various trends that are leading us towards disaster, the module challenges religious understandings that helped create the crisis and a path through this one tradition towards a deeper consciousness of the place of the human within the creative act that is our unfolding universe.”

The material instills a spirit of fear using environmental abuse and degradation to construe an apocalyptical scenario-- human extinction. A reference to a debunked 1970’s study Limits To Growth, Living Beyond emotionally exaggerates “In the important and highly disturbing book Limits to Growth the authors define some terms with which we need to become very familiar, to make part of our daily lives as we learn how to address our multiple ecological crises. They should become the substance of our ongoing faith reflection, the content of weekend sermons and religion classes, part of the conversation at the family dinner table and among our neighbors, the substance of the calls to action we need to make, and soon. These terms must become part of the framework of our religiosities, our spiritualities and theologies, the framework of meaning that we give our daily lives—because of what is at stake here.” These terms, ecological footprint and ecological overshoot, have yet to be defined measurably nor have they become scientific axioms— are used mainly by environmental activists and zero population advocates.

Population control measures are suggested as a part of the solution to the crisis in both Living Beyond and ecologicalhope.org. Evidently, the womb is the only place where destruction is okay. Eco-feminist theologian, Gebara, who’s revered by Swedish in Living Beyond, was sanctioned by the Church for wrongfully justifying abortion for poor women. In keeping, Swedish, too, upholds ‘reproductive rights’ at odds with Church teaching. Living Beyonds concluding chapter states “I think of some things more controversial from the perspective of some of our churches, perhaps, but equally urgent, like international family-planning programs, and especially the education and empowerment of women around the world along with the availability of reproductive services—the most proven path thus far for lowering birth rates (abortion rates, too).”

The basis of the book is to re-think human presence on the planet. As the Vatican document, The Bearer of the Water of Life, explains this is New Age philosophy that relates mythically, not historically. According to Living Beyond, original sin is a non-issue, personal redemption is unnecessary-- compared to the biggest moral crisis: human contamination of our Mother (Earth). Personal morality is insignificant. Who we are married to (and our personal conflicts) need to take a back seat so we can move our collective consciousness forward beyond the crisis at hand. The new consciousness offered, this new spirituality, requires a shaking off of the old story which “still clings to the belief that there is a heaven outside the tribulation of this world in which the souls of the just, their identities intact, will exist in happy eternity.” What type of spirituality and associated rituals could bring a Christian audience to assent to this new way of thinking? How does one acquire this new identity?

The creator of the module is a self-professed Gaia worshiper. Gaia is a New Age belief where the earth is God, a belief derived directly from Greek pagan mythology. In Living Beyond Earth is whom we live in and move and have our being. James Lovelock, who’s book is linked on the ecologicalhope.org website, proposed his Gaia theory in the 1970’s. He proposed the concept that the earth is a living entity. “The universe is an ocean of energy, which is a single or whole network of links.” The Bearer of the Water of Life interprets this New Age speak for us. The energy animating the single organism is ‘spirit.’ It is essential to understand that this is a different spirit not the Holy Spirit, the 3rd person of the Trinity. Any prayers or reference to the spirit refer to this new entity. According to Living Beyond “This will mean a spiritual turning as well, letting go of ideas and values that no longer serve, that keep us small, and turning toward a greatly enlarged sense of the Sacred, the Divine.”

So, if the Holy Spirit is not the spirit of this new spirituality and the Earth doesn’t require a Creator outside of its self-creating, evolving-self then what does “faith” do with Jesus Christ in this new ecological spirituality as posed by the JMatters module? As per Living Beyond “Our faith is being pulled in entirely new ways, and being stretched as never before.” “We can glean something of how Jesus would have approached the ecological crisis and what he might have to say to us about these times, given those ‘corrections’ to the original story. Given the extraordinary witness that he was in his time…” Jesus, according to New Age thinking, was a “Christic” type, not unlike Buddha and other ‘universal masters.’ The book refers to the multiplication of the loaves and fishes as a means to stop being selfish-- apparently the crowd was hiding all their provisions under their robes and when the boy gave his loaves & fishes, everyone anteed-up.

In Living Beyond the Great Work of Thomas Berry and his many disciples is paramount to articulating this spirit of change and reflects New Age sentiments like those of Teilhard de Chardin. According to Swedish the description of Gn. 1:28-29 creation story is an outmoded myth in which the human is given dominion over nature, created by an act of God from outside nature—a hierarchy of creatures with humans at the top, closer to the divine. Further on in the chapter entitled ‘Letting an Old Story Go’ she tells us that this is “a bleak view of the human condition, alienated from God and nature by guilt and shame.” (No wonder Lent isn’t included the ecological spirituality). In typical New Age fashion she concludes “There is no inside and outside of nature or the cosmos, no alienation except that which we create in our psychological and spiritual lives.”

This new change of reality is going to require new thinking of the ‘self’, of course. What happens to the old self? Is this part of what happens in the JMatters module? Living Beyond recommends the book Ecopsychology: Restoring the Earth, Healing the Mind, by Arne Naess. After reading it, Swedish was enlightened with the following sentiments:

“An ecologically responsible construction of the self is necessary. When we are able to experience the interconnectedness we need no moral exhortation to adjust our behaviors…if we broaden and deepen our sense of self, then the earth flows through us and we act naturally to care for it.”

Catholic theologian, Scott Hahn’s beautiful quote “God’s greatest work was not creation but redemption” offers the wisdom of the True Faith in sharp contrast to the “faith” being offered by JMatter’s “Faith Encounters the Ecological Crisis.” There is no original sin as the new story, the new cosmology tells us. Swedish states “There is here no sudden onset of sin that separated us from God and immortality. Death is not a punishment: it is what makes life possible; it is part of the constant unfolding of the earth story of the evolution of the cosmos. It can be a bit dizzying— and a bit frightening. What could be more disconcerting than to find the human displaced from the lead role in the story of creation?”

And just who is the Creator in this new faith being offered by JustFaith’s JustMatters? According to Living Beyond YHWH is “the life-giving presence of God herself:”

“Let earth praise YHWH;
Sea-monsters and all the deeps,
Fire and hail, snow and mist,
Gales that obey God’s decree,
Mountains and hills,
Orchards and forests,
Wild animals and farm animals,
Snakes and birds…
All rulers in the world,
Young men and girls,
Old people and children too! (Ps 148:7-12)”

The JustMatters sample material on the JF website includes a guided prayer which also is directed to an YHWH. In the opening prayer, from the sample materials “…we pray in sorrow for the human condition….We commit to becoming healers within the broken fabric of life.” “We pray in hope that we represent here in this community the spirit of creation at work in the world.” New Age references to Gaia are included in this prayer: ‘fabric of life’ and its creative energy that is its ‘spirit of creation.’

After all the doom, gloom and fear mongering of a Living Beyond based presentation, one might wonder where all the hope comes from? Reading the blog, ecologicalhope.org, reveals that secret, hope lies in femininist theology such as Rosemary Ruether’s book Integrating Ecofeminism, Globalization and World Religions. Margaret Swedish touts interfaith ecological theology as one of the essential themes for solving the crisis. Ruether’s “hope-filled” summary of various ecofeminist thinkers includes “a rejection of splitting of the divine from the earth and its communities…the concept of God is deconstructed. The divine is understood as a matrix of life-giving energy that is in, through, and under all things: the one in whom we live, and move and have our being.” According to ecologicalhope.org Ruether’s book offers a clarion call to change our frameworks of meaning and spiritualities.

In the book, The Great Turning From Empire to Earth Community reviewed on ecologicalhope.org, Margaret Swedish quotes “The competing narratives are reflected in the range of qualities attributed to God in different cultures.” Two examples are described as: a) “the wrathful God of Empire” and b) “the universal loving God/dess of Earth Community, the intrinsic, omnipresent living Spirit beyond gender.“ Recommendations are offered for “birthing earth community.” According to Living Beyond this ‘turning’ will be very uncomfortable especially for US Americans who need to be “downwardly mobile” in their economy. Session 6 in the JMatters module is about envisioning this new American Dream.

A spirit of witchcraft pervades the ecofemnist’s religious practices and a thorough accounting of their practices are revealed in Donna Steichen’s book, Ungodly Rage. The relationship between Starhawk, professed and well known witch, now turned consultant to global organizing groups, is a good friend of Rosemary Ruether. Also, ecologicalhope.org recommends her newest book, The Fifth Sacred Thing. The ecologicalhope.org also refers to a website for The Four Elements. Later in her blog Swedish observes that making offerings to the element of fire has an aspect of “profound transformation.” Starhawk and Ruether were together on a panel in 2011 sharing their friendship story. Starhawk gave a talk on elemental theology and discussed how to use the four elements to bring about transformation for everything from gardening to occupy organizing. She offered the Magick Circle practice of calling on “elements” to create circles: “large inclusive circles” and smaller circles which exclude difficult, uncooperating people. This is a typical wiccan practice to create ‘sacred’ spaces for whatever you need to do: include people, exclude people, anything you need them for

Why did JustFaith hire Ms. Swedish to create their JustMatters module “Faith Encounters the Ecological Crisis?” A particularly troubling excerpt from Living Beyond proclaims the following: “Now not all religious institutions are prepared to embrace this creation story, for its implications will affect these structures as well. That there is resistance is no surprise. The ground is quaking underneath all human constructs, whether or not we believe them to be divinely inspired. What the new creation story is showing us is that hierarchy and centralized authority, dynamics of power and domination, grand temples and strict orthodoxies, are all poor models for how creation actually works, for how we experience the sacred within this story.” In addition to the eco-feminist spirit at influence here, The Bearer of the Water of Life reveals “New Age shares with a number of internationally influential groups the goal of superseding or transcending particular religions in order to create space for a universal religion which could unite humanity. … Further, the politicization of ecological questions certainly colours the whole question of the Gaia hypothesis or worship of mother earth.”

This JustFaith, JustMatters module, “Faith Encounters the Ecological Crisis” is not the Christian Faith in its philosophy or spirituality. It is subversive in regards to its politics and blasphemous to the Christian Faith. It is dangerous for its potential of mind-altering activities that are influenced by pseudo-psychological beliefs and New Age conscious/mind altering practices, including demonic practices.

Of course, individuals are free to accept their own beliefs and to form associations. However, it is extremely troubling when Catholic groups, such as JustFaith, adopt and deliberately disseminate these heresies and do so with the full support of our Shepherds -- those entrusted with the duty to defend the Church and preach the Faith.

Mary Greenstein
Catholic Allies in Truth
April 2013

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