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Introduction to Eco-Wholism

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Eco-Wholism: In Search of an Integrated Ecocentric Worldview

Earth with her thousand voices, praises God.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Hymn Before Sunrise

I was raised in dirt. Oh yes, I had loving parents, a clean house, plenty
of toys, but nothing was so much fun as bugs and dirt. I think, and I hope,
that we have all had a time in the beginning of our lives when we knew where
every little bug and bird lived in our yards, could identify every tree by
the feel of its bark, knew by the angle of the sun when to eat, nap, or run
in to watch our favorite cartoon. We knew by intuition which clouds meant
rain and which meant shade. We frowned when our hands and faces were scrubbed
by our mothers and fathers. We loved to be brown and grass-stained. We moved
from living moment to moment to squashing these bugs, to avoiding dirt, to
waking up and noticing that suddenly trees which were small and thin last we
looked had grown tall and full. The paths our feet had made in the monkey
grass and ivy had grown over. And so in a lifetime happens what has happened
on a much larger scale over decades and centuries. We have moved away from
During my nine-week introduction to religion and the environment, I
searched for where I fall in, which philosophy fits most with my beliefs.
While I appreciate the necessity of deep ecology, ecofeminism, and
ecowomanism, I have found that despite their particulars of who to blame for
the destruction of the earth, and which aspects should be focused on, that
they are essentially different knots on the same rope. I have found that I
agree and disagree equally among them and that this is a result more of the
idiosyncrasies of the individual writer than the philosophy as a whole. For
deep ecologists it is the anthropocentric worldview that is foremost to
blame for environmental destruction, and ecofeminists, on the other hand,
argue that it is the androcentric worldview that deserves primary
blame...that it is not just humans, but men and the masculinist worldview
that must be dismantled from their privileged place.1 I cannot help but be
burdened that while these philosophies mean to reconnect with the earth, they
separate from one another as opposing ideas. Ecowomanism is an offshoot of
ecofeminism, but focuses more on race and class. All views are valid among
these, but it seems more important that we act for the earth and all her
creatures rather than discuss semantics. Thus I am recommending a more
inclusive paradigm, one that not only attempts to liberate human vision from
the small, ego-centered mind and break down walls of exclusion based on
marginality, but one which attempts to de-ghettoize the new ecological
movement. J. Michael Clark insists that safety in ghettoized numbers [has]
not freed us from these phantasms.2 Though he speaks directly of academic,
religious, consumerist, and First World ghettos, ghettoization applies also
to the men and women who face the challenge of creating a shift in ecological
consciousness among humans, be it a shift from anthropocentrism or
androcentrism. We can agree that wherever the current center is, we much
shift it toward eco, oikos, home.

Life Is a Web. The Web Is God.
Chief Seattle said, Humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but
one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves. All
things are bound together. All things connect.3 We have attempted to define
God as existing outside of life, of earth, of nature. The Judeo-Christian God
is viewed by most as male, which posits a problem for finding an ethical
resource in scripture for how we should treat the earth, women, and nature.
Specifically, it posits a problem of hierarchy and patriarchy. If God is
masculine only, what does this say of women? Rosemary Radford Ruether says,
The way [Western] cultures have construed the idea of a male monotheistic
God, and the relation of this God to the cosmos as its Creator, have
reinforced symbolically the relations of domination of men over women,
masters over slaves, and (male ruling class) humans over animals and over the
earth.4 Yet others have replaced the symbolical male God with a female,
which posits the same dilemma, only reversed. Either one implies that God is
a being which created life, but remains separate from it. Many of us
automatically associate masculinity with domination, exclusion, and
hierarchy. When we view God as male, we tend to view God as possessing these
qualities, while we simultaneously view God as creating the others which he
is not, and which he implicitly created to dominate over. How can women, gay
and lesbian people, animals, and all of nature praise such a God? Not only
must we redefine God, but realize that such a God would have made a very
different planet. Sallie McFague, as a Christian eco-theologian, has done
just that:

The universe as Gods body is an immensely attractive, powerful model. To
think of the entire evolutionary process, with all the billions of galaxies
of stars and planets from the beginning of time, some fifteen billion years
ago, as the body of God, the visible sacrament as if it were of the
invisible God, is a model of profound immanence and overwhelming
transcendence. God is immanent in all the processes of reality, expressing
the divine intentions and purposes through those processes, and at the same
time God, as the agent of process, is transcendent over it, though at its
internal source, power, and goal rather than an external controller.5

Rather than viewing God as gendered, dominating, and watching us from a
distance, we might regard God not as being one with whom we should have a
relationship, but we might imagine God as the relationship. If I have a
relationship with you, we can describe this relationship as I-Thou. There is
I, being independent and possessing inherent value within myself, and there
is you who possess inherent value and independence. But between us we have
an invisible thread through which we communicate, and that connects us. The
thread that makes you and I become us. The hyphen is the necessarily
inadequate metaphor for God. This applies to all things, to trees, to all
animals, to all of nature, for biologically none of us can survive without
the rest of us. This is why I say not only is God the source of the web of
life, but he/she is a participant in the life process. God is also the web.
If we envision God as life and as the thread which makes all living
things interdependent and interrelated, we can now define what sin might be,
what the greatest fallacy a human could commit against God would be:
interrupting the web. We can apply interrupting the web as sin not only
to our treatment of the earth, but to our treatment of human and nonhuman
animals, particularly to the oppressed and excluded. If we see each living
thing as an extension of our selves, our perspective of Others becomes a
perspective of the self. If we view God as the delicate, subtle flow of the
circle of life, interrupting this circle becomes a breach in relation with
God, the ultimate sin.
We have undeniably grown bold, our chests puffed out with hubris in our
treatment and perspective of the environment. Humans are anthropocentric. The
Judeo-Christian God is made in mans image. We attempt to explain the
behavior of nonhuman animals in human ways, and then we rank them on our
invented hierarchy in which we are alone at the top. Men and women are
anthropocentric. But we also have made God a man. We have made the earth a
woman. Nature is a female. The nations of the earth throughout history have
been male-dominated and prone to classifying the oppressed with sexually
feminine metaphors. For example, Nietzche said, Earth is like the breasts of
a woman: useful as well as pleasing. This signifies much more than that we
promote sexualization of the earth through feminine genderization. It
reflects sexual exploitation of both as being symbolically alike: for the use
and pleasure of men and without intrinsic value. And so deep ecology and
ecofeminism have created a dichotomy in which both uphold truths which cannot
be denied. They both point a finger at the source of the destruction of the
biosphere, an ironically paradoxical creation in itself, destruction being a
problem created. Regardless of the myriad of causes which have brought us to
the extent of destruction and ecological crisis we now face, it requires
human responsibility to shift the center of our identification from the world
of humans to the world of all life. We must view the circle as a whole one,
one which is all-inclusive. It is not necessarily womens turn to be raised
to the status men have held historically, but it is time for an egalitarian
ecological worldview to take shape. Julia Scofield Russell states, As my
ecological consciousness grew, I perceived that our species was behaving as a
cancer on earth. Through unlimited and undifferentiated growth, we are
infecting and spreading our toxic wastes throughout the world.6 We are the
parasites of the earth, living off of her as if her resources are constantly
replenished, as if her immune system is infinite. Our waste is removed from
the edges of our land weekly, and we can easily, if we are mentally lazy,
believe that the waste disappears. We do not care, as long as the waste is
away. What we do not realize is that our waste fills land among the
impoverished and in predominantly African-American and Latino communities.
Symbolically and literally, we are associating race and class with trash,
landfills, that which is filthy.
J. Michael Clark introduces the Jewish concept of tikkun olam, which
literally means the right ordering of society. He incorporates Richard
Gottliebs expansion of this term as applied to ecotheology, This broader
understanding means the mandate of tikkun olam actually entails our
obligation to repair the world-- both human and non-human, biosphere and
geosphere alike. It reminds us that humanity is not the pinnacle of creation;
we have indeed been decentered by the intrinsic value and rich diversity of
all that is, as well as by our humble interdependence within the web of
As a female student new to these ideas, I am sympathetic to ecofeminism,
as I have been a firsthand witness, if not necessarily victim, of patriarchy.
However, I am more interested in combining forces with all humans who require
a new model for ecological perspective. We have all been witness, victim, and
instigator in the desolation of the earth. We have all rejected her as home.
It is inadequate to preach recycling, detoxification, an end to racism,
patriarchy, classism, sexism, homophobia, etc. It is unacceptable to charge
only men with ecocide. It is naive and ineffective to commit to changing the
world. We must change only our own perspectives, inadequacies, biases. We
must only look to our own communities--our backyards, the rivers which run
beside us, the oceans we live on, the living biosphere immediate to us. What
we do to our small netting of web around us affects the larger and whole web.
We must think locally, act locally, for thinking and acting locally is
thinking and acting globally.
T. S. Eliot said in his poem The Hollow Men, This is the way the
world ends, not with a bang, but a whimper. If, as Samuel Taylor Coleridge
said, The earth, in her thousand voices, praises God, she whimpers to us in
a million.

Works Cited:

1 Kheel, Marti, Ecofeminism and Deep Ecology: Reflections on Identity and
Difference, in Reweaving the World: The Emergence of Ecofeminism, ed.
Diamond and Orenstein (San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1990), 129.

2 Clark, J. Michael, Beyond Our Ghettos (Cleveland, OH: The Pilgrim Press,
1993), 2.

3 Chief Seattle

4 Ruether, Rosemary Radford, Gaia and God ( San Francisco: Harper Collins,
1992), 3.

5 McFague, Sallie, An Earthly Theological Agenda in Ecofeminism and the
Sacred, ed. Carol Adams (New York: Continuum, 1993), 95.

6 Russell, Julia Scofield, The Evolution of an Ecofeminist, in Reweaving,

7 Clark, J. Michael, An Unbroken Circle: Ecotheology, Theodicy, & Ethics (Las
Colinas: Monument Press, 1996), 30-31.

By Holly C. Selph