A new Earth Day theology

NOEL CELIS AFP/GETTY IMAGES Workers replace broken LED lights on a huge bronze globe in front of a mall in … Continued



Workers replace broken LED lights on a huge bronze globe in front of a mall in Manila on April 22, 2012. At night, the structure will turn into an LED globe, featured in an Earth Day celebration. Activists across the globe are celebrating Earth Day on April 22 with events aimed at bringing awareness of environmental concerns.

On the 42nd Earth Day, April 22, 2012, it’s time for a change. No more flowers and beach balls that look like the earth. In Christian theological terms, it is time for righteous anger and judgment on the way in which the continued willful destruction of the planet’s ecosystem is causing widespread suffering and loss.

Flying semi-trucks and 4 feet of hail should now be our visuals for Earth Day.

The first Earth Day in 1970 is credited as launching the environmental movement and the idea of global warming. In 2012, the planet is in terrible trouble, and so is the environmental movement.

Global warming projections from thirty years ago have proved to have been remarkably accurate. Yet, there has been a steady decline in the number of Americans who say they see solid evidence of global warming.

A famous climate scientist like James Hansen, the lead author of the 1981 report, now feels he needs to get arrested in order to draw attention to what is happening to the planet and our legislative inaction about it. As much as that is an admirable, personal witness by a scientist, his reliance on charts and projections alone is not enough to counter the disinformation campaigns by so called “climate deniers.” Nor is the continued use of the term global warming.

“Global warming” is far too benign a term for the kind of violent and erratic climate change events that are now becoming commonplace in the U.S. as well as around the world. Global warming doesn’t sound like a condition that will result in the destruction of livelihood, home, perhaps even family or life. But these are effects of what is now happening to our planet.

“Global weirding” is a term coined by Hunter Lovins, cofounder of the Colorado-based Rocky Mountain institute. This is a much better description for the kinds of erratic and increasingly violent climate effects we are now experiencing. As I have argued in my book, “Dreaming of Eden: American Religion and Politics in a Wired World,” our climate is now “where the weird things are.”

Weird names the scary. And you should be scared. Weird names the disorderly, even violent climate events that are increasingly erratic and dangerous. You should be afraid. Everyone should be afraid of flying semi-trucks.

“Mother Earth is annoyed with you” is another way of talking about global weirding; the upheavals in earth’s temperatures are felt in these climate catastrophes and increasingly dangerous conditions around the world, from drought to flooding to more frequent and violent tornado and hail events. “Mother Earth” as a common cultural expression is supposed to mean the way in which the biosphere is the giver and sustainer of life. But, calling the earth by a female metaphor reveals how much the earth is subject to actions and policies that exploit rather than protect. There’s a kind of ‘war on women’ that applies to the planet too.

Judgment on injustice toward the planet, and seeing this injustice specifically as sinful, is the theological message we need today. Evangelical Christians emphasize “creation care” based on “stewardship” (Gen. 1:26), but this is frankly inadequate for a global weirding theology today.

Instead, we need to look at how the Bible actually talks about how climate catastrophes should be seen as God’s judgment. According to the prophet Isaiah, God says, “By a mere rebuke I dry up the sea, I turn rivers into a desert; their fish rot for lack of water and die of thirst.” (Isaiah 50:2b)

But lest that make us passive about global weirding (oh, it’s ‘God’s doing, not human actions!’), the judgment of God is upon humanity precisely FOR trashing the planet. And God is angry about it.

Even more to the point, Isaiah contains a passage where God is seen as a woman groaning in childbirth, and like a woman in childbirth God cries out in pain. This is itself a biblical image of God’s judgment on injustice.

“But now, like a woman in childbirth, I cry out, I gasp and pant. I will lay waste the mountains and hills and dry up all their vegetation; I will turn rivers into islands, and dry up the pools.” (Isaiah 42:14b-15)

God imaged as a woman who is in pain from giving birth, and angry at human sin. This is a shocking biblical passage, today as in Isaiah’s time, according to Hanne Løland. I’ve given birth three times, and let me tell you, the pain and the anger are both part of it.

The angry, birth-giving God, judging human sin against the planet is the theological reflection we Christian theologians need to provide for Earth Day 2012, and from now on. Our message to the whole society must be strong and direct so that people can grasp the extent to which climate catastrophe is already starting, and we must act.

God is judging our sin against the planet, and She is very, very angry about it.


Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite Rev. Dr. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite is Professor of Theology and immediate past President of Chicago Theological Seminary. She is also a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress. Her most recent books are "#OccupytheBible: What Jesus Really Said (and Did) About Money and Power" and, as contributor and editor, "Interfaith Just Peacemaking: Jewish, Christian, and Muslim Perspectives on the New Paradigm of Peace and War."

    Christians want to destroy the planet in a nuclear war. They worship the end of the world. They have a whole mythology about it.

    Don’t count on christians to help preserve the planet.

  • DavidSierra

    Into the vacuum that is a Progressive’s life, a crude & heathen nature worship. You people suffer a profound soul-sickness.

  • tioedong

    “we need to look at how the Bible actually talks about how climate catastrophes should be seen as God’s judgment.”

    Sheesh…where is Christopher Hitchens when we really need him?

  • ccnl1

    What we do know: (from the fields of astrophysics, nuclear physics, geology and the history of religion)

    1. The Sun will burn out in 3-5 billion years so we have a time frame. Said Sun will envelope the Earth as it turns into a red giant. (starting early with resultant global warming?)

    2. Asteroids continue to circle us in the nearby asteroid belt.

    3. One wayward rock and it is all over in a blast of permanent winter.

    4. There are enough nuclear weapons to do the same job.

    5. Many contemporary NT exegetes do not believe in the Second Coming so apparently there is no concern about JC coming back on an asteroid or cloud of raptors/rapture.

    6. All stars will eventually extinguish as there is a limit to the amount of hydrogen in the universe. When this happens (100 trillion years?), the universe will go dark. If it does not collapse and recycle, the universe will end.

    7. Super, dormant volcanoes off the coast of Africa and under Yellowstone Park could explode catalytically at any time ending life on Earth.

    Bottom line: our apocalypse will start between now and 3-5 billion CE. The universe apocalypse, 100 trillion years?

  • permagrin

    The good news is no one takes this claptrap seriously anymore. Hopefully this didn’t make the print edition and help waste a tree.

  • WarEagle1

    Whatever. Just more doom and gloom from the cult of climate change. There’s been no warming now for about 15 years and there is no evidence that severe weather events are increasing in frequency. Cap and trade is about as dead as dead can be. You warmers lost. Now go away.

  • Tomwe

    What does the Christian faith have to do with this? I think Robert Ingersoll said it best when he described how we should live in this world and respect it,

    “Secularism is the religion of humanity; it embraces the affairs of this world; it is interested in everything that touches the welfare of a sentient being; it advocates attention to the particular planet on which we happen to live; it means that each individual counts for something; it is a declaration of intellectual independence; it means that the pew is superior to the pulpit, that those who bear the burdens shall have the profits and that they who fill the purse shall hold the strings. It is a protest against ecclesiastical tyranny, against being a serf, subject, or slave of any phantom. or the priest of any phantom. It is a protest against wasting this life for the sake of one that we
    know not of. It proposes to let the gods take care of themselves …It means living for ourselves and each other; for the present instead of the past, for THIS WORLD instead of another … It is striving to do away with violence and vice, with ignorance, poverty, and disease …It does not believe in praying and receiving but in earning and deserving …It says to the whole world, work that you may eat, drink, and be clothed; work that you may enjoy; work that you may not want; work that you may give and never need.”

  • Tomwe

    Good comment . . .but wait, wasn’t the earth created around 7.000 years ago? . . .just kidding.

  • Tomwe

    “serious research in theology . . .” huh?

  • NickShaw1

    You do realize that writing trash like this is exactly why the warmistas are losing, don’t you?
    Now that I think of it, WaPo publishing trash like this is exactly why it won’t be around much longer!
    And that has nothing to do with the weather.

  • JamesPainter

    When did George Soros buy the Washington Post?

  • pedalingparson

    Spoken like a true climate-cult devotee and eco-doctrinaire. More proof that you lot are barking mad dirt-clod munchers.

  • jeffk1

    The better question, and tougher issue, is how we get all our money back from the politicians who squandered it funneling cash to their profiteering global warmist friends. Whether it is the money Obama parceled out to his campaign contributors for their now looted and bankrupt companies or the billions skimmed from producers in the carbon credits scams.
    We want our money back.

  • quiensabe

    Could God’s judgement, Susan, be for other reasons beside planet abuse? Are there things men and women are doing that God may have said are unnatural?He did judge Sodom an Gomorrah, did He not?

  • jjlc125

    Some years ago Billy Graham said, “If God doesn’t judge America He’ll have to apologize to Sodom and Gomorrah.”

  • jjlc125

    That’s something to think about following yesterday’s spring snowstorm in the higher elevations of the interior Northeast.

  • conversefive

    Maybe God is judging the EPA and Obama adminstration for making energy unaffordable to low-income citizens and putting them at risk of hypothermia or heat stroke.

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