In the preceding discussions on an eco-tethered liberation, I have taken a broader, more holistic cosmological look at evolution. This way, the liberative goal rests on allowing each subject to follow its evolutionary impulses leading to greater differentiation, subjectivity, and communion.
It is important at this point to stress what I am not implying here: some rosy poetic harmonious fantasy world where everything is peachy keen.
Some ecotheologians might be accused of this (for instance, Sallie McFague, who quotes Isaiah 65:25, where “The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, the lion shall eat straw like the ox”). These authors are not taking into account and, therefore have not fully realizing, the implications of scientific evidence on evolution when generating their ethics (author Lisa Sideris, by the way, does a good job of explaining this: see below*). From a biological view, then, these thinkers tend to downplay or gloss over the dark and negative Darwinian processes of the natural world, such as predation, competition, and disease.
In the cosmological view of liberation I have put forth, however, animals (humans too) and other organisms still suffer from predation, starvation, and other sometimes gruesome privations. And all this will continue whether at the hands of the human or not.
Shaking your head? Perhaps the crux of the matter rests on how we understand suffering.
Diarmuid O’Murchu** (a refreshing faith educator and insightful author by the way) offers a helpful framework in this regard by introducing the concept of paradox. Pain and destruction, like creation, are all part and parcel of existence. This is the paradox of existence we will have to accept. That a wasp generates her offspring by inserting her eggs into an unwilling caterpillar who, after time, serves as the host of the hatching eggs whose larvae then eat the caterpillar from the inside out before flying away, is horrid in our human hearts. We have little control over these dark paradoxes within the cosmic processes, so we’d be better off coming to terms with their reality. We do not have to understand them, and probably never will.
Human induced suffering, however, is a different matter. O’Murchu makes a distinction between the cosmic process discussed above and human processes; he also calls these differences meaningful and meaningless suffering respectively. Meaningless suffering, he maintains, is all too often marred by “wrong human intervention” or human ignorance (you name it, all those generated through greed, fear, lust, hate etc.) and, for this reason, any suffering that arises from such human processes is senseless, holding no meaningful significance. Obviously, this type of suffering must be avoided or eased.
Ironically, a lot of these meaningless problems in our world are actually generated when we humans start wishing for the paradoxical type of suffering (like death and aging) to ‘just go away’. This is something ecofeminists (feminist thinkers who see parallels between the domination of women and the domination of Earth), have been talking about for some time (see Rosemary Radford Ruether for instance ***).
When we strive for a pain-free world devoid of depletion and destruction (and some ecofeminists will tell you this is a trait more often found in men than women), more often than not, we set in motion our attempt to control life processes. This controlling action lies at the root of wrong interventions, which lead to meaningless destruction, poverty and marginalization.
The lesson here is this: while we cannot always make sense of the cosmic processes of destruction and suffering, accepting the paradox underlining this type of suffering might curb our obsessive goals to manipulate the world around us. Another ecofeminist lesson: we are humans who age, wither and die.
Obviously, I am concerned here and in my discussion of messy ethics with the human non-genuine, meaningless and exploitative practices. How do we ensure these practices do not occur? Returning to the metaphor of a busy and crowded train station that began this discussion of messy ethics, the answer is not so straightforward when we are dealing with multiple liberations: we now have to ensure that a single subject’s liberation – and now not just between human subjects, but among human subjects and other-than-human subjects (trees, birds) – does not impinge on the liberation of an other-than-human.
This is the big question. I will need to spend time on in subsequent blogs!
* Lisa H. Sideris, Environmental Ethic, Ecological Theology, and Natural Selection (New York: Columbia University Press, 2003)
** O’Murchu, Adult Faith, Growing in Wisdom and Understanding (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2010), 134-135.
*** Rosemary Radford Ruether, Gaia and God: An Ecofeminist Theology of Earth Healing (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1994)