Biocentric Theology: Christianity celebrating humans as an ephemeral part of life, not the centre of it

Author: Jason Robert John

John, Jason Robert, 2005 Biocentric Theology: Christianity celebrating humans as an ephemeral part of life, not the centre of it, Flinders University, School of Humanities

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Abstract

When the Uniting Church formed in 1977, its Basis of Union envisaged a final reconciliation and renewal for all creation, not just humans. It did, nonetheless, reflect the anthropocentric assumptions of its day, as did other official documents released in the first decade of the Uniting Church’s life. Anthropocentrism assumes that human beings alone are created in the image of God, charged with dominion over Earth, and responsible for the fallenness of creation, though not necessarily through the actions of a literal Adam and Eve. This basic framework did not shift in the first decade, even though Earth began to be talked about not as an inanimate resource for human consumption, but something good and valuable in and of itself. In 1990 this anthropocentric paradigm began to be challenged, and during 2000-2002 two quite irreconcilable understandings of the relationship between God and Earth, and thus humans and other animals existed side by side in Uniting Church worship resources. Having listened carefully to the story of life as told by ecological and evolutionary scientists, I conclude that the traditional anthropocentric paradigm is no longer tenable. Instead I propose that all of life is the image of God, in its evolutionary past, ecological present and unknown future. All of life is in direct relationship with God, and exercises dominion of Earth. Evidence traditionally used as evidence of the fallenness of creation is instead affirmed as an essential part of life, though life on Earth has experienced a number of significant “falls” in biodiversity. Even the more biocentric thought in recent Uniting Church resources is inadequate, because its language implies that life is simple, static, benign, and to some extent designed by God. In order to be adequately consonant with the life sciences, theology must be able to accept that finitude (pain, suffering and death) is a good part of creation, for without it there could be no life. This is an emphasis of ecofeminism, which I extend to affirm not only individual death, but the extinction of whole species, including humans. I argue that the purpose of creation was not the evolution of humans, but to make possible God’s desire for richness of experience, primarily mediated through relationships. Whilst this idea is well established in process theology, it must be purged of its individualistic and consciousness-centric biases to be adequately consonant with the scientific story of life. The resulting biocentric paradigm has several implications for our understanding of Jesus. I argue that he offers salvation from the overwhelming fear of finitude, rather than finitude itself. Against the trend in ecotheology, I propose that this saving work is directed in the first instance to humans only. I tentatively propose that it is directed to only some humans. This, paradoxically, is more affirming of God’s relationship with the rest of creation than most ecotheology, which proclaims Jesus as a global or universal saviour. Salvation for some humans, and all non human creatures, happens only in a secondary sense, because this is the only sense in which they need saving. I then speculate on whether and how it might be possible for a Christian biocentric community to live out its salvation. Finally, I revisit the Basis of Union and argue that although the biocentric theology I have proposed goes well beyond the Basis, it is not at odds with the Basis’ directions and intentions. Biocentric theology is, rather, an extension of the trajectories already contained within the Basis, with its trust in the eventual reconciliation and renewal of all creation.

Keywords: ecotheology,anthropocentrism,progressive christianity
Subject: Theology thesis

Thesis type: Doctor of Philosophy
Completed: 2005
School: School of Humanities and Creative Arts
Supervisor: Rev. Dr Andrew Dutney