Super, Natural Christians
by Sallie McFague
Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1997
by John Scull
Christians either do not know how to relate to nature
or they relate to it as Western culture does, as an object
for our use.”
purpose of this book is to correct this shortcoming by teaching
Christians how to love nature, something she feels they
are called to do. This is a book about ecology for Christians,
not a book about Christianity. I don’t feel qualified
to comment on her Christian theology but most of this wonderful
book about ecology seemed to me to be relevant to Christians
and non-Christians alike.
her exploration of Christian nature spirituality by defining
these three words. Spirituality is an exploration of what
it means to become more human. Christians are those who,
among other things, care for the oppressed. Nature refers
to the myriad individual beings in the universe and their
relationship to each other. Christian nature spirituality
can be achieved if the Christian circle of concern can be
expanded from humans to those aspects of the non-human world
that are oppressed and suffering.
includes a discussion (seemingly obligatory for ecological
writers) of her objections to Cartesian dualism, objectifying
scientism, economism, and the other sins of modern culture.
She gives this discussion an interesting twist by comparing
modernism with medieval cosmology. Once she has completed
this critique, the book comes to life as she leads the reader
through a process whereby nature can be included in the
circle of concern.
suggestion is to pay attention. We cannot love something
we do not know. She then distinguishes between attention
with the arrogant eye which looks at other beings (including
other people) as objects which may be of use, and the loving
eye, which looks at others as subjects with their own worldview,
interests, and needs. She suggests that we need to look
at both human and non-human beings with the loving eye.
eye sees the world as a subject-object dualism. The loving
eye sees the world as a subject-subjects distinction. The
loving eye recognizes that other beings exist in their own
subjective universe. It recognizes that the world is plural
– there are many subjects.
explores the subject-subjects worldview she presents a number
of different metaphors and analogies to contrast the arrogant
eye with the loving eye. She is clear that these are all
metaphors and analogies and are not to be taken as explanations
or descriptions. She draws parallels with the contrasts
between the ethics of care and the ethics of justice, the
sense of touch and the sense of vision, living in a maze
and looking at a landscape, patriarchal and feminist perspectives,
and Buber’s I-Thou rather than I-It.
with vision and touch worked the best for me. We can look
at something or someone without their knowledge, participation,
or consent. On the other hand, when we touch something we
interact with it – the other being knows it has been
touched and it has the possibility of responding. With other
humans we usually ask permission to touch them but seldom
ask if we can look at them. Vision is an analogy for a subject-object
worldview, touch is analogous to a subject-subjects perspective.
is clear that while subject-object (arrogant eye) and subject-subjects
(loving eye) are two ways to view the same reality, both
are valid worldviews. She recommends the subject-subjects
view to Christians. Her argument for this seems to rest
on the pragmatic consideration that the two views are to
be judged by their different consequences – one perspective
can lead to exploitation and oppression of both the human
and non-human world, the other can lead to concern, compassion,
writing is presented as a window into the subject-subjects
world. She admires the way writers such as Annie Dillard
or Robert Pyle focus on individual and specific aspects
of nature. She admires their rich understanding of non-human
beings based on careful observation and scientific study.
She sees nature writing as being a clear expression of the
experience of viewing the world with the loving eye.
fully developing the idea of a subject-subjects worldview,
she shows how it leads to the view of nature as a community
of subjects of which we are members. As in a human community
each member has different roles and brings different gifts
and challenges, but each member is equally deserving of
respect, care, and rights. This worldview leads to an ecological
understanding of a diverse world. This, in turn, leads to
a relational definition of self and an ethics of care, respect,
book contained many important insights for an ecopsychologist,
so I was surprised at her apparent rejection of romanticism,
transcendentalism, transpersonalism, and deep ecology. I
did not agree with her caricature of these views:
principal difficulty with this model in terms of our issue
of how Christians should love nature is that the other
as other is not taken seriously. Differences, complexity,
and diversity are sacrificed to oceanic feelings of oneness
with the earth.”
she is being unfair. Diversity is a central value in the
work of Emerson, Thoreau, Muir, Leopold, Naess, Macy, and
many others in these traditions.
last chapter she shows how her views can provide the basis
for an environmental ethics of community with care as the
highest value and justice being in the service of caring.
Through the subject-subjects worldview and the close attention
embodied in nature writing, we can learn to bring the values
of liberation theology to the non-human natural world. I
found myself in almost total agreement.
work draws heavily on feminist sources and on nature writing.
I was somewhat surprised by her limited recognition that
other traditions had been down this road before. Many of
her ideas can be found in the writing of Thich Nhat Hanh,
Carol Gilligan, William James, and the writing of ecopsychologists
such as David Abram and Michael J. Cohen. The romantics
and transcendentalists (whose views she rejects) invented
the genre of nature writing. Most significantly, her vision
of environmental care seems almost indistinguishable from
the ethics of Aldo Leopold, yet she gives him little recognition.
Leopold may be the best example of someone whose morality
is grounded in direct and detailed observation and understanding
of the specifics of the natural world.
of these few reservations, I found this book to be extremely
stimulating. Every chapter led me to think and reflect in
new and interesting ways. Even though this is a work of
theology, I found that most of it resonated with my understanding
of ecopsychology. It further convinces me that there is
little, other than a choice of metaphors, to distinguish
ecopsychology from ecospirituality.
Scull is a founding member of ICE, and a frequent contributor
to Gatherings. Now retired from his psychology
practice, John lives with his wife Linda in British Columbia
and is an active environmental advocate and community educator.