“You must love the earth as yourself” 

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When Moltmann (2010:140) discusses creation and evolution, he labels his method as a theological nature hermeneutic (“theologischen Naturhermeneutik”) that deals with natural phenomena in the light of eternity. He states that his theological methods developed as he cultivated a perception of theological thought. “The road emerged only as I walked it. And my attempts to walk it are of course determined by my personal biography, and by the political and historical kairos in which I live” (Moltmann 2000:xv).

Moltmann tends to repeat thoughts in his publications. When this trend is carefully assessed, it becomes clear that his methodology is not only iterative, but increasingly focused. It is like the action of diamond miners who shake a grid in order to gradually reveal diamonds from the gravel. 

The word “peril” in the title of Moltmann’s recently published The Spirit of Hope: Theology for a World in Peril (2019) is atypically (for Moltmann) negative compared with the positive views reflected in his other publications. Here he reminds us that Christian faith has much to say in response to a despairing world. In the eternal “yes” of the living God we affirm the goodness and ongoing purpose of our fragile humanity. Likewise, God’s love empowers us to love life and resist a culture of death. The book analyses the challenges of hope in our contemporary world, particularly the environmental crisis. It argues that the Christian faith – and indeed all the world’s religions – must orient itself toward the wholeness of the human family and the physical environment necessary to that wholeness. 

The author of this article interprets the ideas in the above-mentioned book of Moltmann as the culmination of Moltmann’s legacy, in the form of ecotheology. This is evident in his treatment of Jesus’ summary of the commandments when he spontaneously changes the wording of Luke 10:27–8 by inserting a phrase about the earth: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour [and the earth] as thyself.” This is the quintessence of his ecotheology.

The creation command of Genesis 1:28 requires recognition of the dignity of all creatures, as a challenge to Karl Barth who distorted Protestant theology when he declared that creation theology is, in essence, nothing but anthropology. However, “[T]he idea that there is a fundamental difference between human beings and animals is seriously questioned ...” And: “This covenant is anything but Anthropocentric – it is clearly eco-centric” (Labuschagné 1996:127, 131).

Four contours are presented in this article with regard to the ecotheology of Moltmann:

  • We need a fresh understanding of the “image of God”; a movement away from human beings as the centre of creation to a cosmic integration. The first creation narrative clearly shows certain circles of environmental concentration: exosphere → atmosphere hydrosphere troposphere biosphere. All the circles are concentric and interdependent. But the dependence is one-directional. We need nature, but nature does not need us. A human is, rather, a “cosmic image”, seeing that the Gestalt of humans is embedded in nature and society.
  • We need a new image of God that moves away from the image of a remote God to an image of an immanent God. The Trinity is the hermeneutical key to interpreting history. God is not a totally different God, but the all-pervasive God. This does not mean that Moltmann supports pantheism or even panentheism. God contracted Godself to free up a void for the creation that is not God. Therefore, God did not only create from nothing but in nothing as well. And now God inhabits this handiwork of God through the Spirit. The implication is therefore that the crown or apex of the creation is not the human-being, but the Sabbath, when God and creature are together in a state of harmony.
  • We need a new understanding of the creation command that moves from domination and subjugation to cosmic love. Humanity is not the Maître et possesseur de la nature, but Genesis 1:29 is to be interpreted as a nutritional command: The animal gets green herbs, but humans have to live from the herbs bearing seed, which obviously implies cultivation. Time is converted into space when God comes. God constitutes the dwelling place for those God has created.
  • The new heaven and the new earth motivate a change from word politics to earth politics. Eschatology is essentially not the end, but the beginning of all things. One world or no world, says Moltmann, and the closer we get to God the closer we get to one another. The new heaven and new earth are the cosmic temple of God. 

What emerges from Moltmann’s ecotheology is that the contours of theology and science are not only prone to a degree of convergence on a transversal level, but are synergistically integrated, almost like a double helix. Life is the essence of departure of both ecotheology and environmental science. Anthropocentrism is to be discarded and we must comprehend that there is only one planet, Gaia, the Blue Planet, our mother, our Heimat (Moltmann 2018:113). The Club of Rome, for example, advocates the development of a new paradigm of “planetary well-being” and reaches out to theology as a partner, while Moltmann acknowledges that we have to deal with reality in an empirical-inductive way.

With this exemplary approach followed, the research project contributes to an ecotheology that is scientifically grounded and biblically founded.

Keywords: dominium terrae; ecotheology; imago Dei; Moltmann; science and religion dialogue; understanding of reality


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