Chapter 6: Spiritual Anthropologies II: Ecofeminism, Iris Murdoch, and Other Reflections on the Human Situation
By Sophie Manaster and Greg Hitzhusen
The theological and spiritual anthropologies of Reinhold Niebuhr and David Loy that we explored in the last chapter reflect a well-versed religious perspective in America – one that sees human failings caught up in selfish egotism and sin. The three major strands of American religious engagement in environmental causes– stewardship, eco-justice, and creation spirituality –all play off of this in one way or another. Stewardship entails taking up the duty and call to care for the planet rather than live selfishly; eco-justice focuses on righting the injustices caused by selfish, exploitative human behavior; creation spirituality often involves connecting humans more empathically and experientially to the creation, in a unifying way or such that close connection and love of creation motivates one to eschew selfish regard and overconsumption and live in ways that are protective and honoring of all creation. Laurel Kearns (1996) highlighted each of these approaches in her analysis of the environmental traditions of American churches, but she also lifted up ecofeminist views as providing another abiding perspective by which to understand our environmental dilemmas and move forward into more sustainable living. Indeed, one of the more compelling critiques of both Niebuhr and Loy comes from eco-feminist thinking. Feminists have argued that Niebuhr’s analysis of sin and salvation is male-focused, such that while for men (who are often in positions of power and control) the abiding issue may be learning to “unself”, for women (who more often are in positions of subservience or oppression), it may more often be important to receive more support for the self, and thus Niebuhr’s prescription of “shattering the self” could be harmful, not salvific, for many women. In this chapter, Sophie Manaster explores some of the dimensions of feminist thinking that provide innovative perspectives for creation care. The views of neo-platonist Iris Murdoch also provide a framework for new ways of moving forward.