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Eco-Justice Notes
The E-mail Commentary from Eco-Justice Ministries

Doubting Thomas
distributed 4/18/03 - ©2003

Even though we've had 2,000 years to get used to the idea, Easter is astounding.

The resurrection was -- and is -- a unique event in all of history. No wonder "Doubting Thomas" found it hard to believe his friends when they told him the news. Resurrection went against everything that he had known and experienced.

Can you blame him for demanding proof? Is it surprising that he would say, "Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my hand in his side, I will not believe."

When your world is getting turned upside down, and when you're asked to believe the unbelievable, maybe it is fair to demand dramatic proof.

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It is good to keep Thomas in mind as we address some of the environmental catastrophes of today's world. He can help us be compassionate when we are dealing with those who are unable to believe the fact of global climate change, or other forms of change to the planet's environment.

What we're talking about in those areas is, in some ways, as astoundingly new and incredible as what Thomas faced with the resurrection.

Can it really be that human impacts are overwhelming all of nature?

  • Can it really be that invisible puffs of exhaust from our cars and furnaces, the wisps of smoke from power plants, are transforming the climate of this enormous planet?

  • Can it really be that polar bears in the Arctic, and penguins in the Antarctic, are laced with dangerous levels of man-made chemicals -- toxic compounds that have spread through the air and the seas, literally to the ends of the earth?

  • Can it really be that humans are forcing a substantial fraction of the world's species into extinction?
There's never been such a thing before. Humanity has never had that sort of power. It just can't be!

Indeed, it is a new thing. Daniel Maguire has written: "For the first time, our power to destroy outstrips the earth's power to restore." For the first time.

For many people, accepting the fact of these global problems -- just like accepting the fact of the resurrection -- is a challenging conceptual stretch. It is not a simple, rational process. It is far more than learning some new facts. To really believe what is happening takes a stunning change in world view and perspective -- a conversion.

Just teaching the environmental catechism won't do it. The doctrine of the environmental movement goes against what many of these people have always known and believed. Our message is almost as outrageous to them as the resurrection was to Thomas.

The facts of our planetary crisis contradict two of the core beliefs of a long-standing western world view -- that the world is stable and durable, and that humans are separate from "nature." There are many who have lived their lives without ever having to question those assumptions. Today's environmental catastrophes go against everything that they have known and experienced.

We have a challenge in spreading our message to those who do not believe. It is the challenge of the evangelists -- to help bring about a change of heart and mind. To help people see themselves differently in relation to their communities, their world, and God.

Teaching about the environmental insights from biology and chemistry is a part of the task. But those teachings will never be transformative unless people are able to weave those insights into a coherent, grounding, and hopeful world view.

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In my theology, the Easter message is the starting point for understanding environmental truths.

Easter is about God's intention to bring all of creation into reconciliation, to restore relationships of peace, justice and harmony. Easter speaks to me of the ways in which humanity is inseparable from the rest of creation, and it tells me about the fragility of all relationships -- human and environmental.

An Easter faith provides a coherent, grounding and hopeful world view. An Easter faith that encompasses the insights of modern science calls us into care for the environment, care for all of God's creation. Such a faith allows us to believe what too many today still find unbelievable about the threats to our planet.

This weekend, we celebrate the high holy day of the Christian faith. As we rejoice in the saving work of God in Christ, may our resurrection faith move us to care deeply and actively for this fragile Earth.


Peter Sawtell
Executive Director
Eco-Justice Ministries

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