Rethinking Theology and Economy for a Planet in Peril
by Dr. Sallie McFague
Published by Fortress Press, 2001
from the preface to ‘Life Abundant’ …
In Life Abundant, Sallie McFague writes, We North American middle-class Christians need to live differently in order to love nature, and to live differently, we need to think differently – especially about ourselves and who we are in the scheme of things.
By think differently I mean the largely unconscious worldview that is the silent partner in all our behavior and decisions. Our world-views are formed by many factors, including our religious assumptions.
This list tries to define what Sallie McFague means by a particular words and phrases in her book, Life Abundant: Rethinking Theology and Economy for a Planet in Peril (Fortress Press, 2001).
Sallie McFague’s religious autobiography
Mature Christians have a ‘working theology’ * – a set of deeply held beliefs that actually functions in their personal and public lives. A working theology develops as we move through our lives, reflecting theologically on our experiences.
CONNECT: How do you feel?
1. Conversions: McFague writes of four ‘conversions’ that changed her own views about God and the world. As you look back to your own childhood, what shaped your image of God? As you reflect on your adult life, what ‘conversions’ have you experienced (spiritual or otherwise)? How did they change your image of God? How did they change the way you see the world?
2. Your worldview: What do you value, aspire to, pursue, cling to?
3. Your credo: What are some of your own deeply held beliefs?
Every Christian is called to be a theologian, but be careful:
· Any theology can become enmeshed– tied to nationalism, racism, sexism, commercialism, etc.
· When a theology rejects diversity and ignores the ways culture influences ideas about God, postmodernists* will regard that theology as empty and even dangerous.
· When theologies defend social, political, or economic systems that oppress the poor (or racial minorities, ethnic groups, women, gays, etc.), liberation theologians* will view a theology’s ‘universal truths’ as partial and biased.
CONNECT: How do you feel?
McFague says ‘every Christian is called to be a theologian.’ (p. 25) She also says that theology requires us to examine our deepest faith-convictions, to see whether our core beliefs are worthy of allegiance. Can you remember a time when you questioned your beliefs?
Think of a time when a deeply-held belief shaped the way you acted. What did you do or say, and what happened next? Did you think through your beliefs before you acted? Do you wish you had?
What dangers (if any) lie in not bringing our deepest beliefs into view?
How can we hold strong faith-convictions without idolizing them?
The Matter of Theology – Worldviews
A worldview* is the picture of reality we humans hold at a deep – even unconscious – level. Most of us have a worldview that we received very early in life, passed on by our families and our culture.
The Matter of Theology – Revelation
Religious belief is trust in God revealed through experience: through ordinary experiences we glimpse, now and then, God’s liberating love at work. What we believe – the content of our faith – is derived from these experiences of revelation. *
Be careful how you interpret the world. It is like that.
(Erich Heller, quoted in Life Abundant p. 39, 67)
CONNECT: How do you feel?
1. Can you think of a revelatory experience in your own life, an event or insight that changed the way you think and act? Share your experience with someone else, or write it down in a comment.
The Context of Planetary Theology
As we move on in Life Abundant, we will consider two economic worldviews, two interpretations of how the world works. Each interpretation is based on the assumptions of a different historical period.
- The first economic worldview arose in the 18th century, but the structures of our western society – our assumptions, institutions and laws – still rest on this worldview. It pictures our planet as a collection of individuals, each striving to benefit from the world’s natural resources. In this worldview, humans dominate the system and the planet operates like a machine, with all its parts externally related to each other.
- The second economic worldview arose in the 20th century. It pictures our planet as a community – human and nonhuman – that survives and prospers through the interrelationship of its many parts, which are internally related to each other. In this worldview, the planet operates like an organism, and humans are the conscious part of the body.
Life Abundant argues that the first economic worldview hurts the poor and the natural world, while the second worldview would be healthier for the planet and all its inhabitants. However, it will be difficult for us to see the problems of our current worldview; it feels so ‘natural’ to us. It will also be difficult for us to appreciate the dire circumstances of our deteriorating planet (as well as the desperate situation of so many human beings) unless we adopt a new worldview.