The Body of God: An Ecological Theology – Sallie McFague

Paperback, 292 pages
Published: May 1st 1993
Publisher: Augsburg Fortress Publishing
ISBN:  0800627350 (ISBN13: 9780800627355)
Edition Language:  English


The world is our meeting place with God…as the body of God, it is wondrously, awesomely, divinely mysterious.” Sallie McFague, Models of God

In the book, The Body of God; An Ecological Theology, author Sallie McFague asserts that we are in an ecological crisis and if we do not take part in the “planetary agenda” and play by the “house rules” it will cause our extinction; humankind and the earth. McFague defines herself as a Western Christian, feminist, and ecological theologian. In the form of an essay, Ms. McFague encourages readers to adjust our way of thinking as she attempts to ‘look at everything through one lens, the model of the universe or world as God’s body.’ I found this particularly refreshing since we often speak about the earth in feminine terms since the prevalent thought is that God is masculine and HE resides in the sky. Perhaps in this new way of thinking, viewing the earth as God’s body, will help us to realize ‘the dimensions of the relationship between God and the world.’

Just for a moment I invite you to think about the body of Christ and to view Jesus of Nazareth as paradigmatic of God’s love for our bodies and the earth.  Written with passion, a sense of urgency and drenched in, what I believe is, humanist vocabulary through a feminist lens written from the positionality of a Christian, feminist and ecological theologian. “The essay is further contextualized by authorship and audience,” she admits “I am a white, middle-class, American Christian woman writing to first-world, privileged, mainstream Christians (and other interested persons). The point of the essay is to help those of us who are from this background and with the power it carries to begin to think and act differently, to think and act as if bodies matter.”

In The Body of God begins with an analysis of the ecological/planetary crisis that we are currently facing and suggests that everyone, including theologians, have a part to play in the planetary agenda. The author admits that this model is among many models, which focuses on uniting us and everything else on our planet in relationships of interdependence. This is similar to the philosophy of fourth wave feminism, particularly the work of eco-feminism.

Nuclear Threat vs Ecological Deterioration

We humans face two possibilities of extinction. Nuclear threat which is clear and stark that involves someone pushing a button to begin the process of annihilation. The second threat is ecological deterioration which is subtle and gradual that involves ‘the daily, seemingly innocuous, activities of every person on the planet.’ “Moreover, unlike the “egalitarian” destruction of a nuclear holocaust, ecological deterioration affects the human population along lines of class, race and gender because it hits the poor, the weak and vulnerable. In fact those who feel its impact the most are the least responsible for it, and those most responsible are the least affected.”

The author compares ecological deterioration to alcohol or a drug addiction in that it creeps up on us daily so that we become accustomed to it rather than announcing its destruction in the glaring headline it deserves. The deterioration is insidious and gradual such as the smell of automobile exhaust fumes and open landfills, our lack of empathy seeing road kills of dead wild animals tossed to the side of the road. Forests are cleared to make room for more office buildings, children playing computer games and on city roads rather than playing in areas of grass and trees. I will also add containment of nuclear waste that we bury into the ground creating pockets of poison with the potential of contaminating the earth, although its described as a safe practice, we will never know until it is too late.  Or what about raping the earth of its natural resources such as coal – the liver of the earth that purifies the land as we seek alternative ways to satisfy our glutenous appetites in energy consumption.

Although practices such as recycling and carpooling are good to have, it is nowhere near enough to make the necessary changes to save our ecological system. The health and well-being of the planet is so complex that it may well lay beyond our best will and intelligence, whereas we at least know how to dismantle nuclear weapons.

No doubt, profound life-style changes, especially for first-world people (the ones who use most of the energy and cause most of the ecological deterioration) that yet need to be realized are highly unpopular. Therefore, we are dealing with a wily, crafty enemy: ourselves, as the perpetrators of the ecological crisis. Life on this planet is diminishing, both in variety and in quality, and we human beings, some more than others, are to blame.


In the Hollywood blockbuster film, Noah, we find Noah in a moral dilemma; does he listen to what he thinks is God’s wishes for the human race to end and save the animals? Or, does he let love prevail, listen to his heart and spare his newly born twin grand-daughters to live and begin re-populating the earth? There is a chilling scene where Noah and his family are sitting around the fire in the Ark listening to the watery cries of those left behind, while Noah issues his instructions about how upon their death each family member is to lay each other to rest – and soon the last flicker of humanity, will be no more. Who knows one day in the not-so- distant future, each and every one of us may potentially be in Noah’s place. With the threat of global warming and all the death and doom stories we read, is it a far stretch to think a mass environmental/ecological calamity would happen on earth and for some inexplicable reason you (and maybe perhaps a handful of people) are the only ones left on earth to decide the fate of humankind?

I’m speaking to those of you who’ve seen the movie and those of you who know the biblical story but particularly those of you who have seen the movie. I couldn’t keep count how many times it was repeated “We’ve done this!”, “We’ve done this to the earth!” and if this was said back in Noah’s day, imagine what can be said of us today? If you haven’t done so, I would like for you to listen and view the video I’ve posted above. It’s a song that I would think Noah would have sung if the movie was a musical. This song kept popping in my head at the scene where Noah goes into the village to find his son Ham a wife but sees nothing but wickedness all around him. This is what we have done to the world that HE created. It is upon seeing such wickedness that Noah believes that God wants mankind exterminated. The decision to place all of mankind’s future in one’s hands is what we all face today. Each and every one of us play a critical role in the outcome for future generations.

What if we cannot come up with a quick fix to the ecological crisis?

McFague states that one of the most critical planetary “house rules” is that we are not lords over the planet, a thought that is echoed by Ulrich-Seth in the movie; but products of it’s processes. I thought this was interesting, because it is my understanding (and I could be wrong) that the thought of equality of man, the environment and animals didn’t get introduced to readers until the Book of Job in God’s response to Job’s accusations where we find God speaking in ecological terms about how we fit into the larger scheme.  Therefore, it is not how we can change the environment to suit us, but rather how we can adjust our desires and needs to what appears to be the “house rules”. Just as we may never know enough to change the environment to suit our desires, we will probably never know enough even to fit in appropriately. Basically, my friend who gave me this book to read would say, not “breaking it” is a lot easier than “fixing it”.

The Planetary Agenda

Instead of playing the role of victim, McFague urges us to become active, to take part in the vocation of the planetary agenda. This is the work of eco-feminism, ecologists and environmentalists but it shouldn’t be their work only, we all have a part to play and should dutifully be working towards this goal.

“Planetary agenda is concerned with the well-being of the diverse, rich plenitude of beings, human and nonhuman, that inhabit the planet,” writes McFague, “not just for the present and near future but, as Native American traditions insist.” Increasingly, we are recognizing the world as a tribal village, and this tribal/global village should also be extended to all other living creatures and to the ecosystem that supports us all. “As the pictures of the planet earth from space vividly show us, we are all inhabitants of one space, one home, finite, enclosed system. Our fate and our future are also one.”

In different ways, each of us has a calling, and are being summoned, to put our talents, passion, and insights into planetary well-being. Ecology is not an extracurricular activity; rather, McFague asserts, it must be the focus of one’s work, the central hours of one’s day, however that day is spent. At most, we seem to treat the problem like a bad cold that will eventually go away if we make a few minor life-style changes, such as recycling or car pooling – all good habits to have but it is not enough. Profound life-style changes, especially for first-world people (the ones who use most of the energy and cause most of the ecological deterioration), are highly unpopular.

McFague suggests that the planetary agenda is a universal vocation, a calling to put our gifts, time, and energies into some small aspect of planetary well-being. This vocation has two features: universality (everyone is called); and particularity (each is called to a concrete, specific task). To find our particular vocation, one must remove themselves from what Nietzsche calls ‘slave morality’ and step into ‘master morality’ way of thinking to find our unique vocation, our “particularity“, and express it in ways that contributes to the larger picture of how we must learn the planetary house rules; how we see ourselves fitting in and how each person’s daily work contributes to planetary well-being. McFague says that some jobs and careers take more imagination than others to disclose their potential contribution, but these areas are often the very ones most in need of rethinking from a planetary perspective.

This is our work for today, to remind us that each and everyone of us have some urgent work that needs to be done to help solve our ecological crisis. We might not have all the answers, or when we do it might be too late. But with appropriate and thoughtful technology to help us learn more about our house rules, ‘is a prudent posture’.

The Children of Tomorrow

On a hotter planet, with lost deltas and shrunken coastlines, under a more dangerous sun, with lessarable land, more people, fewer species of living things, a legacy of poisonous waists, and much beauty irrevocably lost, there is still the possibility that our children’s children will learn at last to live as a community among communities. Perhaps they will learn also to forgive this generation its blind commitment to ever greater consumption. Perhaps they will even appreciate its belated efforts to leave them a planet still capable of supporting life in community.”

~ Herman E. Daly and John B. Cobb, Jr., For the Common Good: Re-directing the Economy Toward Community, the Environment, and a Sustainable Future (Boston: Beacon Press, 1989), 400

Instead hoping our children will forgive us parents for ruining the present, let each and everyone of us do what we can to give our children reasons to thank for giving them a hope for the future.

Original Post: Summer 2014

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