Almost all of my reading this last year was for work or for school. And, almost all of my reading was theology oriented. Of the seventy-two books I read in 2012, here are some of the most memorable:
Norman Wirzba, Food and Faith: A Theology of Eating
Wirzba’s book made connections between eating and hospitality, the eucharist, ecological concerns, and community. Many of these have been percolating in my mind for a while: this was the first “for pleasure” book I read in 2012 and one of my favorites.
Denis Edwards, Breath of Life: A Theology of the Creator Spirit
The Holy Spirit tends to be underrepresented in Western theology. This book makes a good case for the Spirit’s role in creation and recreation. It also started a shift in my own understanding of the Trinity.
James Atwood, America and Its Guns: a Theological Exposé
Given recent events, this book has been on my mind. Atwood frames America’s gun culture as a religion, and calls the church to confront it as a false religion, as idolatry. While this book isn’t wholly successful, it is a book that we need now.
Michael Ruhlman, Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking
This is the best non-theological book I’ve read this year. I use the pasta recipe weekly and this book has made my broths much better. Rather than focusing on specific recipes, this book distills many on the foods we eat most often—pasta, breads, soups, sauces, etc.—into their simplest form, expressed as ratios.
So, I finally read Lynn White’s infamous “The Historical Roots of our Ecological Crisis.” I’ve been doing some reading in ecotheology over the past year, and so many authors referred back to Lynn White’s article that I imagined it as a devastating critique of Christianity. I’d read that White lays the responsibility for our ecological crisis squarely with Christianity, I’d read that White’s article acted as a wake-up call to theologians of their complicity in the West’s ecological degradation. I prepared myself to be disturbed and even shaken by what I was about to read…but I found White’s article to be much less a damning critique than I expected.
Essentially, White argues that Christianity de-sacralized the earth by drawing a hard distinction between the spiritual and the material, and Christianity taught that humans are to exercise dominion over the earth. White also argues that science in the West follows from Christianity’s dominion over the de-sacralized earth, and is, in fact, an example of that dominion. I think, as a historical argument, White is absolutely correct. I don’t think, however, that this argument leaves the blame solely with Christianity. It follows from White’s argument that Western science is a form of domination by knowledge: a way of making the earth submit to human ways and ends. White’s article, which has been used to point the finger at Christianity, also points the finger at Western science.
I don’t want to come off as Radical Orthodox here but it seems that if both Christianity and Western science operate under an assumption of spirit / mind dualism then a re-sacralizaion of the earth is needed for both. Christianity has the resources for this in its own history, as White himself attests by pointing at St. Francis as a possible way forward. Science does not have these resources in of itself, and so it needs to find religion. More specifically, ecotheology needs to both articulate ecological wisdom of the Christian tradition to Christians whose theology supports ecological degradation, and also articulate a specifically Christian science that recognizes that creation is shot-through with the presence of God.
We could do worse than start with Luther:
“Divine majesty is so small that it can be substantially present in a grain, on a grain, over a grain, through a grain, within and without, and that , although it is a single Majesty, it nevertheless is entirely in each grain separately, no matter now immeasurably numerous these grains be.”
I may be the only one who finds this interesting, but: Alexander Kojeve, a Marxist philosopher whose lectures on Hegel have been so influential, also edited two volumes of “The Library of Christian Classics”: “The Later Works of Augustine” and “Early Medieval Theology.”