“Ask the Beasts”

No, Richard! No, you can’t. Not one more! Look at your big stack already.

Ever see something you really want but know you just shouldn’t get it? Well, it’s happened with a new book by one of my favorite theologians, Elizabeth A. Johnson, CSJ. Regular readers of this blog may recall her from a previous post here in which I wrote about her book, She Who Is in which Johnson reminds us that the Hebrew word for mercy is taken from the root word for womb, rechem. In our prayers for mercy, we actually ask God to express womb-love, to forgive and nurture us the way a mother does the child of her womb. In praying that God have mercy on us we are asking that God “mother-us” back into the fullness of life.

Well, Professor Johnson has done it again! This time she takes on one of the biggest social and cultural divides of our day – the presumed incompatibility of good, hard-core science and a deep, active faith in the God of creation. A huge logjam of argumentative baggage has paralyzed intelligent conversation over the years. In Ask the Beats: Darwin and the God of Love she dispatches the baggage and shows us a way through the logjam.

According to a great review by Melissa Jones, Johnson’s latest book shows that Darwin’s work was never intended to be a direct assault on religion. Instead, Johnson argues that Darwin simply challenged the existing 19th-century scientific concept that each species of life in the world were the result of special acts of creation, with nothing new entering the system. Darwin’s ideas were as offensive to the scientists of his age as they were to the religious thinkers.

Johnson sees no reason to do war with the theory of evolution, but embraces it as a scientific insight that can enhance our faith and inspire care for nature and creation. She would invite us to pray with the 12th chapter of the Book of Job:

Ask the beasts and they will teach you;
The birds of the air,
and they will tell you;
Ask the plants of the earth
and they will teach you;
And the fish of the sea
will declare to you.
Who among these does not know
That the hand of the Lord has done this?
In his hand is the life of every living thing,
And the breath of every human being.

Johnson is credited for doing a great job of explaining how we got into the current stand-off between science and religion. Johnson cites the split (mind/matter, body/soul) Christianity absorbed from Greek philosophy as a major culprit. Add to this a heavy dose of “patriarchal androcentrism” – man is the center of the universe and males are at the top of the heap! Modern Western intellectual tradition hasn’t helped either! French philosopher René Descartes’ famous Cogito ergo sum! expresses our dilemma perfectly if we ground our “being” in our “thinking” imagine how distant we have become from God’s creation!

I want to read Johnson’s book because we all know of religion so heavenly-minded it’s no earthly good! Jones’ review praises Johnson for returning us to a solidly Trinitarian faith. The creative Spirit still hovers over the natural world, sustaining and enlivening it. The Son took on material form, embraced and sanctified it. Jesus healed with spit, dirt and touch. Any who have loved a pet, harvested a garden or changed a diaper understand the connection. What else do we need to convince us that the magnificent organism of our natural world is a holy place?


Melissa Jones’ review is available [here].

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