The Planet as a Partner in Intercultural and Interreligious Dialogue?

I have been somewhat surprised – but some will say that this is an obsession of mine – that, at the Concilium encounter in Dublin, so little is being said about the environment. Of course, many pay lip service and mention this global challenge, but without really taking into account that it may represent an opportunity for theologians in the midst of interreligious and intercultural conversational space to rethink and reframe their understandings of the world. The only real exception to this “silence” has been Elaine Wainwright, who gave us a short overview of the public character of faith and theology in the continent of Oceania – she referred to the Moana Declaration of the Pacific Conference of Churches in April 2009, as well as to the importance of indigenous perspectives and theologies, out of which is emerging a bilingual theology, of which we find an indication in Winston Halapua’s book Waves of God’s Embrace: Sacred Perspectives from the Ocean.

The idea of “bilingual theology” reminded me of what Maria-Clara Bingemer had said just before. In her contribution on Latin America, she pointed to the issues of double belonging and dual affiliation, particularly with regard to the Afro-American cultures and religions. But, here, no explicit mention was made of environmental issues.

I would like to push the matter of global and planetary environmental challenges in the context of intercultural and interreligious encounters somewhat further. If these challenges are given consideration – I actually think they should be given consideration as they are very serious and as they offer opportunities to deepen our faiths, beliefs and spiritualities – then, I have the impression, mainly as one of the topics around which intercultural and interreligious conversations may unfold. I am beginning to wonder whether the planet itself, Earth, should not, instead of being an object of conversations between the protagonists in intercultural and interreligious encounters, be considered a partner, a party in the encounters. Indeed, one of the very striking features of the planetary environmental crises, is that the planet itself, nature (if I may use a more risky word in this context), acts uncontrollably – outside of human control, independently of human endeavours. This is, in fact, one of the major differences with the threatening crisis of nuclear destruction I grew up with as a child: these nukes were still under human control … If the Earth is going to be a partner in the public spaces of our interreligious and intercultural encounters, who is going to be its voice, or how are we going to recognize its voice.

Another option would be to consider the public sphere as somehow the workings of the brain of the Earth. One could maybe say that it is the Earth who thinks, when we are entangled in intercultural and interreligious conversations (instead of “inter” we would then better use “trans”) – this is part of the discernment process of the Earth itself, which has given itself, through a long history and evolution, this capacity of reflection. Of course, this is the positive and constructive view on the matter. The other side is that this brainy part the Earth has endowed itself with in human beings, seems to be a nuissance more than a help. How can the brain listen to what the whole body says, claims, shouts … ?

There again arises the question of the voice of the Earth, of the body of the planet … E. Wainwright may well be pointing in a fruitful direction when speaking about a bilingual theology: the interreligious and intercultural conversations, particularly with indigenous approaches, provide linguistic contrasts that are like the echo of the voice of the Earth. Moreover, we could also learn to listen to noises made by the guts of the Earth (the climate changes that we cannot anymore deny or avoid to see) or the cries of suffering of human beings and of so many other living beings that are the victims of the enormous changes that are taking place. Giving them a space in the public sphere of common discernment means recognizing the Earth and the planet as a worthwhile conversation partner.

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