The notion of environmental “stewardship” within Christian theology is a tired old idea. As a theologian I fundamentally disagree with it. Stewardship implies a subject/object relationship with creation. We don’t need such dull relationships in religion’s name.
For decades I have been putting forth a different spiritual basis for an eco-theology: the idea that the “Cosmic Christ” is the light in every being in the universe. In other words, every being in the universe is the image of God. The “Buddha Nature” is a parallel name for this same idea within Buddhism, and this idea also exists at the heart of the Jewish tradition.
In The Coming of the Cosmic Christ, a book I wrote twenty-six years ago, I pointed out that if Christ is “the light in all beings” (John 1) and science today teaches us that every atom in the universe contains photons or light waves, then every being is an image of God, a Buddha, a Christ. In addition, the Cosmic Christ (or Cosmic Wisdom) is the “pattern that connects” (see Col. 1:15-20).
In the context of a Cosmic Christ theology, Christians’ relation to the environment goes far beyond that of a duty to be a steward, operating from a minimal stance of ethics—it taps into a far deeper place of being, spirituality, and interdependence. If every being is another Christ or another Buddha, then to destroy rainforests and bring about the extinction of elephants, polar bears, tigers, lions, whales, ocean ecosystems, and soil ecosystems is to crucify the Christ all over again. I propose here as I have been proposing for years, that here is where the future of an eco-theology lies—not in stewardship talk but with a perspective of the Cosmic Christ. The issue is the sacredness of creation that has to be regained. Here is where a Cosmic Christ theology comes in.
Focusing on the light of the Cosmic Christ that exists within every being in the universe also has the power to ward off despair by inspiring us to act out of joy and connection, rather than out of heavy-hearted obligation. The brilliant medieval theologian Thomas Aquinas said injustice is the worst of all sins but despair the most “dangerous.” Why? Because when we succumb to despair we give up loving ourselves and can therefore love no one else. Despair kills caring and compassion. “The worst thing one can do is to teach despair,” Aquinas added. Despair, which is the opposite of hope, is a dangerous disease that needs addressing.
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