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Dirt, Collapse, and Eco-responsibility: "Natural" Evils and the Eager Longing for Eco-justice

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As a theologian seeking to evaluate the meaning of "nature" or the "natural"—especially as contained in the problematic term "natural evils"—I will turn predominantly to an anthropologist-poet (Loren Eiseley), a professor of evolutionary biology (Jared Diamond), and a geomorphologist (David Montgomery). Ultimately, I will assess the value of creation and the question of responsibility in light of the staggering and senseless loss of so much life. I contend that theists will find unexpected allies in historical and anthropological works that examine how human action (and inaction) causes or exacerbates much of the destruction "natural" disasters unleash. Questions to investigate include: (1) How responsible are humans for the suffering inflicted by "natural" disasters? (2) If human beings are not solely culpable for such affliction, how should this impact a theist's faith position and the value of creation? (3) How can the findings and analysis of the scientists consulted in this article support a Levinasian priority of the ethical and liberation theologians' option for the poor? (4) How can a pluralized, ambiguous interpretation of the natural spur a deeper sense of eco-responsibility? (5) Which theological approach is best able to respond to the reality of our depleted and ravaged biosphere?

Affiliations: 1: Mater Dei Institute, Dublin City University, Clonliffe Road, Dublin 3, Ireland


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