Bonhoeffer's theology and anthropogenic climate change: in search of an ecoethic
Author(s)Rayson, Dianne P.
Contributor(s)University of Newcastle. Faculty of Education & Arts, School of Humanities and Social Sciences
anthropogenic climate change
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AbstractResearch Doctorate - Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
This thesis explores the theology of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, via primary and secondary texts, in attempting to develop a Christian response to the problem of anthropogenic climate change. As such, it draws on Bonhoeffer’s unfinished yet partially systematic theology but might be characterised essentially as a work in the fields of practical and public theology that commend theology as an important voice in addressing contemporary issues. The main research question concerns whether, and if so to what extent, Bonhoeffer’s theology can contribute to ecotheological and ecoethical thinking in the current period known as the Anthropocene. The Anthropocene, the ‘Age of Humans’, is the geological epoch defined by human modification of Earth’s systems, as evidenced by observable residue in Earth’s crust, and resulting in rapid and widespread changes, including climate disruption. Since human development has occurred during the relatively stable climatic period of the Holocene (meaning ‘wholly recent’), the persistence of human civilisation outside of these conditions is rendered under threat. Loss of biodiversity has implications for the functionality of ecologies, including our own human viability, as well as the direct and demonstrable effect on other species. The new epoch can be seen to include ethical problems of a unique order to which Christianity has been slow to respond, much less offer leadership in finding new ways in which humans and Earth might interact. Indeed, the thesis will contend that theologies of dominion and domination have contributed in their own way to the problem of climate disruption. This thesis utilises the Christologically-focussed theology of Bonhoeffer to interrogate the nature of human relationships, including those between humans, our fellow species, and Earth herself. Through Bonhoefferian insights, the thesis explores those problematic theologies of domination and mastery that have prevailed, emanating especially from the ways that the Genesis creation myths have been interpreted. It supplants these interpretations with ecotheological and ecoethical propositions that can serve as the basis of a Christian theological response to the problems emerging from the Anthropocene. This theology is reliant on Bonhoeffer’s notions of Christ’s immanence and kenosis, and associated ethical notions of vicarious responsible action and context. The central methodology is one of theoretical and conceptual analysis focussed on the examination of select primary texts, analysed according to their original context and purpose, as well as pertinent secondary texts, both of which are then applied to the contemporary problem of climate change, as explicated by its own relevant literature. The thesis proposes the idea that Bonhoeffer’s notion of ‘worldly Christianity’, focussed on a penultimate, Earth-bound, unified reality, might be depicted, in the Anthropocene, as ‘Earthly Christianity’. Earthly Christianity then becomes central to a Bonhoefferian formulation that facilitates a Christian response to the problems of climate disruption in the Anthropocene.