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Created: June 22, 2004
Latest Update: June 22, 2004

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Index of Topics on Site An Ecofeminist Approach to Criminology
The text relates to Gaia & God: an Ecofeminist Theology of Earth Healing by Rosemary Radford Ruether, a professor of theology at Garret-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, Illinois. First published in 1992. First HarperCollins Paperbaack Edition Published in 1994. ISBN: 0-06-066967-5 (pbk).

Criminology is about right and wrong. So our beliefs and values about right and wrong, as we inherit them through our culture, matter greatly to our philosophical positions on criminal and correctional issues. Ecofeminism has a lot to say about right and wrong, good and evil.

First of all, ecofeminism recognizes that we can see wrong or evil as residing in living beings, usually humans, or as abstract descriptions of relationships. According to our perspective, we will then see the solutions as being within the living beings themselves, who must be recreated, eliminated, or rehabilitated to new kinds of relationships OR as requiring a deeper understanding of how the relationships went awry in the first place, along with correction to the infrastructure to preven such harmful relationships. Our tendency to see wrong acts as centered in the individual or as centered in the infrastructure will color the solutions we imagine, let alone introduce. Once again refer to the Harvard's Implicit Association Test, and recall that we are not always aware of the biases of our perspectives.

In the days told of in the Bible, prophets were the once who denounced corruption and immorality. And often the prophets told of the doom and destruction of those (including entire cities, lands, etc.) who refused to give up their corruption and immorality. Sodom and Gomorrah, remember? Rosemary Ruether speaks of three different biblical views of cosmology that deal in different ways with sin, wrong, corruption, immorality.

Jewish apocalytic stories:

"In these apocalyptic stories, Israel is envisioned as languishing under a reign of evil brought about by its own sins. God allows the evil nations and demonic powers to triumph over them. In due time, however, God will bring an end to this reign of evil. He will intervene, judge, and destroy the wicked nations and vidicate the righteous in a renovted earth, where peace and good times will prevail. (Ruether, Gaia & God, at p. 67.)

. . . "although one second-century church father, Origen, suggested that all fallen spirits, including the Devil and his demons, would eventually be converted and the entire cosmos restored to unity with God, this generous vision was rejected by Christian orthodoxy. (fn omitted) In Christian eschatology hell remains as the permanent place for eternal punishment of the wickedk parallel to the eternal happiness of the saints.

. . . "In nineteenth-century America, two quite differnt lines of futurism [in apocalyptic vision] established themselves in different religious and social sectors of American life, one progressive and the other catastrophic.

"Progressivism, represented by Christian liberals and socialists and Social Gospel tadition, believd that democracy had already established itself in American political institutions. Thre remained only to extend this democratic tradition of equal rights and popular government to the economic sphere. (fn omitted) The Spirit of God was seen as immnent in history, leding it on to higher and higher development, until world peace would be established; and a virtual millennium of peace and prosperity would dawn on eaarth, with America at the forefront oth this march to perfection. (fn omitted)

"The catastrophic school of American Cristianity cultivated quite a different vision and saw these progressives as apostates. Catastrophic apocalypticism typically has come from sects, such as Seventh Day Adventists and Jehovah's Witnesses, who gather people who have not been included in the benefits of the American 'dream.' " and admonish them to prepare for the end of days.

A Millerite prophet, Ellen White, described the end of days as "the unfolding of the last things, eginning with the perssecution of the true Sabbatarian believers. When this persecution reaches its worst point, Christ will return and call the persecuted together. They will be taken up into heaven to enjoy a thousad years of felicity. Meanwhie the earth will be handed over to dessolation and destruction. I t will be utterly laid waste )draiwing on Isaiah 24). The binding of Satan for one thousand years actually signifies the turning of the whole earth into a desolate wilderness for Satan and his demons. Only at the end of this thousand-year period will there be the final battle between God and Satan. Satan will then be uterly destroyed, and the earth itself purged by fire.

" . . . Although this tract was published over one hundred years ago, its currency even today is not confined to Seventh Day Adventists. Reprinted in 1988, it is currently distributed by groups such as the Fountain of Life, Inc., of Evanston, Illinois, under the title America in Prophecy.

(Ruether, Gaia & God, at pp. 77-80)

I've tried to pick up for you here some of the flavor of the apocalyptic literature. Basically, the prophets preached fire and hell fires for our profligate ways, and the different apocalyptic versions envision all the good guys (saints) being taken to heaven, and all the bad guys (sinners and demons) being damned in hell fire that results in the destruction of the earth. In some versions, God restores the earth and the saints get to live there happily ever after. In some version, like one of the early Jewish versions, even the sinners and demons are ultimately converted and forgiven. But in most versions, the really bad guys are punished in all eternity. Kind of blows the concept of a forgiving God, but that's a personal opinion.

The odd thing about all this is that the means of ending all earth and human suffering is to destroy the earth and God will remake it or take us up to heaven. As Rosemary Ruether says, not a likely ending to the story today.

"The narratives of world destruction we have surveyed, from the religious traditions that have shaped Judaism and Christianity, function as warning, as threats of punishment for the wicked, but ultimately as assurances of salvation. . . . In the apocalyptic narratives, punishment is turned against enemy nations and unbelieving communities. Through cosmic destruction, their annihilation, and the annihilation of the cosmic powers of evil they represent, is assured. But a renovated earth will rise on the other side of this destruction. "The narratives of world destruction that are arising from ecologists in the last decades of the twentieth century carry no such assurance of subsequent renewal."
(Ruether, Gaia & God, at p. 85)

Also, the only way to save the poor saints is to destroy the world. Thus, in apocalyptic narratives, destroying the world is not a bad thing. It's what's supposed to happen at the end of times (eschatology). And if God takes care of bad people by destroying them all, well, then what's wrong with a war where we good people destroy the bad people? You can see that this is leading to a place where you know I'll call you up on a simplistic denial response to a complex question.

Now, if this makes sense in terms of good and evil on a world scale, then perhaps we've oversimplified a tad in our approach to good and evil on the criminology level. But recognize that our systems are structured out of the baggage of centuries of culture, including the apocalyptic narratives. We don't decide to build prisons and discard rehabilitation, or lock up a juvenile and throw away the key in a rational, objective vacuum. Yes, we have minds and free will and all that good stuff. But, as Rosemary Ruether reminds us:

"One of the most basic 'lessons' of ecology for ethics and spirituality is the interrelation of all thiings." (At p. 48.)

Another problem that enters here is that of dualistic thought. Things are either "bad" or "good;" "right or "wrong;" "black" or "white." And people in authority, or people who are charismatic (like prophets) insist that they know which is which. Rosemary Ruether comments on this, too:

"[T]his empowerment to prophetic protest has been fatally corrupted by apocalyptic because of its dualistic mode of thought. "Us and them" as absolute good against absolute evil, God against Satan, have been the hallmarks of its thinking. this does not mean that there is no such thing as good and evil, but this distinction should be defined in quite a different way. Good and evil need to be seen as different kinds of relationships, rather than different kinds of "beings."

Gordon Fellman also speaks of this dilemma of "knowing," of wanting to be right, to win. He calls it adversarial compulsion.

"The falsity of the human cultural concept of 'competiton' is that it is mutually exclusive. It imagines the other side as an 'enemy' to be 'annihilated,' rather than an essential component of an interrelationship upon which it itself interdepends."
Ruether, Gaia & God, at pl 56. Added June 22, 2004.

Discussion Questions

  1. Why worry about apocalyptic end of days narratives? How could they affect my work in criminology today?

    Consider Ruether's concern that all things are interrelated, and that apocalyptic narratives or myths and history all mixed up together that have become part of our cultural baggage. So they affect the way we think, and the values we hold.

  2. What does ecology have to do with criminology?

    Again, consider Ruether's all things interrelated. Is it a crime that former US office holders presently are major owners of corporations that tolerate if not encourage their cruise ship to dump toxic oils in the ocean. That is not reversible, folks. And the corporations, represented by our citizens, wealthy, of course, insist that the US can do nothing, for the dumping occurs beyond our jurisdictional borders. Quinney says crime is socially defined, remember?

  3. What does feminism have to do with these issues?

    Consider that domination and control and exploitation go hand in hand, whether we are dominating the Other or nature.

  4. What do the apocalyptic narratives tell us about corrections?

    Consider that if evil and bad people are to be punished, then we don't have to worry about the extent to which we redeem or rehabilitate anybody. You're either bad or good, we either lock you up or don't lock you up, and that's it. But consider that if God is ultimately forgiving and even the bad guys are to be forgiven eventually, then we better make sure we've done something about the social context that created the problems in the first place, preferably before we let them out, with little training and education on how to survive in a world that thinks they deserve to be punished, forever.

  5. What's wrong with dualism?

    Consider that it's a complex world. Multivariate analysis can't even consider all the variables; random error approaches infinity as we add variables. Dualism allows you only the choice of one of two extremes. "Il faut toujours de la modification." Verlaine, I think. How is it not disrespectful to compare prophecies to criminology?

    All human have the gift of answerability. If we do not think, consider, seek in an illocutionary manner to understand, we are complicit. What if there never is an end of days, but we have blown up the earth on the assumption that God's going to anyway, and that will get us more quickly to heaven? Remember illocutionary discourse. We must talk about things. That's how answerability works. We must not be silenced. But in talking about these issues, we are not obliged to agree, only to listen in good faith.

    And I guess we aren't even obliged to listen in good faith. Free will and all that. But if we just go along, without illocutionary understanding, without any attempt at governance discourse, then we have chosen not to be aware, not to know, and that is complicit, in whatever the results may be.

Site Copyright: Jeanne Curran and Susan R. Takata and Individual Authors, June 2004.
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