Echoes of Patriarchy in our Climate Crisis

Posted by on Sep 18, 2020

As some of the worst climate wildfires we’ve ever seen rage through California, Oregon, and Washington right now, we’re feeling called to pause and reflect as people of faith. 

As we’ve continued trekking along and inviting others to join us on this journey, we’ve heard reverberations of the same theme: I care about the Girl Child, but my justice-enhancing efforts are focused elsewhere. We hear you, and we applaud all of the work that is being done in every area to seek justice and liberation. 

And yet, the basis of this argument seems to be founded on the belief that freedom and justice for the Girl Child are separate from freedom and justice for other peoples and, indeed, for the earth itself. 

Nothing could be further from the truth.

All of our world’s injustices and oppressions—what we describe on our reading journey as an “iceberg” —have roots in the mixed bag of our shared human condition: we are made in the image of God yet we have fallen and continue to fall from grace, trading our native communion/oneness with God/Life for a self-centered climbing, grasping, and hoarding, which gives us the illusion that we are separate from the web of Life, our home. 

As Carla Goldstein described

Modern human beings have been around for about 200,000 years. Until about 10,000 years ago when agriculture was adopted, we lived in primarily egalitarian, hunter-gatherer societies. Our relationship with nature was deeply integrated and of spiritual significance. When we shifted to agriculture as our primary food source, everything changed.

Agriculture required something new. Instead of travelling lightly on the earth, we needed to control land, which led to the concept of “property” and its ownership. We also needed to control labor to work the land, and women and girls became the primary source of labor. As men accumulated property and wealth, the need to control who became “heirs” arose, leading to the need to control women’s sexuality so that offspring remained in the man’s family line. Under this new property framework, women lost almost all of their autonomy and became the property of their fathers and husbands.

As agriculture took hold, people settled down to live in one place. More complex societies formed, first as villages, then towns, then cities, and civilization was born. During this period institutions were created to address the new complexity, including law, economy, political structures, and the state, and patriarchy was written into the very foundations of these institutions.

Not to blame all of our ecological woes on the development of agriculture… Or that patriarchy or climate change have unfolded in simple ways. History lives on in the present in complex ways. Nature is groaning (Rom. 8:22) under the environmental wreckage of centuries of living out of harmony with the earth. So, too, is the human family groaning with the ancient symptoms of the disease of male dominion.

There is much talk today of “decolonizing” society from the imperial systems of the past which built Western civilization and which have so harmed our shared web of life together on this planet. As Dr. Rupa Marya explained,

To be colonized means to be disconnected and disintegrated — from our ancestry, from the earth, from our indigeneity, our earth-connected selves. We all come from earth-connected people, people who once lived in deep connection to the rhythms of nature.”

In response, writer Michelle Holliday asked,

In place of supremacy, what if we embraced stewardship, rooted in a sense of reverence and responsibility . . . to honor, serve and care for all life? Instead of masters, what if we saw ourselves as participants in the unfolding wonder that is the aliveness of this blue-green planet, in all its forms of expression?”

Just as we are trying to reduce our carbon footprint to restore balance and health to our planet, we need to dig deep and consider how we as people of faith can do our part to reduce the patriarchal footprint that has treated both human beings and the earth as rungs on a ladder where those on the top live like kings with a divine right to conquer, extract, exploit, and rule over all. Historically, our faith traditions have been part of this system that has created and is creating so much patriarchal and ecological litter, which harms our planet and our human family’s spiritual well-being. It’s ongoing to this very day, as we’re seeing on the West Coast of the U.S. and in so many places around the world.

When one part of an organism suffers, even if it is just a tiny patch of cells, the health of the whole is impaired. As creatures on this planet, we are each part of a magnificently interconnected and dynamic whole—creation—which is ever changing and growing, yet groans as in labor under the bondage, death, and decay we humans have inflicted.

As our Jewish brothers and sisters remind us through the spiritual concept of tikkun olam, we are all here on this earth to do our part to “repair the world”—to restore shalom (wholeness) to creation. When we shift from the egoic mode of domination and control to a truly mutual and freedom-enhancing way of relating to one another and the earth, we cooperate with the Sacred in regenerating health and vitality to the web of life which is our home to steward and protect.

All of life is a sacred garden shot through with divinity. Eden is ever on her way. Creation is ongoing. So is redemption. All of life is ever in a cycle of birth, death, and rebirth. Trust this. Sink the roots of your soul into her good soil. Seek and find God’s evergreen presence, which is continually making all things new. Our jobs as co-stewards of creation is first and foremost to till the soil of our own hearts and, as we do, be open to what is ours to till in this marvelous garden, our home for this short sojourn on earth.

The content contained in this blog comes from several chapters of The Girl Child & Her Long Walk to Freedom reading journey. Curious to read more? Sign up to join a reading journey cohort.