God's wildness : the Christian roots of ecological ethics in American literature.
Bilbro, Jeffrey L.
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Early Puritan colonists expressed conflicting views regarding the religious significance of the New World’s natural environment. On the one hand, it was “the Devil’s Territories” that God would transform into “a Mart” to enrich his church. On the other hand, it was “God’s temple” in which humans should act as priests. While the first view justifies, even demands, America’s voracious extractive economy, many literary artists have developed the latter view to imagine ways that humans might fulfill more caring, priestly roles within America’s ecological communities. Instead of reordering the Devil’s territories to suit human ends, these authors challenge readers to reorder their own lives in order to participate in God’s wild ecology. This study examines the work of four American writers—Henry David Thoreau, John Muir, Willa Cather, and Wendell Berry—to understand the different means they propose to enable humans to participate in the ongoing redemptive work that God desires to accomplish in his creation. Thoreau draws explicitly on Puritan forms of history and natural philosophy as he calls his neighbors to glorify and enjoy God “in his works.” Muir’s writings in support of the National Parks transfer the central tenets of Disciples of Christ theology to his own “gospel of glaciers,” so he preached that humans could experience God’s presence most powerfully in primitive wilderness. In Death Comes for the Archbishop, Cather models her priests’ reconciliatory work in their mission and gardens on the active submission to God’s will that enabled the Virgin Mary to participate in the Incarnation and Jesus to participate in his Father’s redemptive plan. In Berry’s essays and fiction, he articulates a “way of love” that humans can follow to honor and participate in God’s redemptive love for all creation. Each of these authors imagines practical ways by which humans can fulfill their role as priests in God’s wild temple, and their insights may help Americans reinterpret their religious traditions in order to find wisdom regarding how to care for the damaged ecological systems within which they live.