Earth-Honoring Faith

Larry Rasmussen, Oxford University Press, 2013, reviewed by Vern Ratzlaff

        Rasmussen is one of our most creative thinkers, whose concern with ethics keeps religious faith relevant and forward looking. Voyager 1 was on its way out of the solar system when it photographed each planet it had passed In some of the photos a pale blue dot appeared. Carl Sagan featured that dot. ‘That’s home,’ he said; ‘That’s home for everyone you ever heard of, lived there on that mote of dust, suspended in a sunbeam’ (p 3).

        On a different scale, ‘our very being was shaped by a seamless series of an ever changing ecosphere… Its ability to support humans into a distant future was not on the line…. But now it is… We’ve been burning through the five pools of relatively non-renewable energy, the first of which is soil. (Forests, coal, oil, and natural gas are others.) (p 205)

        Earth can industrialize but once in the manner and on the scale it has. ‘Not good ideas but anticipatory communities meeting adaptive challenges’ are needed (p 226), and religious communities are essential for these challenges. ‘Those who believe and humble themselves before their Lord, they will be companions of the garden.’ (Qur’an, Sutra 11:23). ‘There is no separation between what our surroundings do to us and what we do to our surroundings’ (p 19). Key is the loss of ‘fertile crescents’.

        A study of the soils of the middle east found sobering results: washed off soils, silted canals, meagre flora and fauna, ruins of dead cities (p 195). The zoo in us makes up 10% of our dry body weight; we have an inner ecosystem in which each of us is home to something like 100 trillion microbes (p 21).

        The book is a wondrously evocative treatment of us bipeds with giant dreams. ‘We need to confront the disorder that believes G-d cares only for human beings, and that people can flourish while the memberships of creation languish (p 359). We need to cultivate the empathetic mind in contrast to the reductionist, utilitarian mind (p 363).

Vern Ratzlaff is a pastor and professor of historical theology at Lutheran Theological Seminary in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada.