Ask the Beasts: Darwin and the God of Love

A Review Elizabeth Johnson s Ask the Beasts Darwin and the God of Love By Greg CusackSeptember The author is the theologian whom the Catholic bishops of this country castigated last yea

A Review:Elizabeth Johnson’s “Ask the Beasts:Darwin and the God of Love”By Greg CusackSeptember 6, 2014 The author is the theologian whom the Catholic bishops of this country castigated last year for an earlier work – Quest for the Living God – in which they said she had strayed into dangerous territory. It turns out, they had not actually read the book but were relying upon the opinion of others! Such is the sad state of ecclesiastic “authority” in the Catholic Church these days. Johnson’s Ask the Beasts was just published this year, and is an interesting, thought-provoking, and elevating read. In her first section, Ms. Johnson gives a wonderful presentation of Darwin’s groundbreaking book The Origin of Species, much of it using his own words. While I am relatively familiar with the theory of evolution – including the many updated adjustments that have occurred since Darwin published his book in the 1860s – I had never actually read the original. Ms. Johnson makes clear that he was an eloquent, thoughtful, and deeply spiritual person. The awe and wonder he displays in discussing his finds, and their implications, is beautiful to behold. Ask the Beasts is worth its cost for this section alone. She then briefly goes over the many things we have learned (and gotten terribly wrong) about Darwin’s theories since publication of his book. In the first category, perhaps the most important is that instead of evolution proceeding at a rather steady, slow pace over great periods of time, we now know that – while slow evolution (adaptation to environments) is always going on, great advances in species diversification and/or within species have been triggered by past dramatic events (the geologically stunning time spans of continental drift and cyclical climate change, for instance, as well as the cataclysmic disasters caused by volcanic eruptions and collisions with asteroids.) Of particular note is the great asteroid impact in the Yucatan peninsula around 66 million years ago which not only caused the rapid extinction of dinosaurs but also – because of the generations long nuclear winter which followed – the die-off of about 75% of all existing life on Earth. In terms of the seriously erroneous applications of Darwin’s findings were the many implications of so-called “Social Darwinism,” which argued that the success of the wealthy elites was due to the “survival of the fittest” and that, therefore, any attempts to ameliorate the lot of the less fortunate was both doomed to failure and, even worse, was effectively going against nature and God’s plan! The great evil which culminated in Nazi efforts to eliminate entire classes of people as “unworthy” – including the genocide of the Jewish people – was a result of such nonsense and the even more advanced corruption of “scientific eugenics.” In the second part of her book, she attempts to introduce into our understanding of evolution Christian theology regarding the evolving understanding of God (whom she often alludes to simply as “Mystery”) in sparking creation itself and the mysterious formation of ever more complex life forms. There is much here that is quite rich; but I also struggled with arguments which, in fairness, cannot be labeled “fanciful” but which, nonetheless, struck me as a modern example of arguing about how many angels can fit on the head of a pin! This illustrates (for me, at least) one of the difficulties good, intelligent, and very creative people have within a Church that is so doctrinally fixated. While Ms. Johnson does very successfully demonstrate that sound theology has always seen human beings within the context of all creation – and, thus, not somehow “separate” or “above” other creatures – it seems that she forces, just a little bit, some questionable concepts as the Trinity (questionable in that I am not sure this formulation need be seen as the “last word” on the mysterious essence of the Holy One) into discussing how this works with creation and evolution. For the more theologically inclined (or curious) among you, you might well enjoy this section. For the rest, however, I would advise feeling free to move rather quickly through it whenever it becomes too “far-out” or “heavy” for you. There is richness here, but the first and third sections were, for me, far more informative and powerful. In her third section, then, she turns to how human beings fit into creation and evolution, and asks what our essential role is (or ought to be). She demonstrates that Christian theology in more recent centuries has forgotten the intimate association with all creation that was so present through much of the Hebrew bible (the Old Testament) and which is truly present in Christian Scriptures. (She mentions specifically the manner and teachings of Jesus as well as Paul – “all creation groans in agony.”) She laments the fact that we have more recently come to see humanity as apart from creation, and even that “God’s major plan” is really solely about humans. She takes issue with this and shows, with much scriptural support from both of the bible’s two testaments, that this is a deviation, if not an outright perversion, from the essential message. For the rest of this review, I think it best you hear directly from Elizabeth Johnson as there is no way I could adequate summarize, or in any way improve upon, her words.“Contemporary studies of living animals are making it clear that the gap between humankind and otherkind is much less absolute than previously thought, with many shared characteristics appearing on a graded spectrum…. With homo sapiens, evolution on this planet has brought forth a creature able to decipher the very process of evolution and draw diagrams about its progression. In so doing, it has brought forth a being that can massively effect the evolution of other species for good or ill…. Despite our unique capacities for language, reason, morality, and love, however, the human legacy is becoming the erasure of others on the tree of life.” (p. 241) “…The ongoing destruction of life on Earth by human action, intended or not, has the character of deep moral failure. To speak theologically, it is profoundly sinful. Buy acts of commission and omission we are perpetrating violence against life and its future. In so doing we are pulling contrary to the will of God, whose beloved creation this is and whose goodness is reflected in its diverse forms of living species. Ethicists have coined new words to name the sin: biocide, ecocide, geocide. Sacrilege and desecration are not too strong a designation…. Whatever the language, the religious judgment remains that the damage humans are wreaking on the earth is profoundly wrong.” (Pp. 249-50) “Social injustice and ecological degradation are two sides of the same coin, lack of respect for life. Both evils precipitate out from policies and lifestyles that reward the greed and selfishness of some to the disadvantage of many others.” (p. 256) “[This] implies that moral consideration must be given to species beyond the human, and moral standing to ecological systems as a whole. In terms of the moral good, we owe love and justice not only to humankind but also to otherkind. The moral responsibility associated with extending respect to the natural world thus calls into play the substantial tradition on right and wrong, virtue and sin, already so well developed in terms of the dignity of the human person, and invites its challenging application to this new set of lives.” (p. 257) Accordingly, “what pope, patriarch, and numerous other religious leaders are urgently preaching is the need for people to change their ways. The traditional term for such a change is conversion… [metanoia in Greek] In a broad sense conversion is a continuous characteristic of the life of faith, an ever deepening fidelity in relationship with God…. Conversion also means literally a turning, a change of direction, switching away from one path and swiveling toward another… this turning results from an awakening, slowly or abruptly, to certain spiritual realities, a new awareness that occasions changes in lifestyle, thought patterns, and moral commitments… We humans sin when by actions of commission, omission, or sheer indifference we disappear species, reduce biodiversity, break up integrated ecosystems, and cut off future possibilities…. We need a deep spiritual conversion to the Earth.” (pp. 257-8)“The future of the tree of life is now at the mercy of human decision and indecision. If ever there were a sign of the times to be interpreted theologically in the light of the living God who creates and redeems, this is it.” We have arrived at “a crossroads: the option for conversion to the Earth, or not.” (p. 285)“The argument here has been that commitment to ecological wholeness in partnership with a more just social order is the vocation which best corresponds to God’s own loving intent for our corner of creation. We all share the status of creaturehood; we are all kin in the evolving community of life now under siege; our vision must be one of flourishing for all…. The long-term goal is a socially just and environmentally sustainable society in which the needs of all people are met and diverse species can prosper, onward to an evolutionary future that will still surprise…. Living the ecological vocation in the power of the Spirit sets us off on a great adventure of mind and heart, expanding the repertoire of our love.“The beasts ask of us no less.” (Pp. 286-7)The best Ask the Beasts: Darwin and the God of Love Author Elizabeth A. Johnson is a Books For millennia plant and animal species have received little sustained attention as subjects of Christian theology and ethics in their own right Focused on the human dilemma of sin and redemptive grace, theology has considered the doctrine of creation to be mainly an overture to the main drama of human being s relationship to God What value does the natural world have witFor millennia plant and animal species have received little sustained attention as subjects of Christian theology and ethics in their own right Focused on the human dilemma of sin and redemptive grace, theology has considered the doctrine of creation to be mainly an overture to the main drama of human being s relationship to God What value does the natural world have within the framework of religious belief The crisis of biodiversity in our day, when species are going extinct at than 1,000 times the natural rate, renders this question acutely important.Standard perspectives need to be realigned theology needs to look out of the window, so to speak as well as in the mirror Ask the Beasts Darwin and the God of Love leads to the conclusion that love of the natural world is an intrinsic element of faith in God and that far from being an add on, ecological care is at the centre of moral life.. Johnson grew up in Brooklyn, New York, the oldest of seven children in an Irish Catholic family As a young adult she joined the religious order of the Sisters of Saint Joseph whose motherhouse is in Brentwood, Long island, NY She received a B.S from Brentwood College in 1964, an M.A from Manhattan College in 1964.1981, she became the first woman to earn a Ph.D in theology at the Catholic University of America CUA CUA is a pontifical university of the Catholic Church and is the only university in the U.S founded and sponsored by America s bishops Johnson recalls that her experience there was rich, respectful, and collegial, but was also lacking in female presence During her studies there in the 1970s Johnson observes, I never had a woman professor, I never read one woman author There were none to be had It was a totally male education CUA attempted to remedy this when Johnson herself was hired into a tenure track position in Christology She became one of the first female theologians allowed to receive a doctorate by the church authorities, as a result of the liberalization decrees that capped the Second Vatican Council Feminism had begun impacting the thinking and dialog of female Catholic theologians, and pioneering feminist theologians Elisabeth Sch ssler Fiorenza and Sandra M Schneiders influenced Johnson on feminist topics, including using feminine metaphors and language for God Inspired by their example, Johnson and other women graduate students formed a group, Women in Theology She has served as head of the Catholic Theological Society of America and the American Theological Society.While at CUA in 1980 she felt profoundly affected by events of the Salvadoran Civil War when four American women, including three nuns, working as missionaries and helping oppressed people to escape violence, were abducted and killed by a death squad Johnson mourned the women, but she redirected her anguish by carrying out their mission in her own field of theology Johnson notes that leaders of her religious community encouraged her to enter the field of theology and pushed her to continue in spite of obstacles When I applied for tenure at Catholic University, I received the full positive vote of the faculty But the outcome was in doubt because some bishops were not happy with an article I had written, she says, referring to her article questioning the traditional view of Mary as humble and obedient Though she contemplated leaving rather than facing the arduous process of interrogation, General Superior Sister John Raymond McGann advised her not to give up, and Johnson did receive tenure.Johnson had taught science and religion at the elementary and high school level, then taught theology at St Joseph s College New York and at CUA before moving to Fordham in 1991 At Fordham, she was named Distinguished Professor in 1997 and Teacher of the Year in 1998.. The best Ebook Ask the Beasts: Darwin and the God of Love This is not a book to be tripped through lightly, but needs to be savored and digested. As one who usually gobbles down novels, I was able to read only a few pages at a time. But it was worth it. The author is a Distinguished Professor of Theology at Fordham University and her book is full of wisdom and poetry.The only other book I’ve underlined so much of is Rosemary Haughton’s The Passionate God. Like that book, Ask the Beasts was constantly presenting me with startlingly new thoughts. Johnson’s stated goal was to look at the natural world through both a scientific and theological lens; as a dialog and not an argument. She begins by asking what is the theological meaning of the natural world? How can reason and faith produce a greater love and respect for Earth’s community of life? For her, this last is the most crucial question facing the human race today. The damage we’re doing to our planet is a deeply moral issue, she says; the way humankind is pushing other species to unprecedented rates of extinction is akin to murder.The author begins by exploring what Darwin actually had to say in his ground-breaking Origin of Species. I learned, to my surprise, that the phrase “survival of the fittest” didn’t appear until the fifth edition of his book and the term “evolution” wasn’t used until the edition after that. She describes how Darwin saw the world with an attentive and loving care which verged on the profoundly religious. In fact, many people at the time saw no great divide between his book and their religious beliefs. That argument came later, as Johnson describes. I was left, after the first half of the book, with a kind of awe for Darwin’s work and a vision of it as a literary, as well as scientific, masterpiece.Then Johnson asks The Question: in the face of what Origin says about the absence of direct design, the presence of chance, the huge amount of suffering involved when species after species disappears into extinction, and a process that takes billions of years, how are we to understand the theological insistence that the Spirit of God acts continuously as a loving creator? That’s when her book became hard for me to put down, when new thoughts began to form.“To my way of thinking,” Johnson writes, “[evolution] is a technical way of interpreting how mature Love acts.” It shows far more power to give others a “causative capability” than to just go ahead and do everything oneself. She goes deeper than that though, into a discussion of the role that chance, that suffering, and that death has in the way God creates. Our world is a mix of the matter and energy we (kind of) understand and the dark matter and energy that’s still a mystery. It seems, she notes, as if matter was created with the extraordinary capacity to transcend itself, to evolve from a blind mix of proteins that slowly became beings conscious of themselves, beings whose very blood comes from elements forged only in stars.Johnson never ignores the darker reality of God’s felt absence, nor does she give answers of easy optimism. Life, for us and all created things, will end. What comes after, science doesn’t know and theology can only hope. But her book rises into a truly awesome climax when she addresses the idea of “deep incarnation.” It builds, page after page of reasoning, biblical commentary, and insight, into what mystics of all religious persuasions have intuited almost from the beginning: the Spirit of God is an integral, loving and providential part of the cosmos. The incarnation didn’t depend on Adam and Eve’s “sin,” she says, but “was Love’s intent from the beginning.” After years of pastoral ministry, I recently came to believe the same thing: the first “Christmas” was really the Big Bang.Reading her book gave me a deeper understanding of how science and theology together more fully describe the tragedy, love and wonder inherent in the truly dazzling evolution of the tree of life. Ask the Beasts is a gift to our world.
Ask the Beasts Darwin and the God of Love Johnson Oct , In Ask the Beasts Elisabeth Johnson combines erudition and theological reflection, a pastoral passion and ethical commitment to show that Darwinian theory of evolution need not stand against a religious belief in God Ask the Beasts Darwin and the God of Love by Elizabeth A Jan , Ask the Beasts Darwin and the God of Love is a beautifully written book on seeing God in all of creation One of, if not the most important, arguments put forth by Sr Elizabeth, is how Ask the Beasts Darwin and the God of Love by Elizabeth A Oct , Ask the Beasts presents a deeply sacramental, incarnational view of the natural world and our place in it Stephen J Pope, The Journal of Religion This book is a call to broaden A review of Ask the Beasts, by Elizabeth Johnson Apr , Ask the Beasts is an original, learned, and compellingly readable enlargement of Christian theology after Darwin The book s title is taken from Job But now ask the beasts to Ask the Beasts Darwin and the God of Love Elizabeth A Jan , About Ask the Beasts Darwin and the God of Love For millennia plant and animal species have received little sustained attention as subjects of Christian theology and ethics in their own right Ask the Beasts Darwin and the God of Love Kindle Ask the Beasts presents a deeply sacramental, incarnational view of the natural world and our place in it Stephen J Pope, The Journal of Religion This book is a call to broaden our focus, Ask the Beasts Darwin and the God of Love Book Review Aug , Elizabeth Johnson writes her book, Ask the Beasts, as a corrective to the anthropocentric perspectives in which all that matters among the created order is human beings and their interests Ask the Beasts Faith Matters ASK THE BEASTS Darwin and the God of Love This series of discussions encourages a fruitful dialogue between science and faith, discussing themes presented by Elizabeth Johnson in her

  1. Johnson grew up in Brooklyn, New York, the oldest of seven children in an Irish Catholic family As a young adult she joined the religious order of the Sisters of Saint Joseph whose motherhouse is in Brentwood, Long island, NY She received a B.S from Brentwood College in 1964, an M.A from Manhattan College in 1964.1981, she became the first woman to earn a Ph.D in theology at the Catholic University of America CUA CUA is a pontifical university of the Catholic Church and is the only university in the U.S founded and sponsored by America s bishops Johnson recalls that her experience there was rich, respectful, and collegial, but was also lacking in female presence During her studies there in the 1970s Johnson observes, I never had a woman professor, I never read one woman author There were none to be had It was a totally male education CUA attempted to remedy this when Johnson herself was hired into a tenure track position in Christology She became one of the first female theologians allowed to receive a doctorate by the church authorities, as a result of the liberalization decrees that capped the Second Vatican Council Feminism had begun impacting the thinking and dialog of female Catholic theologians, and pioneering feminist theologians Elisabeth Sch ssler Fiorenza and Sandra M Schneiders influenced Johnson on feminist topics, including using feminine metaphors and language for God Inspired by their example, Johnson and other women graduate students formed a group, Women in Theology She has served as head of the Catholic Theological Society of America and the American Theological Society.While at CUA in 1980 she felt profoundly affected by events of the Salvadoran Civil War when four American women, including three nuns, working as missionaries and helping oppressed people to escape violence, were abducted and killed by a death squad Johnson mourned the women, but she redirected her anguish by carrying out their mission in her own field of theology Johnson notes that leaders of her religious community encouraged her to enter the field of theology and pushed her to continue in spite of obstacles When I applied for tenure at Catholic University, I received the full positive vote of the faculty But the outcome was in doubt because some bishops were not happy with an article I had written, she says, referring to her article questioning the traditional view of Mary as humble and obedient Though she contemplated leaving rather than facing the arduous process of interrogation, General Superior Sister John Raymond McGann advised her not to give up, and Johnson did receive tenure.Johnson had taught science and religion at the elementary and high school level, then taught theology at St Joseph s College New York and at CUA before moving to Fordham in 1991 At Fordham, she was named Distinguished Professor in 1997 and Teacher of the Year in 1998.

598 Reply to “Ask the Beasts: Darwin and the God of Love”

  1. This is not a book to be tripped through lightly, but needs to be savored and digested As one who usually gobbles down novels, I was able to read only a few pages at a time But it was worth it The author is a Distinguished Professor of Theology at Fordham University and her book is full of wisdom and poetry.The only other book I ve underlined so much of is Rosemary Haughton s The Passionate God Like that book, Ask the Beasts was constantly presenting me with startlingly new thoughts Johnson s st [...]


  2. This is a wonderful book to read surrounded by the wilderness I read most of it on the porch of my Maine cabin.Many of my friends might find it surprising that I would so enjoy and be educated by a book synthesizing Darwinian evolution and Biblical Christian theology one written by a Catholic nun who has often been at odds with the Church s hierarchy.I have read considerable Chardin, another Catholic who explored the same areas decades ago Sr Elizabeth Johnson s fine literary style enhances the [...]


  3. A Review Elizabeth Johnson s Ask the Beasts Darwin and the God of Love By Greg CusackSeptember 6, 2014 The author is the theologian whom the Catholic bishops of this country castigated last year for an earlier work Quest for the Living God in which they said she had strayed into dangerous territory It turns out, they had not actually read the book but were relying upon the opinion of others Such is the sad state of ecclesiastic authority in the Catholic Church these days Johnson s Ask the Beasts [...]


  4. Excellent discussion of Darwin, evolution, and Catholic theology The most powerful words for me are on pp 258 9 We need a deep spiritual conversion to the Earth Such a conversion must be intellectual, emotional, and ethical In sum, ecological conversion means falling in love with the earth as an inherently valuable, living community in which we participate, and bending every effort to be creatively faithful to its well being, in tune with the living God who brought it into being and cherishes it [...]


  5. Ask the Beasts Darwin and the God of Love is a beautifully written book on seeing God in all of creation One of, if not the most important, arguments put forth by Sr Elizabeth, is how Christians Christianity has dropped the proverbial ball on the theology of human dominion over creation The future of the tree of life is now at the mercy of human decision and indecision If ever there was a sign of the times to be interpreted theologically in light of the living God who creates and redeems, this i [...]


  6. I wish I could give this 4.5 stars I reserve 5 for my absolute favorites, but this book is truly excellent Johnson does an especially wonderful job of making Darwin s Origin of the Species accessible to theological dialogue She argues persuasively for ecological stewardship Sometimes her theology becomes a little bit too large sweeping for the coherence of her argument, but all the same she does honor to the Christian understanding of creation, as revealed both scientifically and theologically.


  7. Really stunning It is still changing and stretching my thinking about the nature of the divine indwelling in nature She is such a great thinker, and explains every inch of her reasoned journey in an accessible way A much needed work to connect contemporary theology and science


  8. While I disagree with some of her theology, Johnson makes a beautiful case for a relational understanding of creation This relationship critiques human disregard for how our actions harm the rest of creation and, ultimately, ourselves.


  9. I really enjoyed this book and it is exhaustively detailed in what concerns Darwin s work However, I would expect a greater synthesis between such science and theological reasoning Relatively to other authors, such as Denis Edwards, John Haught, I didn t sensed the novelty I was expecting.


  10. Wow, how I wish there was so much of this kind of work being done A rich, even devotional exposition of both scripture and the natural world with a powerful theological call to address the ecological crisis of our time.


  11. Beautifully written, thought provoking, Elizabeth Johnson puts into words what was always in my heart She also impresses the importance of including a theology of creation in our religious institutions.


  12. A clear and cogent christian argument of ecotheology, recommended for those who wonder about our calling for care of this earth and how to work with science from a christian perspective.




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