Ecology and the Bible:
My youth in the Australian bush
imbued me with a sense of kinship with creation,
a feeling that the trees with climbed,
the streams we explored,
and the frogs we nurtured around the dam,
were an integral part of our home.
The Bush was our home
even if the church promoted a ‘heavenism’
that saw heaven as our home
and Earth as a barren land
en route to paradise above.
One of the forces
that sparked a second level of interest in Earth
was the discovery that my great grandfather,
Wilhelm Habel, was an environmentalist
well ahead of his time.
Wilhelm Habel’s property was between Lake Kennedy, a salt lake, and Lake Linlithgow, a fresh water lake less than a kilometer away. The local farmers had decided that all the land around Lake Linlithgow ought to be pasture for their sheep.
Wilhelm believed that Lake Linlithgow was of such beauty and intrinsic value that it ought to be accessible to the entire community and surrounded by trees, including local eucalyptus trees. Of his own accord, he grew young saplings and planted them around Lake Linlithgow as he had done on his own property around Lake Kennedy.
His action evoked the ire of the local farmers who walked around the lake and pulled up every sapling with a public declaration that ‘this land was intended by God for sheep, not trees!’
Wilhelm may have been frustrated by his initial attempts to rejuvenate the surrounds of Lake Linlithgow. In time, however, he chose to run for office in the local shire council. As a member of that council, he finally managed to obtain a ruling that the area around Lake Linlithgow could be set aside as a public reserve populated with trees that people could enjoy. This action further incensed the farmers, one of whom wrote a letter to the local Hamilton Spectator on Sept. 16, 1879 accusing Wilhelm of betraying the farmers by allowing land near the lake to be made into a ‘pleasant park’ as in Melbourne declaring the decision an ‘extravagant appropriation of crown lands’.
In 1979 I was proud to celebrate the achievements of my great grandfather at a special ceremony under the trees that Wilhelm planted beside the lake. I preached in a traditional black gown from an old horse drawn wagon similar to that used in the so-called Mission Festivals held once a year beside the lake of my great grandfather’s farm.
The message was simple. The oxygen rising from these trees is as much our heritage as any Lutheran trappings of the day.
An important development in the field of Ecology and the Bible was a conference on Religion and Ecology, sponsored by the Charles Strong Trust and held in Adelaide in 1997. One of the outcomes of that conference was the Adelaide Declaration given below under Principles for Interpreting
A second outcome was a proposal to explore ways of interpreting the Bible from the perspective of Earth. With the support of the Charles Strong Trust and Sheffield Press we embarked on a series of volumes entitled The Earth Bible. Click on Ecology and Bible – The Earth Bible.
Sheffield Press was taken over by Continuum Publishing and The Earth Bible series terminated in that form. The impetus of the movement generated by The Earth Bible, however, has led to ongoing Sessions on Ecological Hermeneutics at the annual SBL Meetings in the USA and internationally
Now I am happy to announce that The Earth Bible is again available and that Sheffield Phoenix is publishing an Earth Bible Commentary series the first volume of which is my ecological reading of Genesis 1-11, entitled, The Birth, the Curse and the Greening of Earth, published in 2011.
An outcome of these consultations is the publication of an SBL Symposium Volume entitled Exploring Ecological Hermeneutics. This volume introduces the new approach and includes 15 biblical scholars who apply the approach in various ways.
An important feature of these developments has been the emergence of several sets of principles that followed the Adelaide Declaration and were integral to the process of developing a new ecological approach to interpreting the Bible. For details on these principles click on Ecology and Bible – Principles for Interpreting.
Taking these principles into account and facing the current ecological challenges, a number of challenges face the church in terms of Earth ministry and Earth mission (eco-mission). For details click on Ecology and Bible – Challenges.