A Role for Theology: Models of God, the World, and the Self

A Role for Theology: Models of God, the World, and the Self


“Be careful how you interpret the world. It is like that.” We live within our models, our worldviews, and they deeply and subtly influence the decisions we make, including ones about the environment. Hence, if we hold views of God, the world, and ourselves that are dualistic, individualistic, and anthropocentric, we will “naturally” decide that climate change, for instance, is not a serious matter. If, however, our worldview is one based on contemporary science as well as the deepest wisdom of many religions, a worldview that claims we are radically interrelated and interdependent with all other forms of life, then we will (or should) respond to our present crisis with similarly radical changes in our thinking and behavior. But do we? This is the critical question for all fields of concern with climate change, including the religions—and it is a very difficult one. What causes people to change at a deep enough level so their behavior changes as well? The shock of climate change may be the catalyst to awaken us from the lie of the current worldview of individual fulfillment through consumerism to the reality of fulfillment by sharing with needy fellow creatures and the earth itself, through religious understandings of limitation, detachment, and self-emptying. Could it be that the Christian notion of kenosis (self-emptying) is the other side of compassion and that a more inclusive sense of self (the universal, ecological self) is the product of both?

  • Dialogue 23
    8 sessions
  • October 19, 2011
    Dharamsala, Himachal Pradesh, India
  • ML23 Print Program |pdf|
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Sallie McFague

Sallie McFague, PhD, is Distinguished Theologian in Residence at the Vancouver School of Theology in British Columbia, Canada. For thirty years she taught at the Vanderbilt University Divinity School in Nashville, TN, where she was the Carpenter Professor of Theology. She was born in Boston, educated at Smith College (BA) and Yale University (BD, MA, PhD) and has taught at Yale Divinity School and Harvard Divinity School, in addition to her years at Vanderbilt. She is the author of eight books and numerous articles, most of them focused on the importance of the models and metaphors with which we interpret the relationship between God, the world, and ourselves. In her book, Models of God, which won the American Academy Award for best book in Constructive Theology, she criticizes the dominant patriarchal model of God as contributing to environmental deterioration and suggests instead the model of the world as God's body. In her latest book, A New Climate for Theology: God, the World, and Global Warming (2008), she claims that the twin crises of economic meltdown and global warming are indications of the seriousness of the need for a new paradigm for human living on the planet, one that criticizes the dominant economic market model of excessive riches for privileged individuals and supports a model that acknowledges the radical interdependence of all. Professor McFague's current research centers on ways that the religions of the world can contribute to the alleviation of these crisis through their ancient call for restraint, detachment, and self-emptying, not only for personal fulfillment but for planetary flourishing.