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Lazareth Lecturer Larry Rasmussen calls for restoration of a sacred “gut love” of nature

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In a global culture focused on material sufficiency and abundance, often at nature’s expense, is humanity capable of embracing a new form of “creation justice” that restores believers to a deeply pervasive “gut love” of Mother Earth and her remarkable gifts?

That was the focus October 7, 2014,  for the evocative remarks of Dr. Larry L. Rasmussen, ThD, Reinhold Neibuhr Professor Emeritus of Social Ethics at Union Theological Seminary in New York City and one-time St. John’s Visiting Professor at The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia (LTSP). After delving into the history leading to scores of environmental challenges, Rasmussen, this year’s presenter of the William Lazareth Lecture in Theology and Ethics, suggested policy and other steps that can lead to progress. The title of his remarks was “In the Midst of New Dimensions: From Social Justice to Creation Justice.”

Rasmussen began by noting that those impacted most by climate change, such as subsistence farmers, are the ones “who have contributed least” to the problem. He said if the current notion of social justice does not also become “creation justice” the concept will fail.

“A new earth age is upon us,” Rasmussen continued. The Holocene, a spiritual epoch lasting 11,700 years, was marked by climate stability “sufficient for survival … We had the time of our lives,” Rasmussen said. The new age, the Anthropocene, marked by humans “as the single, strongest force of nature,” has led to climate “volatility” with pressures impacting “the high atmosphere, the ocean depths, and every landmass.”  He noted that “pervasive human influence has modified most rivers and re-engineered more landscape” than changes caused by volcanoes and earthquakes during the last century. The result, the ethicist said, is doubled greenhouse gases, greater drought, shrinking glaciers, and greater storm intensity.

“The good news is there is a great awakening under way, and we may be approaching a tipping point in climate reality awareness,” Rasmussen said.

He emphasized several points. First, humanity is the single most destructive force in nature, suggesting future generations may well look back in awe and wonder at their predecessors, but also fear and anger over environmental developments. Second, he noted that “nature has changed its course at a magnitude and rate that in many ways is unprecedented. There is no previous analog (to match) our unique geological epoch.” Third, the age is marked by a level of climate volatility and uncertainty that threatens to stretch humanity beyond limits it has ever known. “I want to bare my soul,” Rasmussen said. “I find this swelling of human impact frightening.” He said he fears that ethical actions humanity could choose to take toward remedies “don’t begin to match the consequences of human power … We could be leading neighbors yet unknown to us down Jericho Roads because we have handed them a diminished, dangerous planet.”



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