Paper 1: An All-inclusive Call to Care for Earth and LifeClive W Ayre, PhD As we all know, the COVID pandemic has seized the public imagination and response in a way that has been described as unprecedented. But recent years have also given us massive floods, fires, and other such disasters. Many of those events have been beyond the coping capacity of the people and nations involved, yet they have not galvanised our response in the same way. The response of both humans and animals during these crises suggests that while it is true that different species tend to prey on one another, most of the evidence points to the interconnectedness of life.
During the past year, I have been involved in writing several chapters for a new book on climate change adaptation in the Pacific Islands, relating in particular to opportunities for faith-engaged approaches. Importantly, the book reflects an interdisciplinary perspective that seeks to be “scientifically sound, spiritually attuned, locally meaningful, and contextually compelling”. There is clearly much that could be said, but I will seek to address the central theme of caring both for the Earth and each other, including all life.
It will be obvious that I am speaking out of a Christian context, yet with a profound respect for other traditions. It has long been my contention that while it may be important to acknowledge inter-religious differences, in interfaith relations it is even more important and productive to identify the areas we hold in common. It allows for the development of understanding, trust, and respect, which is always important, but especially so when it comes to care of the Earth and of each other. In that space, those areas of agreement are significant.
I want to address what I am calling “an all-inclusive call to care for Earth and life” to suggest that Earthcare and Lifecare are not options for us to pick and choose; they belong inseparably together, and are an imperative for all of us. In order to care for the Earth, we are bound to care for each other, and in order to care for each other we need to care for the Earth; nor can we forget the significance of wildlife.
I will begin by addressing the concept of “the household of God”, culminating in a proposal about reconciliation. I will then explore some fundamental partnerships which can play a positive role in Earthcare. I will draw on the lived experience of people in the Pacific Islands region, which has much to say to us about the indissoluble link between care for Earth and for life. This will include reference to several climate change issues in Australia. Finally, I will offer some summary observations about our response.
Paper 2: Participation in Times of Social Crisis: Refugees from Crisis Countries as a Case Study
In order to give this paper a sharp focus, primary attention is given to the European context. What is commonly known as “the European refugee crisis” reached its peak in 2016. Complex structural problems persist, but the “crisis” has now passed. I note, as the scare quotes suggest, that the term “European refugee crisis” is problematic. It communicates a sense that Europe at that time was a continent under siege. Indeed, refugees were commonly viewed as dangerous invaders who put cultural identity and economic security under serious threat.
Though the “crisis” is over, it is useful to reflect theologically on how neighbour-love and solidarity were expressed at its peak. The concept that is employed to inform the reflection is “participation.” This term can simply describe the act of taking part in an activity. My interest is in participation as a moral activity. In what follows, I draw on Karol Wojtyla’s description of it. Stated succinctly, participation is being-with and acting-for others with the aim of advancing the common good. Personalist philosophers such as Martin Buber, Ferdinand Ebner, and Gabriel Marcel offer an understanding of participation that is founded on an I-Thou relation. What characterizes the I-Thou relation is intersubjectivity; the partners participate in the relation as subjects rather than as “its.” An adequate ethical treatment of participation needs to begin at the level of the I-Thou relation, but it needs to progress to incorporation of a “We” dimension. That is to say, an adequate articulation of a participative ethic includes both interpersonal and communal element
Wojtyla took a phenomenological approach to his topic; he wrote as a philosopher rather than as a theologian. Pope John Paul II was, of course, a capable theologian; he chose a strictly philosophical method to articulate the nature of participation. My first task is to ground the concept in an explicitly theological construct. To do this, I refer to Mühlen’s Trinitarian theology. He mirrors the progression in Wojtyla’s work on participation from the I-Thou level to the communal or “We” level. He posits the Holy Spirit as the personal agency representing the extension of the divine self-love expressed in the mutuality of the I-Thou relation between the Father and the Son; the triune God lives and loves not only through an I-Thou relation, but also through a We relation. Human participation is an echo, the faintest of echoes, of Trinitarian participation.
In the second half of the paper, I use the I-Thou and We dynamics, neighbour-love, and other central ideas associated with Wojtyla’s conceptualization of participation to theologically analyze selected cases of refugee support and advocacy. The focus is largely, but not exclusively, on the European context. I have included two stories from other cultural contexts. The dynamics they reveal are universal in application; they certainly speak to the European experience. Issues touched on include a crisis of solidarity, liturgical truth-telling, and hospitality as open friendship vs hospitality as power, and a care of person-care of social world paradigm. Further details at https://hpi.uq.edu.au/studies-in-religion-seminar-listing