Feminist & Process Theodicies - Nancy Howell
Humans, created by God, imago Dei - in the image of
For the Judeo-Christian, we are made in the image of a
Creator God; thus, we create. In centuries past, human creativity mirrored that
of Gods in music and art. Now, however, we can create ourselves - with genetic
technology we possibly can, and most likely will, influence the biological
direction and development of both humankind and nature. But what does this
imply for a the theological understanding of the relationship between God and
humankind? And if genetic science influences theology, does theology have any
reply to genetic science?
According to Nancy R. Howell, Academic Dean and Associate
Professor of Theology and Philosophy of Religion at Saint Paul School of
Theology, Scholarship bringing science and religion together for the purposes
of dialogue and integration uses the concept of created co-creator to think
about the impact of evolutionary biology and genetics on Christian theology.
This concept of created co-creator fruitfully tells us that humans will
be involved in genetic research and technology, Howell says, but as a
theological construct it does not yet tell us how humans should conduct
and apply genetic experimentation. Thus, Howell suggests a theology of
redemption, informing both theological anthropology and theodicy, is key to
discerning how genetics should address human suffering.
Theology of the
term created co-creator, Howell says, as defined by Philip Hefner, indicates
the primacy of Gods creativity. Creation of the cosmos ex nihilo, out
of nothing, demonstrates the universes dependence on God for existence.
Humans, in turn, are simply creatures and not God, who emerged in evolutionary
processes under divine rule ... created by God to have a place in the processes
that are part of the design of nature. Secondly, created co-creator reflects
the imago Dei: the co-creator
creates with God - not as Gods equal, but in relationship with God. The
co-creator is the evolutionary process-become-aware, who can be Gods
instrument and agent in evolutionary processes, Howell says. Thus, humans and
human technology are parts of nature itself . . . Human co-creators have the
energy and freedom to shape the future toward the telos of God.
Ted Peters, in Playing God?: Genetic Determinism and
Human Freedom, elaborates on the term created co-creator. For Peters,
Howell says, created co-creator is to be the imago Dei and to
participate in the worlds future. God creates and redeems . . . through
future-giving, and humans are part of future-giving through their creativity.
This view, Howell says, quoting Peters, calls humans to work creatively in
the present in light of a projected vision of a redeemed future. Genetic
technology, therefore, could be a visionary and benevolent act of human
Ronald Cole-Turner, too, uses the concept of co-creation,
although in a modified form. For Cole-Turner, Howell says, creation cannot
stand alone but must be joined with redemption. Human creators must be
understood to participate in both creation and redemption. And secondly,
Cole-Turner proposes that God calls human creators to participate vocationally
in creative, redemptive transformation of nature and, further, that genetic
engineering is a natural extension of Gods creativity.
However, while genetic technology has the potential to do
incredible good for humankind, Hefner, Peters, and Cole-Turner each note that
unrestrained optimism about human creativity and genetics is unwise. Genetic
technology is a human endeavor, and as such it is tainted by original sin, death,
exploitation, and greed. Consequently, for these and other reasons, Howell
says, I urge further reflection on theodicy, redemption, and genetics even as
I am happy to concur that genetic research and technology are instances of
human creativity with the intrinsic and instrumental potential for good.
Theodicy and the
Tragic Structure of Creation.
In order to reflect on genetics and suffering, Howell
introduces Wendy Farleys theodicy of the tragic structure of creation.
Farleys theodicy emphasizes the centrality of suffering, Howell says;
Suffering rather than sin is the focal point, and tragedy rather than the
Fall is the conceptual locus for reflection on suffering. Farleys radical
suffering, such as that experienced by a victim of child abuse, can never be
explained as deserved punishment or retribution for sin, Howell says. Radical
suffering compromises all that is human in persons and is the loss of all
power to resist suffering.
Radical suffering is the result of the worlds diversity,
which generates conflict of values and opposition of ends sought by the
multiplicity of creatures. Suffering is born from the conflict of values and
ends, Howell says. Similarly, a theodicy by David Griffin suggests that any
capacity for good carries with it the capacity for evil. Creation has a tragic
structure - and this concept is not uniquely theological. Diversity in the gene
pool is the treasure that enables adaptation and survival for populations and
species, Howell says. The genetic flexibility that assures a dynamic and
changing population is a value, a good. However, the mechanisms that promise
species survival, such as natural selection, function simultaneously to
generate tragedy. As Farley writes, Tragedy is the price paid for existence.
Suffering and Genetic Defects.
In tragic cases, Howell says, genetic expression is
defective and fosters radical suffering. The question is, what do we mean by
genetic defect? Cole-Turner, Howell
suggests, genetic defects are conditions comparable to those conditions
touched by Jesus healing, such as skin diseases, mental and neurological
disorders, and loss of hearing, sight, or limb. But while Cole-Turner
extricates understanding of genetics from simple associations with the doctrine
of creation and begins to relate genetics with the redemptive and healing work
of Christ, Howell says, my concern regards the fallibility of theology and
science in naming what constitutes a defect.
While science often labels as defect anything causing an
organism inability to reproduce, Howell cautions that defect is often a
socio-cultural distinction. Take, for example, the Deaf community, which has
resisted cochlear implants and has already used prenatal genetic testing to
assure that their children will also be deaf. What the medical community calls
disability or defect, the Deaf community sees as a gift Howell says.
Similarly, both theology and science have been used to label femaleness, race,
and ethnicity as defects, exemplifying how much of what is labeled disease,
defect, or disability is socially constructed. Consequently, Howell suggests
that we should look more closely at Scriptural accounts of Jesus-healing.
Howell points us to Rita Nakashima Brocks theological
interpretation of the healing of the hemorrhaging woman in Mark 5:21-34. For
this woman, the bleeding has social consequences: she suffers from her
femaleness. The woman cannot be healed because social structures interfere,
even with Jesus healing since he is a Jewish male. With courage to violate a
social taboo, the woman touches Jesus in public, and her courage makes her
whole. The touch literally saves her and she is not simply cured medically.
Jesus affirms that the womans faith has made her whole rather than that he has
healed her. Brock points out a vital healing in this story that is rarely
mentioned, Howell says. The brokenness maintained by patriarchy and social
hierarchy is healed.
The paradigm in Marks Gospel is significant for
interpreting genetics and healing, Howell says. It does not deny suffering
and the importance of physical healing or sin and the healing that comes by
faith. But as important as the physical cure in this paradigm is the model of
the transformation - the redemption - of culture as it is healed from its social
Compassion and Redemptive Power.
Particularly when suffering and oppression are the
standpoint of theodicy, Howell says, resistance and redemption take on
theological importance. For Womanist and Black theologies, remembrance and
retelling of the stories of ancestors suffering empowers Black women to resist
and survive. Redeeming gives meaning to suffering as Black women and God
become partners in redemption of black people and their suffering, Howell
says. Similarly, for Martin Luther King, Jr. the
redemptive role of Black suffering was
as a model for bringing new meaning to community and civilization. Humans
cooperate with God to overcome evil and restore community.
Liberation theology, as seen in Gustavo Gutierrez, suggests
a theological model of a relation between God and humans to enact redemption
out of the context of suffering, suffering rooted in social and political
oppression. Humans are involved in ongoing creation and salvation through
political liberation, which is the self-creation of humans and the
transformation of the world.
Black, Womanist, and Liberation theologies hold that
redemption can be born from suffering inflicted by socio-cultural oppression.
These theologies demonstrate one character of Wendy Farleys theodicy, Howell
says - divine compassion and redemptive power address radical suffering, as in
race and class oppression. Compassion and redemptive power resist the
dehumanizing, tragic conditions of suffering, Howell says. And this divine
compassion is redemptive because it makes transcendence of suffering and
resistance to evil possible.
Thinking about radical suffering as a consequence of social
sin and oppression, Howell says, and about redemption in relation to
resisting evil as it is found in Black, Womanist, and Liberation theologies
causes me to pause and reconsider genetics and suffering. Using as an example
the controversy of the gay gene and the deaths of homosexual individuals from
gay bashing, Howell asks whether suffering in such cases results from a
genetic defect or from the cultural constructs of a human community that
cries out for healing in acts of violence toward gays.
What are compassion and redemption in the tragic structure of
heterosexism? Howell asks. Where are compassion and redemption in the tragedy
of socially constructed defects?
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| Contributed by: Heather Evans