Mother Pelican
A Journal of Solidarity and Sustainability

Vol. 14, No. 5, May 2018
Luis T. Gutiérrez, Editor
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An Integral Anthropology for an Integral Ecology

Luis T. Gutiérrez

May 2018

An integral ecology entails development of each person and of the whole person in harmony with the entire community of creation. As the patriarchal era passes away, we are hopefully on the threshold of a renewal of humanity. This means not only a renewal of each person and the whole person, but also a renewal of interpersonal relations. Since the man-nature relation is a mirror of the man-woman relation, a renewal of gender relations is essential for both social justice and ecological justice.

In going beyond the patriarchal culture, such renewal must include a balancing of gender relations pursuant to integral human development and an integral ecology. There can be no integral ecology as long as the masculine and feminine dimensions of humanity are not fully integrated. A renewal of man-woman relations is essential for integral human development. It is also essential for attaining an integral ecology. This renewal of gender relations must be based on an integral anthropology that transcends the patriarchal culture of rigid gender stereotypes, such as male headship, and leads to a culture of balanced interpersonal relations.

All human beings share one and the same human nature. In the biophysical dimension, this fundamental unity is manifested as a somatic homogeneity that subsists in diversity at all levels, from XX/XY chromosomes to skin pigment, eye color, and all other human attributes. In the biopsychological dimension, every human being is a unique personal subject but all humans are Homo sapiens, endowed with reason and free will. In the biospiritual dimension, there is a universal need for relationality; while no human being can flourish in isolation, all humans can flourish in interpersonal relations.

Such is human nature in the flesh. We are bodies, but we are more than bodies. The body is a sacrament of the entire person, but is not the entire person. The body makes the entire person visible, and makes visible what is invisible but not any less real -- the inner self, the human spirit. In Christian terminology, every human being is integrally a body-person, or body-soul; unique and complete yet always needing to be in relation with others in order to flourish in all dimensions of life.

Gender relations are the most universal manifestation of interpersonal relations. It is evident that gender shapes the world: "Gender differences form the basis for family life, patterns of socialization, distribution of tasks, and spheres of responsibilities. The way gender is articulated shapes the world of individuals, and of the societies they live in." For this reason, human development that is not engendered is endangered.

A companion article explores how the same kind of integral anthropology is required for integral human development. This article briefly describes the impending ecological crisis now facing humanity. The patriarchal anthropology that has prevailed for most of human history is described, and shown to be inadequate for navigating the ecological crisis. Then a more adequate anthropology is proposed as would be required for integral human development, and it is argued that such integral anthropology would be more conducive to attain an integral ecology as well, thereby cooperating with the divine plan for humanity as understood in the Judeo-Christian tradition.

Ecological Crisis

The human habitat is increasingly being degraded by humans via physical disruption, chemical toxification, biodiversity decimation, and all manner of human manipulation that ensues from population and consumption growth. The patriarchal era de human civilization, which started with the Agricultural Revolution and was further exacerbated by the surplus energy of fossil fuels and the Industrial revolution, is based on an inadequate anthropology of male headship and domination. The human-nature relation, which is a mirror of the man-woman relation, is inexorably leading us to an ecological crisis of biblical proportions. If such an inadequate anthropology is the problem, we need a more adequate anthropology that recognizes the symbiosis of man and woman and, by extension, the mutually beneficial relationship between humanity and our common home.

Patriarchal Anthropology & Patriarchal Ecology

The patriarchal culture, ancient as it is (10,000 years or so) was manufactured by human hands and is, therefore, artificial; it is not natural, and presupposes a simplistic gender binary that makes masculinity the ideal to the exclusion of femininity. In Aristotelian philosophy, women are regarded as "defective males." If women are regarded as such, what else is there to say about the human habitat? The entire creation is "good" (Genesis 1:3, 9, 11, 14, 20, 24, 31) but, since the inception of patriarchy, it is good only to the extent that it can be subdued and exploited by male humans, as well as by female humans who have fully internalized the patriarchal mindset. This animation captures the essence of a patriarchal ecology:

Genesis 1:28 ~ Courtesy of Vincenzo Fagnani

Actually, Genesis 2 (which is, according to biblical scholars, older than Genesis 1) has a more nuanced narrative about "goodness," to the effect that not everything that looks good is actually good (verse 17) and it is not good for man to be alone (verse 18). There is also, in verse 15, a directive that man must work and take good care of what is good. During the patriarchal phase of human history, however, it has been more convenient to focus attention on Genesis 1:28-29, conveniently interpreted to mean that humans have a right to use the entire community of creation without any responsibility for keeping it in good condition. Mix this with a literalist understanding of woman coming from man (Genesis 2:22) and presto, male headship becomes the "natural" order of things with nefarious consequences that cannot possibly be what God desires.

Integral Anthropology & Integral Ecology

An integral anthropology is proposed as an alternative to the patriarchal anthropology of male headship and domination. It is based on the author's Christian faith but, to the extent that it is a natural anthropology, should be applicable in the context of other religious and cultural traditions. The following diagram attempts to convey the essence of this integral anthropology by showing the objective/subjective structure of the human person and pointing to Jesus Christ as the model of integral human development:

The colors represent layers in the structure of each and every human person:
Grey = Biblical "Flesh" (body-soul, or spirited body), Beige = Body (somatic flesh), Pink = Female, Blue = Male, Purple = Intersex. The simplistic patriarchal "binary" assumes that body, sex, and gender are simply identical. An integral anthropology recognizes that the human body is normally male or female, but each personal subject is more than just a body. Furthermore, being in gendered relation to others is integral to human personhood. Gender is deeper than body in the structure of the personal subject, with a unique combination of masculine and feminine polarities abiding in each human person. The grey (biblical "flesh," i.e., human nature, body and spirit) subsists under the other colors for all humans. Each personal subject is unique, but all human beings are fully homogeneous in one and the same human nature. All human beings (male, female, intersex, heterosexual, homosexual) are made of the same flesh, no other than the flesh Christians believe God assumed at the incarnation.
Source: Meditations on Man and Woman

All human beings share one and the same human nature. In the biophysical dimension, this fundamental unity is manifested as a somatic homogeneity that subsists in diversity at all levels, from XX/XY chromosomes to skin pigment, eye color, and all other human attributes. In the biopsychological dimension, every human being is a unique personal subject but all humans are Homo sapiens, endowed with reason and free will. In the biospiritual dimension, there is a universal need for relationality; while no human being can flourish in isolation, all humans can flourish in interpersonal relations.

An integral anthropology is "integral" in the sense that it recognizes the natural unity of humanity without negating the natural differences between genders, races, and other human attributes. Every human being is unique, with a unique DNA and other unique biophysical and psychological attributes; but all humans constitute the concrete totality of the human species -- the human family. This unity in diversity is more than just the sum of individual humans, because humans interact to create families, associations, nations, cultures, and other social phenomena. Humans, individually and in groups, also interact with the human habitat, as they depend on animals, vegetation, and other biophysical resources in order to survive and thrive. As Baruch Spinoza once wrote, "nature abhors a vacuum." And as Alexander von Humboldt observed, "in the great chain of causes and effects no thing and no activity should be regarded in isolation." So an integral anthropology also recognizes that there is a dynamic reciprocity between humanity and natural resources, because "all flesh is grass" (Isaiah 40:6).

The traditional hierarchical model, with man on top, is passing away as the patriarchal culture passes away. Equally simplistic would be a hierarchical model with woman on top, as some pre-historic matriarchal societies may have been. Going forward, it seems more reasonable to pursue a model whereby humans are an integral part of the total community of creation. Since man and woman, being Homo sapiens, are conscious of their rights and responsibilities, it would seem legitimate to place them, together, at the center of the community of creation, as suggested in the following image of cultural evolution:

Transition from Patriarchal/Matriarchal Dysfunction to Integral Ecology

Given the increasingly deteriorating state of the human habitat, we better be on the threshold of a renewal of humanity: Homo sapiens must outgrow Homo economicus and become Homo ecologicus. It is a matter of balancing the male and female polarities in both human relations and ecological relations. Consider this statement in Laudato Si' #118:

"This situation has led to a constant schizophrenia, wherein a technocracy which sees no intrinsic value in lesser beings coexists with the other extreme, which sees no special value in human beings. But one cannot prescind from humanity. There can be no renewal of our relationship with nature without a renewal of humanity itself. There can be no ecology without an adequate anthropology. When the human person is considered as simply one being among others, the product of chance or physical determinism, then “our overall sense of responsibility wanes”. A misguided anthropocentrism need not necessarily yield to “biocentrism”, for that would entail adding yet another imbalance, failing to solve present problems and adding new ones. Human beings cannot be expected to feel responsibility for the world unless, at the same time, their unique capacities of knowledge, will, freedom and responsibility are recognized and valued."

Lamentably, some patriarchal religious institutions are dragging their feet when it comes to restoring a proper balance of masculine and feminine polarities in their own structures and communities. Since such balancing is required for an integral ecology, it would be helpful if religious institutions also embrace and internalize an integral anthropology.

Integral Human Development & Integral Ecology

The linkage between an integral anthropology and integral human development is the subject of the companion article. It would seem that, since humans run the show, and since the man-nature relation is a mirror of the man-women relation, integral human development is a prerequisite for an integral ecology. However, what goes around comes around, and over time it may well be that the man-woman relation and the man-nature relation mirror each other, as recently suggested to me by Patrick Curry of the Ecocentric Alliance. Given the gravity of the impending ecological crisis, and ominous signs such as population and consumption exceeding various measures of planetary carrying capacity, it would seem prudent to foster a conscious cultural evolution pursuant to a more natural balancing of gender relations, and both human development and ecological sanity, sooner rather than later.

Humanity and the Community of Creation

Humanity has a central role to play in the community of creation. The patriarchal culture is leading us to an ecological crisis of global magnitude. The poor everywhere will suffer the most, but not even the elites can survive if basic ecosystem services break down. If humans have created the problem, humans must provide the solution. Some form of global governance may be required. Technological breakthroughs can be helpful. But nothing will suffice as long as humans, male and female, keep thinking exclusively in terms of self-interest rather than the common good. In other words, the patriarchal era has run its course; we need a renewal of humanity and a renewal of civilization based on working with nature rather than building idols based on artificial abstractions and delusions of omnipotence. As Pope Francis ha stated in Laudato Si' #114:

"All of this shows the urgent need for us to move forward in a bold cultural revolution. Science and technology are not neutral; from the beginning to the end of a process, various intentions and possibilities are in play and can take on distinct shapes. Nobody is suggesting a return to the Stone Age, but we do need to slow down and look at reality in a different way, to appropriate the positive and sustainable progress which has been made, but also to recover the values and the great goals swept away by our unrestrained delusions of grandeur."

Again, it is unfortunate that the most influential religious institution in the world is showing a vexing reluctance to "move forward in a bold cultural revolution" to overcome the patriarchal anthropology that translates into an exclusively male hierarchy. It is a cultural tragedy that is becoming a doctrinal travesty and a pastoral disgrace. Patriarchal "delusions of grandeur" also constitute an obstacle in the process of moving toward an integral ecology.

Human Families and the Divine Family

An integral anthropology, by grounding families in committed nuptial relations, can be the basis for practicing responsible parenthood. It is painfully evident that artificial methods of birth control are not the solution for the overpopulation issue, which arises mostly from irresponsible encounters between men and women who are not committed to each other and to taking good care of their children. It is also painfully evident that technology-based efficiencies are not the solution for the overconsumption issue. Population and consumption can be distinguished but cannot be separated. Even if consumption per capita is reduced to subsistence level, total net consumption cannot sustainably exceed the carrying capacity of the planet in terms of resource availability and energy flow budgets. The bottom line is that the human family must become a communion of persons, and this starts wit man-woman communion. In the Christian tradition, we can say that the human family must become an icon of God, who is a divine family; not a hierarchy, and certainly not a patriarchy, but a communion of divine persons.


As long as the patriarchal binary prevails, subjective human development remains defective, with nefarious repercussions in human relations as well as human-nature relations. There can be no fully integral human development as long as both the objective and subjective dimensions of the body-person are not taken into account. There can be no fully integral ecology as long as humanity behaves as the dominant male and treats nature as a submissive female. There can be no lasting social justice, and there can be no lasting ecological justice, as long as human behavior is driven by the patriarchal mindset. Gender justice is the most crucial "sign of the times." It is time for all the Christian churches to resolve the conflation of patriarchal gender ideology and the truth revealed in Christ Jesus.


This article is based on the author's Meditations on Man and Woman, Humanity and Nature, specifically the following:

Natural Unity of Man and Woman
Natural Consubstantiality of Man and Woman
Unitive Complementarity of Man and Woman
Integral Complementarity of Man and Woman
Patriarchal Disunity of Man and Woman
Natural Complementarity of Man and Woman
Reconstructing the Original Unity of Man and Woman
Reconstructing the Original Harmony of Humanity and Nature
Here and Now: Laudato Si' and the Year of Mercy
Here and Now: Integral Humanism and Evangelization
An Adequate Anthropology for an Integral Ecology
The Twilight of Patriarchy and the Dawn of an Integral Ecology
Consubstantial Complementarity of Man and Woman
Rediscovering the Natural Consubstantiality of Man and Woman
Resilience of Religious Patriarchalism in the Judeo-Christian Tradition
Internalizing the Consubstantial Complementarity of Man and Woman
Overcoming Patriarchal Gender Ideology for Integral Human Development and an Integral Ecology


Luis T. Gutiérrez is the editor of the Mother Pelican Journal of Solidarity and Sustainability.

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