Avatar, Environmentalism and a Human Ecology
My first direct experience with the environmental movement came when I graduated from the University of New Hampshire in 1991.
The new movie Avatar is dazzling crowds around the world with its never seen before special effects and breaking records for its box office success.
Similarly, Vatican Radio said it "cleverly winks at all those pseudo-doctrines that turn ecology into the religion of the millennium...Nature is no longer a creation to defend, but a divinity to worship.” The Vatican’s review raises a number of interesting issues about the dramatic rise in environmentalism in recent years, and whether environmentalism is becoming a form of pseudo-religion.
My first direct experience with the environmental movement came when I graduated from the University of New Hampshire in 1991. I finished with a degree in Political Science and was very interested in getting involved in government. Like most college graduates, it was a time of high ideals for me in my life, and the desire to make a difference in the world. I found a job in downtown Boston working for an environmental lobbying organization, trying to pass environmental legislation on the state level in Massachusetts. Making the world a cleaner place seemed like a noble sentiment to me.
However, within months it became clear that something was not quite right with the organization. While we worked a full week at raising money and awareness about environmental legislation, the directors would then ask us to work on weekends without pay, declaring, “Big business is still polluting on the weekend, we can’t stop working either.”
At times it even appeared to me like a religious cult, especially when the directors were trying to regulate who I was socializing with outside of work. The correctness of my decision to leave the organization was confirmed when I told my boss that I was resigning. He then began to shed tears in front of me. Afterwards I felt fortunate to have escaped!
Having a healthy respect for creation is an important part of being Christian. Sacred Scripture tells us to be good stewards over creation: “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves over the earth” (Genesis 1:28).
Furthermore I think most people have given some consideration to the recent “green” movements, such as recycling, organic food, or to the so-called “fears of global warming”. Personally I love the outdoors, skiing and hiking, and want to have them preserved. In addition I have seen what happens to the environment when it is not treated well, especially when traveling overseas. For example seeing certain underdeveloped sections of the Dominican Republic where rivers and streets were devastated with filth; or in Haiti, where entire regions have had all their trees cut down without replacement.
Yet I have to wonder whether the sudden boom in the “green” movement is not really motivated by the intrinsic need we all have written on our hearts (Romans 2:15) to know that I am being a good and moral person. The root of the problem is that the 10 Commandments, the traditional social norms to assess one’s own moral life for thousands of years, are no longer relevant to society.
Thou shall keep the Sabbath: Who really believes that missing Sunday Mass is gravely immoral anymore? Thou shall not kill: Who really believes that abortion should be prohibited in all cases? Thou shall not commit adultery: Who really believes that pre-marital sex, contraception, divorce and remarriage, are really mortal sins? These violations are so commonplace that they cannot possibly constitute what it means to be a good person. Can so many people be wrong? Therefore we need something else to constitute what it means to be a good person: Go Green!
This is taken to a new level when, as the Vatican review declares, there are forces, such as the subtleties in Avatar, which seek to make environmentalism into a pseudo-religion. For example, there was the anti-SUV ad campaign a few years ago which asked, “What would Jesus drive?” This of course prompted some laughter with responses like, “Perhaps a Christ-ler”.
More serious is the widespread practice of yoga and Christians not realizing that yoga, at least in its religious context, is a sin against the First Commandment. Finally, there is the more aggressive behavior of those who claim that, contrary to Sacred Scripture (see Luke 24:42-43, Acts 10:9-16), Jesus never ate meat, and therefore eating meat is a sin.
Enter Pope Benedict XVI. Making statements like, “…the unregulated exploitation of the earth’s resources…require new efforts of holistic understanding and a new humanistic synthesis” (Caritas in Veritate, 21) has earned the Pope the title in the media, “The Green Pope”. For example, Pope Benedict XVI’s recent World Peace Day release on January 1, 2010 focused on the "current ecological crisis" and the connection between protecting the environment and working for peace in the world.
However, the Pope’s understanding of the environmental question brings a fuller dimension to the discussion than what we normally hear. The Holy Father regularly discusses the centrality of man, referring to a properly understood “human ecology” which is a necessary foundation for the whole environment question.
He writes, “If there is a lack of respect for the right to life and to a natural death, if human conception, gestation and birth are made artificial, if human embryos are sacrificed to research, the conscience of society ends up losing the concept of human ecology and, along with it, that of environmental ecology” (Caritas in Veritate, 51).
Having a proper respect for man, the only one of God’s creations that is “made in the image and likeness of God” (Genesis 1:26), is the first step in having a proper respect for creation. Quite frankly, any environmental movement that does not begin with the Fifth Commandment “Thou shall not kill” lacks credibility.
How can we save the trees and the whales if we are not willing to save, first and foremost, the baby humans? Once God’s Commandments have been established, we will avoid falling into the trap of turning nature into a new divinity; and then we can properly discuss how a healthy diet, exercise, and respect for God’s amazing creation should be carried out.
Fr. Greg J. Markey is a priest of the Bridgeport Diocese, and Pastor of St. Mary Church. He is the youngest of 11 children, graduated from Mount Saint Mary Seminary, and was ordained in 1999.
Pope Francis Prayer Intentions for December 2013
General Intention: Victimized Children. That children who are victims of abandonment or violence may find the love and protection they need.
Missionary Intention: Prepare the Savior's Coming. That Christians, enlightened by the Word incarnate, may prepare humanity for the Savior's coming.
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