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A Catholic Way of Being Green: We Need a Human Ecology
By Deacon Keith Fournier
April 29th, 2012
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)
The Catholic Church has been green for a lot longer than any modern environmental movement. We are called to a relational environmentalism; one of stewardship with the earth which God has made and entrusted to us to care for and to share. Some in the current "green" movement have lost their way.
CHESAPEAKE, VA (Catholic online) - We recently published a "tongue in cheek", well written article by Peg Luksik which touched upon environmental issues within a comedic framework. Most of our commenter's understood it was to be received, as it was written, in a lighthearted manner. Some did not. I must admit I felt like offering the sage advice my oldest son used to give me in response to one comment in particular, "lighten up."
However, the responses also prompted me to again address the subject of environmental concerns. One writer asked "if someone could enlighten me regarding the relation between the Catholic Church and the energy crisis, I'd appreciate it. I'm aware that the environmental movement brings with it certain connotations, but I don't see anything contradictory with ensuring a just and sustainable future for the people on this God-given planet. Just as we need to respect our bodies as gifts of Christ, so must we respect the home he has given us, I believe. And research is part of getting to that point. What do you think? Do you have any insight?"
Let me give it a try. The Catholic Church has been green for a lot longer than any modern environmental movement. We are called to a relational environmentalism; one of stewardship with the earth which God has made and entrusted to us to care for and to share. Some in the current "green" movement have lost their way. The most obvious example is the inherent contradiction of worrying about polluting the atmosphere with toxic chemicals and at the same time supporting making toxic chemicals available to be ingested by mothers in order to kill the children in their womb. We need a new way of being green, a Catholic way.
On June 9, 2011, Pope Benedict XVI received the credential letters of six new ambassadors to the Holy See. He gave a speech addressing them. In his speech the Pope sounded a theme which is common in his locutions and writings; he spoke of a "Human Ecology". He recalled the "innumerable tragedies that have affected nature, technology, and the peoples" this year. He suggested that "the States should reflect together on the short term future of the planet, on our responsibilities regarding our life and technology".
He said "Human ecology is an imperative. Adopting a lifestyle that respects our environment and supports the research and use of clean energies that preserve the patrimony of creation and that are safe for human beings should be given political and economic priority". He called for a "change in mentality" in order to "quickly arrive at a global lifestyle that respects the covenant between humanity and nature, without which the human family risks disappearing." He said that "every government must commit themselves to protecting nature and assisting it to carry out its essential role in the survival of humanity."
Then, he addressed technology saying, "It is also helpful to ask ourselves about the appropriate role of technology" because "believing it is the exclusive agent of progress or happiness carries a reification of humanity that leads to blindness and misery. ... Technology that dominates human beings deprives them of their humanity. The pride that it generates has created an impossible economism in our societies as well as a hedonism that subjectively and selfishly regulates behavior. The debilitation of the primacy of the human person provokes a loss of the meaning of life".
The Pope noted "it is urgent that we match technology with a strong ethical dimension. ... Technology should help nature develop along the lines envisioned by the Creator. In working together, the researcher and the scientist adhere to God's plan that desired humanity as the apex and the administrator of creation. Solutions based on this principle will protect human life and its vulnerability, as well as the rights of the present and future generations".
There was nothing new in these words. They comport with what this Pope has written and said since assuming office. However, some Press reports focused on his encouragement of "clean energy". In some instances the reports implied the Pope had somehow joined the "Green movement". I thought back to 2009 when Pope Benedict XVI sent a letter to participants in the World Day of Peace entitled "If You Want to Cultivate Peace, protect creation." In fact he referred to that letter in that 2011 address.
In that 2009 letter he also used the term "human ecology" and said similar things as he said on June 9, 2011. The Press explicitly reported it as some kind of papal "conversion" to a green ideology. Reuters report bore the headline "Pope Goes Green". The Pope simply reaffirmed the Catholic understanding of our relationship with the goods of the earth and our call to stewardship of the planet which has been given to us by the Creator as a gift. Here are some salient excerpts from that 2009 letter:
"Without belief in the true God our efforts are in ultimately fruitless, in fact not only fruitless, but they bear poisonous fruit if the Church's magisterium expresses grave misgivings about notions of the environment inspired by ecocentrism and biocentrism, it is because such notions eliminate the difference of identity and worth between the human person and other living things.
"In the name of a supposedly egalitarian vision of the "dignity" of all living creatures, such notions end up abolishing the distinctiveness and superior role of human beings. They also open the way to a new pantheism tinged with neo-paganism, which would see the source of man's salvation in nature alone, understood in purely naturalistic terms."
The reports tried to fit the Pope's letter into a simplistic "green" template, demonstrating they had not read it. In that letter, and in his address to those ambassadors, the Pope repeated themes developed in his Encyclical Letter entitled Caritas in Veritate (Charity in Truth). Those themes are a part of Catholic Social teaching. They are found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church and have their roots in the Bible and the Christian Tradition.
The Pope called for an "integral human development" which recognizes the centrality of the human person and the primacy of our relationships with one another in family and society. He underscored the truth that creation is a gift, given to human persons by a God of love who entrusts us with responsibility for one another - and therefore for the goods which promote our human flourishing. We all have a responsibility for one another. We need to live together as good stewards of creation, recognizing the need first for a "human ecology".
Here is another excerpt from the 2009 letter: "The Church has a responsibility towards creation, and she considers it her duty to exercise that responsibility in public life, in order to protect earth, water and air as gifts of God the Creator meant for everyone, and above all to save mankind from the danger of self-destruction. The degradation of nature is closely linked to the cultural models shaping human coexistence: consequently, when 'human ecology' is respected within society, environmental ecology also benefits".
"Young people cannot be asked to respect the environment if they are not helped, within families and society as a whole, to respect themselves. The book of nature is one and indivisible; it includes not only the environment but also individual, family and social ethics. Our duties towards the environment flow from our duties towards the person, considered both individually and in relation to others."
"Hence I readily encourage efforts to promote a greater sense of ecological responsibility which, as I indicated in my Encyclical "Caritas in Veritate," would safeguard an authentic "human ecology" and thus forcefully reaffirm the inviolability of human life at every stage and in every condition, the dignity of the person and the unique mission of the family, where one is trained in love of neighbor and respect for nature. There is a need to safeguard the human patrimony of society. This patrimony of values originates in and is part of the natural moral law, which is the foundation of respect for the human person and creation."
What Pope Benedict presents is a Catholic Environmental vision which is pro-life, pro-family, pro-poor, pro-peace and fundamentally relational. We are to receive one another as gifts. We must never use human persons as objects. We should receive creation as a gift, our common home, to be shared with one another, and not as an object of use. He articulates a vision for a "human ecology" which can promote a path to authentic peace.
He concluded that 2009 letter with these words, "The Church, for her part, is concerned that the question be approached in a balanced way, with respect for the "grammar" which the Creator has inscribed in his handiwork by giving man the role of a steward and administrator with responsibility over creation, a role which man must certainly not abuse, but also one which he may not abdicate. In the same way, the opposite position, which would absolutize technology and human power, results in a grave assault not only on nature, but also on human dignity itself.
"If you want to cultivate peace, protect creation. The quest for peace by people of good will surely would become easier if all acknowledge the indivisible relationship between God, human beings and the whole of creation. In the light of divine Revelation and in fidelity to the Church's Tradition, Christians have their own contribution to make."
"They contemplate the cosmos and its marvels in light of the creative work of the Father and the redemptive work of Christ, who by his death and resurrection has reconciled with God "all things, whether on earth or in heaven" (Col 1:20). Christ, crucified and risen, has bestowed his Spirit of holiness upon mankind, to guide the course of history in anticipation of that day when, with the glorious return of the Savior, there will be "new heavens and a new earth" (2 Pet 3:13), in which justice and peace will dwell forever.
"Protecting the natural environment in order to build a world of peace is thus a duty incumbent upon each and all. It is an urgent challenge, one to be faced with renewed and concerted commitment; it is also a providential opportunity to hand down to coming generations the prospect of a better future for all."
"May this be clear to world leaders and to those at every level who are concerned for the future of humanity: the protection of creation and peacemaking are profoundly linked! For this reason, I invite all believers to raise a fervent prayer to God, the all-powerful Creator and the Father of mercies, so that all men and women may take to heart the urgent appeal: If you want to cultivate peace, protect creation"
One of the more accurate reports on the Pope's 2009 letter came from Giuliano Ferrara, the director of the Italian daily Il Foglio who wrote "The Pope denounces the ecological crisis but does not belong to the church of Al Gore. Benedict XVI in no way denies human abuse of nature. He notes that he does not share the 'the environmentalist religion or environmentalism as a religion'. The Pope has another faith, based on the transcendence of a God that creates man in his image and likeness to entrust nature to him ... He has, evidently, no need for replacement beliefs, of ideologies feigned as science."
We need to embrace a lifestyle which understands our place with one another - and in the world which God created for all of us to care for, steward and share. We need a human ecology, a relational environmentalism, a Catholic way of being green.
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