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That might be a crude way of encapsulating Christian environmentalism, but it is far from the age-old Christian tradition of understanding nature as a servant of humanity, meant to be dominated and exploited. Rather, it turns the relationship upside down.

The Orthodox Christian tradition has long understood human beings are meant to be servants of God's creation. As our columnist Mary Marrocco points out, our treatment of the environment is symptomatic of our treatment of ourselves and our relationship with God. Quoting from Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, she says that "when we violate sacredness of creation, we disturb the harmony God desires us to uphold. We're violent with the Earth as with one another."

In the Orthodox tradition, reverence for the earth and a desire to protect it are an obvious outcome of a close relationship with God, one fostered by prayer and repentance.

Though not as developed, the Roman Catholic Church is beginning to find within its theology sustenance for a more nurturing, supportive stance for the environment. In their 2003 Pastoral Letter on the Christian Ecological Imperative, the Canadian bishops said:

"God's glory is revealed in the natural world, yet we humans are presently destroying creation. In this light, the ecological crisis is also a profoundly religious crisis. In destroying creation we are limiting our ability to know and love God. 'The ecological crisis is a moral issue' and 'the responsibility of everyone,' says Pope John Paul II. 'Care for the environment is not an option. In the Christian perspective, it forms an integral part of our personal life and of life in society.'"

The bishops add that: "To enter into ever-deeper relationship with God - this 'Lover of Life' - entails striving to develop right relations with nature and with other human beings. But life on Earth today is plagued with an unprecedented and accelerating ecological crisis. Deforestation, species extinction, climate change, ecosystem collapse, contamination of air and water and soil erosion are just a few of the enormous ecological problems which we face in Canada and elsewhere in our world. ... Environmental health concerns are frequent, arising from the Sydney Tar Ponds in Nova Scotia to urban smog alerts in Toronto or Montreal, from contaminated mine sites in northern Saskatchewan and the Northwest Territories to the safety of food that every Canadian family will eat."

Today we can add Alberta's oil sands to that list of environmental disasters in the making.

Religious faith may not be necessary to have a deep abiding concern for the Earth, but it helps to explain why we cannot shirk this responsibility.

- - -

Joseph Sinasac is the publisher and editor of The Catholic Register.

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