Faith & Culture 4 November, 2009
On 14 November I had a table at the “Towards Advent” festival of Catholic culture at Westminster Cathedral. Alongside the latest issue of our journal, you would have seen a display of the journal OASIS published from Venice and designed to foster greater understanding between Christians and Muslims.
I also recently attended a conference of “Green Thomists” in St Paul, Minnesota. The Church has encouraged Catholics to recognize the importance of the environment and man’s role as steward of creation, but it has to be said that mainstream, “conservative” theologians have been a bit slow to respond – perhaps because they associate environmentalism with left-wing ideology. The conference was cosponsored by the revived National Catholic Rural Life Conference.
At another recent conference (this one on Religion, Science and the Environment) in Tennessee, the Orthodox patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I, offered a useful summary of the environmental crisis. He doesn’t cover everything (more should be said about the accelerating loss of biodiversity), but this is enough to be getting on with:
” The explosion of knowledge has not been accompanied by an increase in wisdom. Only wisdom could make us realize that the Creation is an interdependent, undivided whole, not an assemblage of isolated, unrelated parts that can be eliminated, replaced or modified as we see fit. We have expanded our dominion over Nature to the point where absolute limits to our survival are being reached. We have lost half of the great forests of the world to the demand for timber and for conversion to agriculture, without thinking that these giant wet sponges are responsible for the delivery of much of the fresh water. Irrigation for agriculture takes 70% of global demand for water, and — almost unimaginably — some of the world’s greatest rivers are so depleted by the influence of humans that they no longer flow to the sea; and those that do, carry in their waters all the chemical fertilizers, herbicides, insecticides and waste materials they have collected along their course. Desertification is increasing on land at the same time that the fish stocks of the oceans are depleted by over exploitation; and those that remain are being poisoned by toxic materials dumped carelessly in their habitat. Instead of living on income, or the available surplus of the earth, we are consuming environmental capital and destroying its sources as if there is no tomorrow.”
What can we do about all of this? Stop ignoring it, for one thing. It is important to get informed, and then reflect. You will find resources for doing so on our “Economy” pages, and more will gradually be added. One important focus of our research is the relation, highlighted in Pope Benedict’s third encyclical, between natural and human ecology. Carl Anderson and Jose Granados put it like this in their book Called to Love: “Modern man’s estrangement from his own body – and so his homelessness in nature – is at the root of the ecological problems our society currently faces. The word ‘ecology’ comes from the Greek word oikos, ‘home’, and the theology of the body is a first step toward the recovery of the world as that home.” — S.C.