Friday, January 1, 2010

If you want peace, cultivate creation

Pope Benedict XVI deserves more attention from the media besides the usual criticism for his defence of traditional Catholic belief and practice. The media and blogosphere have not really digested what Benedict is doing now on January 1, 2010 in his message for the World Day for Peace. He is providing a critique of environmentalism and pointing a way forward and in doing so building a theology of the environment. A theology of the environment is not new nor it is particularly Roman Catholic. In fact the environmental mystics of the last 200 years were not even Catholic or nowhere religious but secular. I can name three, Henry Davis Thoreau, Edward F Ricketts and Rachel Carson. Carson has been called a "witness for nature" and is environmentalism's first saint. Her death from cancer which could be linked to her work on toxic pesticides gives even a martyr's patina to her life. Ricketts, the dear friend of John Steinbeck "broke through" in his understanding of nature which Steinbeck memorably puts into prose in "the Log from the Sea of Cortez" Steinbeck explores the meaning of the tidepool and how it relates to the heavens and why the death of a sardine isn't really the end.

The fact that secular environmentalists have mystical experiences divorced from formal religion should interest theologians. It reminds us of the various ways that the secular can encounter the Divine, which cannot be just dismissed as mere delusion.

Nonetheless, Benedict the razor sharp professor of theology builds upon John Paul II's 1990 January 1 message on the environment in which he maintained that environmental problems are really moral problems. No human institution on the planet can challenge the Roman Catholic Church as an expert on the human condition. For once it is the oldest continuing institution in the Western World or in the world for that matter. Benedict cites the ancient Greeks for their philosophical view that nature cannot be considered as a "heap of refuse" and it needs to be sustained. But the present environmental crisis is really a consequence of greed which comes from pride, the First of the Seven Sins. We have to look at our lifestyles.

All environmental, economic and political decisions have a moral dimension and consequence. We have to recover and renew the values that will provide a solid basis for human development. And one of these values is the Principle of Intergenerational Equity. Whence before this was just a ethical principle, Benedict XVI's elevates it to a theological teaching in the 2010 message. Roman Catholics are now obliged to follow it. This is where Benedict daringly moves forward. This equity is also requires an intergenerational solidarity which involves redistribution of the benefits of exploitation of the environment, not just in time but in space.

Benedict is not ignorant on the promise that Science can do to achieve this goal. Science and technology are the best if not the only ways to reach the goal but these must be anchored on "the values of charity, justice and the common good" Technology according to the Pope has to be in the service of human development not the other way around.

Benedict also gives a critique of environmental philosophies that exclude God such as ecocentrism and biocentrism.

He writes

" 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 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"

All of this according to Catholic teaching is consistent with its pro-life stance. Benedict does not move away from earlier teaching. And alluding to Galileo, he writes that the book of nature is one and indivisible.

Benedict in this latest message, brings the Catholic Church fully into the environmentalist side and is the environmentalist heavyweight voice on the social and moral issues involved. And this is now part of the Social Teaching of the Church. While this is not considered dogmas as the Holy Trinity or the Immaculate Conception are, Catholics have an obligation to obey.


Anonymous said...

The Catholic apologist is at it again - spewing, choking, regurgitating the modern doctrine of the German Papa Ratzi, trying so hard to be relevant in its irrelevance.

Two questions:

1. if there is an omni-scient, omni-potent Catholic God, why rely on human technology to solve environmental problems?

2. why couldn't the German Papa Ratzi put money where his mouth is by giving aid from his Vatican bank to environmental or U.N. sponsored groups instead of merely denying the effectivity of condoms in the fight against AIDS?

GabbyD said...

number 1 is straightforward -- humans solve problems caused by humans.

number 2 is weird -- whats the direct connection between condoms and aid to environmental groups?

Anonymous said...


You're not seeing the omniscience and omnipotence premise. Surely a being with attributive power such as that could have seen what's coming and would have done some calibrations on his, what appears now, imperfect masterpiece.

Sorry for the ambiguity in #2. It is essentially about taking the Papa Ratzi to task and for him to walk the talk on his exhortations because, afterall, huge results could have been achieved in the environmental effort if monies are available. And the Vatican Bank has lots of it.

blackshama said...

Well we see atheists are sometimes illogical like Dawkins! Point number 1 is really illogical. God doesn't need technology at all since FIAT LUX for example ain't an act of technological creation. If our anonymous atheist is Tiplerian, he/she should accept God is technology incarnate. Now that is something within the ambit of SCIENCE first THEOLOGY second. And that shoots DOWN ATHEISM PERMANENTLY. THE EXISTENCE OF GOD may be explained as an EPIPHENOMENON WITHIN THE COSMOS! Atheists should revise their "no god" hypothesis and consider an epiphenomenal hypothesis for logical consistency.

But that isn't Catholic apologetics, my dear!

In Darwin's Name


Anonymous said...

Hah! the ineffable, unknowable presence of the divine is the latest refuge being concocted by the irrational creationists. They do not really know who God is. He is a Question, not the answer. It's apophatic theology that borders on the ridiculously insane.

They wanted so much for God to exist but they have no idea where he is or how he looks like or what his nature is, so they do the next best thing which is to SPECULATE.

And what is this, blackshama is reducing his god to an epiphenomenon? And all along we had been hoodwinked and brainwashed that God is the cause of everything, the alpha and the omega, the uncreated creator, the source of all that is?

You better need to consult your theologian friends or the Papa Ratzi himself blackshama because it very much looks like you are committing the grave sin of sacrilige from your current dogma to reduce your God to an epiphenomenon.

Marcus said...

I see little point in arguing about the existence of God when it comes to the environment. I think the relevant point to argue here is number 2. If environmental issues are caused as it states in the post by "greed", surely the Catholic church as the largest land-owner in the world could alleviate some of the inequity by redistributing its assets or using it's finances for environmental concerns.

I see a direct connection between population growth and environmental issues. Resources are finite. The more people using the resources, the less there is to go around and the more conflict there is to access the resources. If you look at many of the major conflicts in the world, the reasons behind the fighting is resource acquisition and control.