The Environment is a new book put together by Our Sunday Visitor (OSV) to pull-together Pope Benedict XVI’s writings, speeches, etc on the environment.
In an age where discussion of the environment has been so politicized it is quite refreshing to see discussions on the subject that starts from the perspective of the Earth as an act of creation and our responsibilities regarding stewardship of this gift.
It is also quite interesting just how many times the Pope has incorporated this subject in what he says. Now as a collection of his thoughts on the environment I really appreciate how OSV put this together. Instead of just pulling these references to the environment, this book takes the effort to print the full context of what was said. So what the book contains is full speeches or sections of larger document that aren’t just reflecting specifically on the environment, but how the subject is integral to his larger discussion.
The encyclical letter Caritas in Veritate” gives a solid glimpse into how the Pope and really the Catholic Church sees both our rights and responsibilities in regard to creation and specifically the environment.
48. Today the subject of development is also closely related to the duties arising from our relationship to the natural environment. The environment is God’s gift to everyone, and in our use of it we have a responsibility towards the poor, towards future generations and towards humanity as a whole. When nature, including the human being, is viewed as the result of mere chance or evolutionary determinism, our sense of responsibility wanes. In nature, the believer recognizes the wonderful result of God’s creative activity, which we may use responsibly to satisfy our legitimate needs, material or otherwise, while respecting the intrinsic balance of creation. If this vision is lost, we end up either considering nature an untouchable taboo or, on the contrary, abusing it. Neither attitude is consonant with the Christian vision of nature as the fruit of God’s creation.
Nature expresses a design of love and truth. It is prior to us, and it has been given to us by God as the setting for our life. Nature speaks to us of the Creator (cf. Rom 1:20) and his love for humanity. It is destined to be “recapitulated” in Christ at the end of time (cf. Eph 1:9-10; Col 1:19-20). Thus it too is a “vocation”. Nature is at our disposal not as “a heap of scattered refuse”, but as a gift of the Creator who has given it an inbuilt order, enabling man to draw from it the principles needed in order “to till it and keep it” (Gen 2:15). But it should also be stressed that it is contrary to authentic development to view nature as something more important than the human person. This position leads to attitudes of neo-paganism or a new pantheism — human salvation cannot come from nature alone, understood in a purely naturalistic sense. This having been said, it is also necessary to reject the opposite position, which aims at total technical dominion over nature, because the natural environment is more than raw material to be manipulated at our pleasure; it is a wondrous work of the Creator containing a “grammar” which sets forth ends and criteria for its wise use, not its reckless exploitation. Today much harm is done to development precisely as a result of these distorted notions. Reducing nature merely to a collection of contingent data ends up doing violence to the environment and even encouraging activity that fails to respect human nature itself. Our nature, constituted not only by matter but also by spirit, and as such, endowed with transcendent meaning and aspirations, is also normative for culture. Human beings interpret and shape the natural environment through culture, which in turn is given direction by the responsible use of freedom, in accordance with the dictates of the moral law. Consequently, projects for integral human development cannot ignore coming generations, but need to be marked by solidarity and inter-generational justice, while taking into account a variety of contexts: ecological, juridical, economic, political and cultural.
This both/and approach is what is missing from both the (1) radical environmentalists such as the deep ecology movement that see humanity as almost a virus harming the planet or (2) the individualist view to use the environment with no considerations for others and future generations. What the Pope has to say on the subject is so much deeper than the political arguments we so often hear regarding whatever doomsday environmental catastrophe is currently in vogue.
I found this book to be quite helpful for myself in more fully understanding the subject. I was once part of the radical environmentalist camp myself buying into a Malthesian view of population and the dire predictions of the seventies. The environmental doomsday prophets have done us no favors by both their false prophecies and the fact that people can then turn a deaf-ear to actual environmental problems because of too many false alarms for the “cry of wolf.” The politically conservative side thus mostly spends its time rightly decrying these false prophets and unfortunately much less time our actual duties in regard to stewardship. This book helped me with gaining a more balanced view of the subject.
This subject does remind me of one episode when the media called Pope Benedict XVI “The Green Pope” because they thought his wearing green on Earthday was symbolic and not the fact that it was a Mass during Ordinary Time.