Friday, 18 December 2009

If you want to cultivate peace, protect creation

Pope Benedict's message for the World Day of Peace, to be celebrated on 1st January 2010, has been published. The full text can be accessed at ZENIT. The theme chosen for the message is "If you want to cultivate peace, protect creation", and Pope Benedict points out the potential for conflict and for the displacement of persons that arises from environmental issues such as degredation of natural environments and difficulties of access to resources. In earlier posts (here and here) I have observed that Pope Benedict XVI's remarks about concern for the environment are placed in the context of the natural world seen as created by God and so manifesting God in the world. This message for the World Day of Peace represents, in my view, one of the most complete articulations of Pope Benedict's teaching on the importance of care for the environment. Though I offer three excerpts below, I do encourage you to read the full text.

" is never merely technology. It reveals man and his aspirations towards development; it expresses the inner tension that impels him gradually to overcome material limitations. Technology in this sense is a response to God's command to till and keep the land (cf. Gen 2:15) that he has entrusted to humanity, and it must serve to reinforce the covenant between human beings and the environment, a covenant that should mirror God's creative love".
The relationship between human beings and the created environment, and the consequences of the development of technologies for that relationship, is explored in a book by Romano Guardini, Letters from Lake Como. It is interesting to see Pope Benedict suggesting that technology, which so often appears to represent a "domination" over the natural order, is akin to the task of the craftsman or agriculturalist, where the co-operation between human beings and nature is readily perceived.
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.
In the paragraph that immediately follows this one, Pope Benedict draws its conclusions in relation to respect for human life and for the role of the family. There is an interesting connection being made here between a (fashionable) concern for the environment and an (unfashionable) concern for the upholding of Catholic moral teaching on human sexuality and family life.
There exists a certain reciprocity: as we care for creation, we realize that God, through creation, cares for us. On the other hand, a correct understanding of the relationship between man and the environment will not end by absolutizing nature or by considering it more important than the human person. 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.
In this paragraph, Pope Benedict explicitly presents a Christian view of the position of the human person in relation to the other creatures of nature. Our concern about the environment is at the service of our concern about the human person, both as an individual and as a community (cf the notions of "intergenerational justice" and "intragenerational justice"), and not the other way round. And those Catholics who are engaged in issues of environmental justice should be preaching this strongly and clearly, as the particular contribution to the discussion of these matters that the Catholic Church has to offer to others.
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).
A final reflection can be made on the way in which Pope Benedict teaches on this subject of the environment, in the context of this message for the World Day for Peace and in other messages and addresses. Those Catholics of a more traditional frame of mind can be tempted to be dismissive of anxiety for and campaigning related to environmental issues. I think Pope Benedict, with his frequent remarks on this subject, is challenging them to take environmental issues seriously as part of their Christian lives. A thread that runs through the more practical aspects of the message is that of the need for change - change in the lives of nations, in the lives of organisations of civil society, in the lives of communities and in the lives of individuals.

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