Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Catholics and the environment--a post at CMR

I've really enjoyed my guest-post stint over at Creative Minority Report. Matt and Pat Archbold are terrific guys with incredible blogging skillz and a fantastic blog, so it's been an honor to get to post over there these last four Wednesdays. It would be fun to blog there again sometime in the future!

Today's post for them was on the topic of environmentalism and Catholics--what is different about a Catholic approach to environmental issues, and why neither side of the political spectrum--the one that embraces mainstream environmentalism and its demand for population control uncritically, and the one that would like to pave over everything to increase profit--is a good fit for the Catholic world view. Here's an excerpt:

So it would seem that we can't, as Catholics, accept a purely commercial view of the environment either, one that shrugs off the potential environmental consequences of our actions and insists that we have the right to exploit the natural world for our own purposes.

The problem with both views of the environment, the commercial/exploitative view on the one hand, and the "man is a disease on the planet that ought to be (mostly) eradicated!" view on the other, is that each one contains at its core a fundamental misunderstanding about the proper place of humanity in the universe. The mainstream environmentalist view puts man as no more or less important than any other living creature on Earth; he is a purely material being whose control of the planet over less-sentient creatures is a kind of oppression that can only be ended when man himself agrees to become less numerous and thus less dominant over the other forms of life on the planet. But the commercial/exploitative view also sees man, and everything else, as materialistic--it sees man as the ultimate Darwinian survivor, whose fitness means that his tendency to exploit the material world for his own profit and gain is inherently justified.

In order to have a properly balanced view of nature and the environment, and of the duties of Christian stewardship of the planet, though, we have to be aware that man is not merely a material being, and that creation itself is not the result of a random accumulation of matter, but the work (however He chose to accomplish it) of a Divine Creator. Since creation is His work and reflects His glory, we are not free to exploit and destroy whatever we choose. But since humanity is His utmost creation, created in His image and likeness, we are also not free to elevate nature, animals, plants, and the like over the right of human beings to live and to survive. The intrinsic right to life of every human being takes precedence over lesser environmental concerns; people must come first in the hierarchy of creation.

Oddly enough, my post has stirred a bit of partisan ire. Apparently, admitting that we aren't entitled to view every inch of the Earth as potentially prime real estate is somehow a betrayal of the GOP; and one person commented to the effect that Catholics saying we ought to practice environmental stewardship is just going to encourage those Catholics who use the Pill. Not sure I get that one...

Anyway, the discussion promises to be somewhat lively, so if you're interested in environmental issues and the way these impact us as Catholics, head on over and jump in!


Theocoid said...

Hi, Red.

In Catholic social doctrine, there's something to tick off everyone. People on the left won't like what it says about socialism and collectivism. People on the right won't like what it says about equitable division of goods. It really challenges to think like Christ and with the Church.

Siarlys Jenkins said...

One thing I appreciate about Roman Catholic teaching is that it offers no foundation for James Watt's juvenile announcement that we might as well use up what's left of the forests and everything, because soon Jesus is coming back and we'll all be raptured. There are many manifestations of what would seem to be arrogance in church history, but there is considerable humility about exactly when and how Jesus might return -- like a thief in the night, no-one knows the day or the hour, both of which suggest that we are not off the hook for continued good stewardship.