BY EVAN ELLIS
Looking after the environment, even delighting in it, has been a feature of Christianity since the earliest times. Indeed the environment has often been considered something of a classroom for people to learn about God.
But ask the animals, and they will teach you, or the birds of the air, and they will tell you; or speak to the earth, and it will teach you, or let the fish of the sea inform you. Which of all these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this? (Job 12:7-10).
In recent years this appreciation has continued alongside a growing awareness of humanity’s connectedness with the natural world. In 2007 Pope Benedict used his address for the World Day of Peace to declare:
… humanity, if it truly desires peace, must be increasingly conscious of the links between natural ecology, or respect for nature, and human ecology. Experience shows that disregard for the environment always harms human coexistence, and vice versa.
We cannot care for people if we don’t care for the environment.
This year Pope Benedict returned to this theme in his World Day of Peace address by asking,
Can we remain indifferent before the problems associated with such realities as climate change, desertification, the deterioration and loss of productivity in vast agricultural areas, the pollution of rivers and aquifers, the loss of biodiversity, the increase of natural catastrophes and the deforestation of equatorial and tropical regions?
Climate change is a contentious issue in Australia as in many parts of the world. There are questions about the underlying science and even when consensus is reached, bigger questions remain about what the solution(s) should look like.
Perhaps not surprising these debates feed into or find similar expression inside the Catholic Church.
Just recently Catholic Communications in the Archdiocese of Sydney reported that Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth will be studied in English (language and persuasion) rather than science. A fair point but it’s a curious use of the Church’s time and energy to point this out.
In terms of the Church and ecology, even if we don’t share the Pope’s conviction, our time may be better spent in offering to the world the Church’s teaching on stewardship.
It is an inspiring vision. It asserts that human beings have a special responsibility to care for creation, while also believing human beings have a special place in creation. Only human beings are created in the image and likeness of God. As such human beings have dominion over the natural world (Genesis 1:28).
However, as we have inherited creation from God, our dominion means we are stewards rather than owners of the natural world. Our stewardship finds its meaning as part of our broader mission to glorify God by always acting justly and affirming life.
Indeed all creatures, humanity included, share the same Creator and command; to glorify and worship the Creator. This shared heritage and mandate can be seen in our interconnectedness with creation.
This principle promotes a way of living that could address climate change if it’s real, or remain enriching and closer to God’s plan even if it wasn’t.
Evan Ellis is Social Justice Coordinator for the Diocese of Parramatta.
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