Social and Pastoral Bulletin_No. 85 Aug. 15, 1998


Semoto Masayuki (Jesuit priest)

I am honored to write an article in this Bulletin on Ecological Issues and Christian Spirituality. At present I am a professor of Epistemology and Ethics of Ecology at the department of Humanities of Sophia University. I am one of the 15 professors in the research center of Humanities. Thanks to that, and since I am a priest belonging to the Catholic Church which works within modern society, I, gradually, came to learn that ecological issues must be accepted as problems affecting my own freedom and responsibility.

It is about 7 or 8 years ago when I first began to think of ecological issues as my own. Although not confined to ecological issues alone, the life of a person in the ways he/she acts and thinks tends to change whenever that person fully accepts problems as they are. That is exactly what happened to me. I was concerned about throwing away chopsticks after using them, and after a while I decided to bring them back with me. With regard to the use of paper, I could not stand such quantities of paper being used and started to use the back of paper that had already been printed on one side. I felt dismayed at the bleaching of white paper and changed to straw paper instead. Although I like beer very much, I could no longer find canned beer delicious. On trash days and whenever I go shopping I feel depressed by the quantities of polyesterol trays, and as soon as I get into the elevator I immediately push the button to close the door, a habit that I am concerned about. Of course, I desire a society that does not have to depend on nuclear energy or noxious chemical elements, and I strongly wish to do something for a world where we all can enjoy living together.

Proper Christian Involvement

We Christians must take into consideration that humans will continue to live together with other living creatures in this world as world citizens. It is at the same time evident that, as citizens of this world, we all share responsibility with regard to the fate of the whole human race. Do we, as Christians, have to do anything special besides acting as responsible world citizens? Will it not be enough just to cooperate with non-Christians? If we say that because we are Christians we have to do this and that, we, in fact, make people working with us lose their enthusiasm and create divisions, thus we, most probably, build obstacles for people.
If that is the case we must avoid such dangers. But is it not that to be a Christian becomes a reason for making social contributions? It seems to me that there are three main areas where we can be useful:

1- clear responsibility
2- comprehensive vision
3- honest involvement.
Responsibility Before God

The sense of responsibility of those who are engaged in ecological issues is most worthy of respect. The reason is because they hold a total vision of the life cycle, and as a result they care for the welfare of the present generation that shares the same limited world, but, at the same time, their thoughts lean also towards the whole ecological basis which supports the life of future generations. Is there anything for us Christians to add so that we may expand the circle of our responsibility? Responsibility about whom? About what kind of things? A responsibility based on what grounds? And, as Christians, we can add the following questions: "a responsibility demanded by whom? a responsibility we must accept before whom? " There is one thing clear for us who believe in Jesus Christ, who called the Lord of Heaven and Earth " his Father", we are responsible before the Creator.
From the standpoint of taking responsibilities with regard to environmental issues, our faith will, most probably, give us an objectivity difficult to be denied and will provide support for unavoidable and immovable decisions.

This includes the work of a retrial of all those sins that we have, maybe, tried to consider only personal, and by bringing them into the open, having the created world as witness, they will be tried as "insults to the Creator". In this way, by making a distinction between God the Creator and the creatures, and drawing a clear line between the human person, called to imitate Christ, the visible image of God, and the rest of creation, there is a contribution for us to make.
Nevertheless, in order to live truly such a concrete dimension in all its true meaning, one must add that a revision of theological thinking is most essential. We are asked to redefine and rediscover the true will of the Creator in his work of creation, as well as human redemption conducted by Christ within the whole world of Creation. In this task, while continuing to keep tight the links with God the Creator, one rediscovers with a new heart the treasures of the Bible and Christian tradition, and does not spare any trouble in fostering a spiritual understanding to encourage supportive involvement in ecological issues.
Is Christianity the Initial Cause of Environmental Problems?

Christianity often bears the stigma of having been the initial cause for environmental destruction. It seems that there are Christians who tend to think that, because of such a bad reputation, they can not find within their own Christian traditions anything like a vision or model cases which would provide a basis for taking concrete action with regard to ecological issues.
Even Japanese scholars, who have a tendency to present non-scientific schemas of confrontation between East and West based on theories of good and evil, can not provide any hope to Christians who would like to form with pride and confidence their own particular thinking in ecological matters. It is, most probably an impossible demand.

There are two main reasons for the bad reputation of Christianity with regard to ecology. The first is the historical fact that modern scientific technology was born in Christian Europe by treating nature, not as something sacred but, as an object to be used and misused. Such technology made possible the industrial revolution which expanded tremendously human activity, bringing heavy burdens to the environment. To say it simply, Christianity is like a mother who gave birth to modern technology, considered to be the origin of ecological destruction. The second reason is the Christian conception on the relationship between "humans and nature". By that, humans exert a dominant relationship of over-dependence, thus justifying the exploitation of nature. The point for this argument is the interpretation given to the words of Genesis, "Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth and conquer it". (Gen. 1:28). Are the words: "Conquer the earth" a motive to exploit nature? Is it true that without such a divine order the exploitation of nature would have never happened?
Stewardship of God, Human Companionship of God's Children.

Although it is true that it is not as clear and simple as it looks,

one can not deny the importance of reflecting on the overall historical relationship between modern technology and the Christian approach to nature, as well as on the influence the divine order to conquer nature has had in modern times. It is an urgent task to do research on monastic life in the long history of the Catholic Church, studying the models of relationships between God, Nature and Human beings. Even to a person like myself, not clearly informed about the matter, such models seem to offer a comprehensive vision to involve oneself in ecological activities.
A model for a comprehensive vision is especially provided to us in the biblical concept of the human person as steward of God, "Yahweh God took the man and settled him in the garden of Eden to cultivate and take care of it". (Gen. 2:15). As a consequence, human technology has to be linked with a voluntary management which fits the will of God, and his dominance of nature must reproduce as faithfully as possible the care of the earth, or in other words, the consideration the Creator has for his creatures. Recently, I often think how wonderful it would be to find a researcher who could portray the rhythmical life styles of the monks who are said to have made farming prosperous during the middle ages, particularly in their harmonious relationship to nature.
The spirituality of St. Francis of Assisi, declared 20 years ago the patron Saint of all activists for the preservation of the environment, offers indeed a wonderful model. Arbitrarily, I call the comprehensive vision originated by this saint a model of the companionship of God's children. St. Francis, a person who led a happy life imitating Christ, the elder brother of God's children, the beloved son of God created as a companion of all creatures provides a vision to live in harmony with nature. There are enough reasons for St. Francis to possess an inevitable attraction to modern people who desire to review their position as human beings in this world, by taking a more humble attitude towards nature.
This is why a characteristic Christian attitude in any involvement in ecological issues is to be holistic. Christians pray for the Great Feast, when God, nature and man all become one together to arrive and thus they take action in environmental issues. "Peace living together with God the Creator, Peace living together with all creatures" , the Papal message to the World on the Peace day of 1990, also expresses the core of all Christian ecological action. Take a look at it.
Simplicity of Life is Backed by Eschatological Hope

Finally, there is no way one can forget the indomitable hope that accompanies the pursuit of a vast and boundless vision and the acceptance of a responsibility we all have to face.

The Christian hope that makes us expect our liberation from the attraction of the world becomes the driving force for us Christians to continue walking, without despair, our way towards simplicity, always aiming at a better world. Will not such simplicity defend our responsibility against the evasion of discernment? Will it not defend idealism against the evasion of realism? Is it not a simplicity backed by eschatological hope? Nowadays one can feel a suspicious-looking eschatology having as a characteristic the lack of a superb balance between a generous conversion to the undisputed love of God the Absolute, and the rigidity of a realistic awareness that implies the possibility of a dramatic world collapse. Christianity has for 2000 years tempered thoroughly and critically an eschatological hope, and it is my firm belief that to accept the balance mentioned above could be a precious gift to our modern times, thirsty for a true eschatological vision.