|Social and Pastoral Bulletin_No. 85 Aug. 15, 1998|
|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.
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.
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
|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.
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
|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?
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.
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.