Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Catholic Culture : In Depth Analysis : The Green Pope’s Dilemma

Catholic Culture : In Depth Analysis : The Green Pope’s Dilemma:


"Thus the Pope stresses that we must guard against two errors:

1. Nature is greater than man: The neo-pantheistic attitude which finds a kind of salvation in nature is misguided because the human person has a supernatural destiny which nature is destined to help him to achieve.
2. Nature is raw material to be manipulated: Nature “is a wondrous work of the Creator containing a ‘grammar’ which sets forth ends and criteria for its wise use, not its reckless exploitation.” Without this understanding, we do violence to all of nature, including the nature of man himself.

But these two mistakes are culturally systemic. Therefore, the dilemma faced by Pope Benedict—who is commonly nicknamed the “green” pope for his interest in environmental stewardship—is how to communicate a constructive attitude toward both man and nature without having every environmental discussion co-opted either by the pantheists or the technocrats.

- Sent using Google Toolbar"


  1. I find the first point to be too simplistic. Since humanity is part of the created order, then there is a sense in which the created order is therefore greater than humanity, since humanity does not exhaust it.

    To suggest that the created order does not share humanity's supernatural destiny is to have missed the point of Romans 8, and indeed of the resurrection of the body.

  2. Hi Byron,

    Thank you very much for commenting on my blog - and for making me think. Though I fear my thinking has probably brought me more confusion than clarification.

    Firstly, I agree that nature has a supernatural destiny itself. There also seems to be the suggestion that nature's only value is in helping humans achieve their supernatural destiny, but Genesis 1 shows that nature has a value without humans. And I didn't actually pick up on what that first point was actually implying when I first read it.

    What I am having trouble getting my head around is whether nature is greater than man. I understand that humanity is part of nature and doesn't exhaust it, so I suppose in that way nature is greater than man. But to me, the fact that humans are created in God's image means that in another sense (and perhaps more important sense) humans are greater than nature.

    I've been trying to think of a metaphor to help me understand, and have come up with quite a few that have ended up not working. But I suppose the best I can do is, if I write a story and the only place where I keep that story is on a computer, then in one sense the computer is greater than the story for the story does not exhaust the computer. But in a far more important sense, the story is actually greater than the computer because I would rather lose the computer than lose the story. Although this does seem to lead to the utilitarian view of nature, where nature only exists to serve man.

    But then, if I have lots of stories on the computer, but only one truly reflects who I really am, then the computer does not exist just to keep that particular story, but that particular story is perhaps greater than the rest of the computer. However, again it's not a good metaphor because it leads to an idea of nature where man is separate from the rest of nature, rather than seeing all of nature (included humans) are interconnected with and dependent on each other.

    But anyway, I think I lean towards the view that nature is very valuable in and of itself, that it has a supernatural destiny itself, but that humanity is more important.

    Just out of curiosity, I looked up the position on the environment by the Assemblies of God (the church I attend) and found a far more anthropocentric view than what the Pope's position is. It also states that this earth will be destroyed and there will be a new earth. If you're interested, here it is:

    "The Assemblies of God believes everyone needs to be good a steward of all God’s creation–including the earth. As clearly indicated in Scripture, we believe the earth was created by God (Genesis 1:1-31; Isaiah 37:16). We also believe it serves as the temporary home for all members of the human race (God’s highest life form, made in His own image; Genesis 1:27) until eternity.

    "Scripture indicates the earth will one day be consumed by fire and cease to exist (Zephaniah 1:18; Isaiah 51:6). We believe before this occurs Christ will return to earth for His church (those who have accepted and believe in Him). At that time Christians will enjoy a new earth presently unknown to mankind (Isaiah 65:17; 2 Peter 3:13).

    "In spite of these future events, we feel Christians must act responsibly in their use of God’s earth as we rightly harvest its resources. As stated in Genesis 1:27-30, we believe God has given mankind alone complete dominion (authority) over the earth’s resources. These resources include the land, the water, the vegetation, and the earth’s minerals; as well as the animals, fish, and fowl. Like the earth, we acknowledge these to be gifts from God to mankind; and as gifts they are to be appreciated and cherished. As Christians we believe dominion requires good stewardship of our temporary home–earth."

    Anyway, it's been fun thinking about it.


  3. I did say that "there is a sense in which". I agree that there is another sense in which humanity has a particular and very special role to play, but I would submit that this is never set over against the rest of the created order (which I think is a better way of speaking of the non-human bit of the creation than "nature", which can seem to imply that humanity is somehow separate from it, and which has all kinds of theological history in Catholic thought that can be both productive and distracting). That is, the special role of humanity is to represent God to the rest of the created order (to be in his image) and to lead creation in the voicing of praise of God (though even here, we are not entirely necessary: the very rocks can cry out if need be). So I am quite happy to speak of a certain kind of anthropocentrism, but only insofar as we are the representatives and leaders of the community of creation to which we belong, never leaving its communion as we discover communion with God.

    It is interesting that the AoG statement acknowledges that their eschatology is working against their attempt to articulate a doctrinal basis for creation care ("In spite of these future events"). I submit that by placing these caveats first (the destruction of the earth, temporary home, etc.), they have so undermined their final point as to have made it more or less an optional extra, a green fig leaf to cover their ecological shame. I'm not really pointing fingers here at others that I wouldn't also point at my own tribe. The theological bases for the status quo of suicidal ecological exploitation (which were largely developed in the modern period as apologia for newly developing practices) need to be thoroughly examined in the light of the gospel and all collusion with unbelieving greed repented of.

    (PS I'm enjoying this conversation and the last paragraph is not directed at you!)

  4. Hi Byron,

    I agree the statement is interesting. The AoG doesn’t have much of an emphasis on environmental issues and this statement seems mostly like an excuse for not acting, rather than a reason to act.

    If someone was minding my house while I went on holidays and they said, ‘Sure, I’ll look after your house, but it’s not my real home and the whole thing will get demolished one day anyway’ I think I’d look for someone else to look after my house.

    This idea of a Rapture and destruction of the earth can be quite self-serving and I can appreciate how it may have been developed to provide a biblical excuse for just doing what people wanted to do. But that said, people who have that eschatology do back it up with Scripture. (Whether it’s a right reading of Scripture or not is a different matter. But then I think many Christians - myself included - can fall into the trap of reading the bible in the way that best suits their own ideas.)

    Whether it was self-serving at the beginning or not, it now seems quite entrenched in the Pentecostal church (and maybe other churches as well). Certainly AoG talks about eschatology a lot - and it’s usually discussed in terms of Rapture and destruction of the earth. Trying to imagine the Pentecostal Church without a belief in the Rapture feels a bit to me like trying to imagine the Catholic Church without a belief in the Virgin Birth.

    So I basically see AoG eschatology as a given. And anyone who wants to really engage them on environmental issues has to work within that framework (even if they don’t agree with it), rather than seeking to change it.

    And I’m enjoying the conversation too. Not only is it good to talk to someone who is also interested in ecotheology, but you’re making me think. And I love responding to comments that make me think a bit more about what I’ve posted.


  5. Haha - I love your line about who gets to mind your house. Very insightful.

    Trying to imagine the Pentecostal Church without a belief in the Rapture feels a bit to me like trying to imagine the Catholic Church without a belief in the Virgin Birth.
    You may be right. My experience of pentecostal churches is somewhat limited (especially recently). I am not sure how to respond to this point and will think some more.

    Oops, need to run.