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Forty Key Quotes from ‘Catholicism, Ecology and the Environment: A Bishop’s Reflection’

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The following quotes come from Dominique Rey’s book Catholicism, Ecology and the Environment: A Bishop’s Reflection, published in 2013 in the Acton Institute Christian Social Thought Series.

1. The current ecological crisis is first of all metaphysical. A confused understanding of the depth of being of things and a lack of respect for reason stands in the way of a correct understanding of the relationship between God and the world.

2. A distinctly Christian ecology must be theological and based on a vision of the world as creation that came out of the hands of God. This supernatural vision allows the recognition in creation of the Creator’s face and makes possible the definition of the ontological status of the universe. The world is not God.

3. This world, this universe, had a beginning and it is distinct from the Creator.

4. In the final analysis, the ecological crisis that we are going through comes from the fact that man has lost the just place that was his in nature that, originally, was made good by God. Ultimately it will be possible to seek to restore this lost harmony only through profoundly changing man’s heart.

5. In its breadth and in the omniscient logic of its laws, God’s wisdom permits us to glimpse something of his Creator Spirit. The earth and everything it contains reflects the beauty and glory of God. “It is a wondrous work of the Creator containing a grammar which sets forth ends and criteria for its wise use, not its reckless exploitation.” [Benedict XVI]

6. Some radical environmental movements (such as those who embrace what is often called “deep ecology”) clearly derive their inspiration from a pagan pantheism, which leads to a deification of nature. Reason is subdued and abdicates its role and dignity. In fact, as Benedict XVI once wrote, “the victory of reason over unreason is also a goal of the Christian life.”

7. The contemporary ideology of ecologicalism turns nature into a cult: not nature as humanized by man, his knowledge and work, but rather an entity that existed before him and can exist without man. The planet is viewed as a divine spiritual being – the famous earth-mother goddess Gaia – which we address through various channels, telluric forces, and vital force. The determination to become one with the cosmos, to lose all distinction, leads to a rejection of reason and critical thinking, which supposedly are the forces guilty of harming the planet. Thus unreason triumphs; people celebrate instinct, emotion, intuition and ultimately irrationality.

8. The biblical point of view on creation is clearly anthropocentric: man is the jewel of creation because God has created him in his image and likeness. This man is a person, a being who relates, who is able to know and love God. Man also belongs to the order of creation, as he too received life. The Bible introduces us to a personable God who enters into a relationship with his creature. This relationship implies a being that is distinct from his Creator, but also distinct from nature. Because if man is the only being capable of destroying nature, his is also the only one who can give the meaning and value intended by God. Such is man’s essential place in the cosmos. Man is not just one species among others.

9. The biblical point of view is thus also highly theocentric. God is at the origin and end of all and creates man capable of knowing God and being for him. In Genesis, we see that God creates a biodiversity in the image of his own wealth, in a work of separation and ornamentation that builds a clear distinction between the kingdoms (mineral, vegetable, and animal) according to the days, while ordering them to each other. Then man comes at the end (sixth day) and receives special treatment. Moreover, man himself is designed to stay and rest with God on the seventh day.

10. It is impossible to conceive an authentic ecology other than one that is centered upon man and not simply upon the earth. Hence, the protection of nature requires the protection of man. “A true ecology can only be human. It is not only respectful of nature but also of all men and of man in all his dimensions.” [French Bishops Conference, Nov. 2011] We can never consider nature as more important than the human person.

11. The proponents of the most radical ecology do not hesitate to present man as the greatest predator. The solution to save the planet would therefore be to eliminate man: It is is time to do away with man before man does away with nature.”

12. This inhuman logic leads, for instance, to the fight for the recognition of animal rights in the name of “antispecieism”: the view that all species are equal: Man would have to special status in creation and would not be able to claim any superiority whatsoever.

13. [Regarding claims overpopulation is an ecological concern] In reality, as Benedict XVI stated in Caritas in Veritate, “On this earth there is room for everyone: here the entire human family must find the resources to live with dignity, through the help of nature itself – God’s gift to his children.”… “Today more than ever it is clear that respect for the environment cannot overlook recognition for the importance and inviolability of human beings at every stage of life and in every condition.”

14. Christianity has been accused at times of being the instigator of [Earth’s] destruction. It has been presented as being at the root of a civilization of plunder because of the verse in Genesis regarding the view that man is to take of the earth: “subdue it” (Gen. 1:280. However, we should remember that his verse was accompanied by another Genesis verse that asked man to “till it and keep it” (Gen. 2:15) as a steward. Once God is pushed out of the picture, however, and man locks himself into a selfish attitude, man tends to exploit the universe according to his disordered passions and desires.

15. The Creator entrusted man with the care of the created universe as its steward in order to manage it responsibly. The image of the garden in Genesis is significant: man is called to collaborate actively in the perfecting of the divine work. Man’s seigneury – his Lordship or Dominion over creation – was never meant to result in creation’s enslavement, but rather serves to guard and cultivate it so that it flourishes. Man only possesses the earth because he inherited it. Hence, he bears a responsibility to future generation as he will have to turn it over to them. This theme is one of the key ideas behind a true concept of sustainable development. There must exist a true intergenerational charity.

16. In the creation of man in the image and likeness of God, we find the beginning of Christian morality. According to the Bible if he wants to rule the earth with wisdom, man must first receive the world as God’s gift, recognize and respect the order wanted and imprinted by him within creation. The indiscriminate and unrestrained exploitation of natural resources has clearly drifted away from God’s original design.

17. Subduing the earth means that man, by his own work and through entrepreneurship, extends the action of the creator. Man’s work is first envisioned as collaboration with God’s work and not just the transformation of matter. The logic of the latter leads to a certain productivism and rampant consumerism. It represents a deviation from the Catholic concept of human work but so, too, does the radical ecologist who advocates the end of work in order to get closer to stagnation or even to what might be called economic “de-growth.”

18. In moving away from his nature of being created in the image of God, man began to trample humans and the world under foot: He enslaved it to his actions and became himself a slave. Through this feeling of omnipotence, he began considering nature as a menace, an obstacle that needed to be overcome.

19. [Quoting John Paul II, Centesimus Annus] “Instead of carrying out his role as a cooperator with God in the work of creation, man sets himself up in place of God and thus ends up provoking a rebellion on the part of nature, which is more tyrannized than governed by him.”

20. In such a world, we are very far from the concept of covenant that, throughout salvation history, was the characteristic of God’s relationship with man and the rest of the created world. After the flood, the rainbow of Genesis evokes this link between God and the Earth, sign of the pact with all living beings. The covenant made with Noah is not obsolete: it will last as long as the world lasts.

21. Catholic social teaching places environmental ecology within the confines of human ecology. Most often the destruction of nature is preceded by a moral degradation of man. In Benedict XVI’s words, “The deterioration of nature is in fact closely connected to the culture that shapes human coexistence: when ‘human ecology’ is respected within society, environmental ecology also benefits.”

22. “The book of nature,” [Pope Benedict XVI] continues, “is one and indivisible: it takes in not only the environment but also life, sexuality, marriage, the family, social relations: in a word, integral human development.”

23. Creation suffers because of man who does not recognize his status as a created being and who tries to build a world without God. “it is not true,” Cardinal Henri de Lubac once wrote, “that man cannot organize the world without God. What is true is that without God, he can ultimately only organize it against man.”

24. In the Christian view of ecology, man is often a cause of environmental disorders. Paradoxically, this means that a first cause of “global warming” is a type of “interior cooling” of humanity…. This global interior cooling reflects and facilitates a certain concept of development in which the economy is no longer at the service o0f man’s true good, but rather his appetite for pleasure. Consumption becomes a yardstick that measures the health of households, and illustrates this selfish desire to have and enjoy always more, without consideration for the impact on the human environment or the consequences for the earth’s resources. Both man and nature becomes viewed only as things and products. The mercantilism and rampant hedonism that results from the corresponding lifestyles also blind people to the injustice done to the poorest and stand in the way of a truly human development. As Benedict XVI put it bluntly: “The brutal consumption of Creation begins where God is not.”

25. We must also return to the habit of thanking the Lord for all the things he has given us. We must thank Christ for the air, for the water, for all the elements that make our lives possible, as well as for all the food that he offers us through the earth’s fruitfulness.

26. Among all the “ecological attitudes,” the most urgent is surely that of adoration. Coming back to God, living connected to him in a radical manner, putting him first: This all starts the work of restoration of all of creation. It begins in the heart of man. For Christians, the place of adoration in spirit and in truth, the new temple where we can meet God, is the body of Christ. He left it for us in the Eucharist, the sacrament of his love. Paralleling growing ecological awareness within the Church, there has been a renewal of Eucharistic adoration. Nothing prevents the connection of the two phenomena. There is much to be found in the spiritual treasure of the Church!

27. Facing a scarcity of earthly goods, we will not be able to find a solution to the ecological problem is we do not seriously rethink our lifestyles. John Paul II suggested that “Simplicity, moderation and discipline, as well as spirit of sacrifice, must become a part of everyday life, lest all suffer the negative consequences of the careless habits of a few.” Asceticism is necessary together with the virtue of moderation.

28. This lifestyle means a sobriety and simplicity in the way we consume…. If we are to escape the dictates of mere fashion, the influence of advertising of the relentless and morally destructive type, or the cult of desire and instant gratification, it is indispensible to learn self-control and control of one’s instincts. This implies a conversion to authentic human ecology!

29. Certainly, we need a minimum of well-being and comfort. We should also be grateful for the created and economic goods that help us to live lives of dignity, but it is possible for what is supposed to help us to become a hindrance…. We have to know how to recognize our true needs, both physical and intellectual, otherwise the necessity to satisfy wants can become a never-ending and ultimately impossible quest for pleasure.

30. A true ecological consciousness, one that is aware of the interdependency of all beings and of the universal destination of earthly goods, implies a renewed solidarity and an authentic sharing among persons, countries, peoples, and generations.

31. [L]et us not impose limits on human creativity and on its audacity. Man alone has a capacity for innovation and invention that is full of unrealized potential. When it comes to energy, it is often said that oil is going to run out. People have not always known oil or lived with it. Moreover, man has proved that he was able to discover and tap new sources of energy.

32. To protect the environment is to build a more peaceful world. For environmental questions can have an impact on genuine human rights issues. They impact, Benedict stated, “the exercise of human rights, such as the right to life, food, health and development.”

33. [W]e must alter our model of global development and promote an integral human development in charity and truth, in justice and solidarity.

34. Let us also not forget that a true sharing of our wealth also means sharing the treasure of the divine revelation and the theology of creation. Woe to me if I do not proclaim this Christian vision of the environment, we could say! Passing on this treasure is one of the necessities of the new evangelization.

35. The Christian understanding of the environment cannot be reduced to empty promises. Its radicalism is tied to that of the gospel. Nor can it be limited to a few cosmetic measures. We must be wary of simply articulating good intentions. By now, it should be clear that an “ecological conversion” must begin with the conversion of the heart in order to trigger a conversion of morality and then structures.

36. The Church has a responsibility toward creation, in particular because of its expertise in humanity. Above all, what John Paul II and Benedict XVI call human ecology must be preserved and respected in order to establish peach with the earth. Thus man will be able to reconcile with the environment only when he rediscovers the dignity and greatness of his vocation of being a son or daughter of God. There is no true ecology without a conversion of man’s heart toward his Creator and Lord…. Therefore the earth’s treasures no longer serve to build God’s garden for all to live in, but they have been made to serve the powers of exploitation and destruction.

37. We can regret and decry the inhuman accents of the more radical ecologism. Perhaps we should also acknowledge that such inhuman ecologism is the fruit of an unfulfilled thirst. Christians can rebel against the exclusively materialistic vision of life, radical individualism, and unconstrained consumerism.

38. Man’s quest for deeper communion and harmony with God, his fellow man, and the natural world reflects the deepest inclination of man’s heart. However, such a quest must steer clear of the neo-pagan pantheist temptations that want to show more respect toward nature and deify it in the process of doing so. As the monk and mystic Father Daniel-Ange says, green thinking is closer to tropical syncretism than to glacial atheism.

39. The ecological crisis, while worrisome, also likely constitutes an opportunity that humanity should seize. In fact, growing environmental awareness has contributed to the world feeling so vividly that it is one family sharing in a community of life and destiny. The world’s global interdependency or globalization means that those in positions of responsibility must work more in concert, especially with regard to living out the virtue of solidarity toward the world’s poorest, in order to promote humanity’s common good.

40. Indeed the specificity of the gospel view of the environment is the Eucharist. In it and through the Eucharist, we are able to foresee the dawn of a new world, the cosmos transfigured by adoration. In the Eucharist, we find the possibility of a renewed understanding of the created world. The Eucharist allows us to uncover the basis of integral human ecology; here we find the antidote to radical individualism and collectivism. The Eucharist allows us to find Jesus’ face in every person, most especially in the poorest. It also enables us to welcome in creation a gift from God and to thank him continuously for it.

Bruce Edward Walker has more than 30 years’ writing and editing experience in a variety of publishing areas, including reference books, newspapers, magazines, media relations and corporate speeches. Much of this material involved research on water rights, land use, alternative-technology vehicles and other environmental issues, but Walker has also written extensively on nonscientific subjects, having produced six titles in Wiley Publishing’s CliffsNotes series, including study guides for "Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland" and "One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest." He has also authored more than 100 critical biographies of authors and musicians for Gale Research's Contemporary Literary Criticism and Contemporary Musicians reference-book series. Most recently, he was managing editor of The Heartland Institute's InfoTech & Telecom News. Prior to that, he was manager of communications for the Mackinac Center's Property Rights Network. He also served from 2006-2007 as editor of Michigan Science, a quarterly Mackinac Center publication. Walker has served as an adjunct professor of literature and academic writing at University of Detroit Mercy. For the past three years, he has authored a weekly column for the mid-Michigan Morning Sun newspaper. Walker holds a bachelor’s degree in English from Michigan State University. He is the father of two daughters and currently lives in Midland, Mich., with his wife Katherine.

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