Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
April 14, 2008
A clean environment is the image of God
The comments by environmental protester Paul Watson that the deaths of seals in the annual seal hunt "is an even greater tragedy" than the death of four sealers points to a grievous flaw in some elements of the environmental movement.
Watson, head of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, also described seal hunters as "sadistic baby killers." Watson apparently sees no distinction worthy of note between human life and animal life or perhaps even the environment itself.
Most people would naturally agree with the Newfoundland MP who said Watson's opinions "border on the crazy." Fewer perhaps would wonder why seal hunters are described as "baby killers" while those who are party to abortions manage to evade such a description.
It used to be that one had to emphasize that humanity is not only the steward of the environment, but also part of the environment. Now we need to also stress the contrary - not only is humanity part of the natural environment, it is also, in some sense, apart.
Humanity - and individual people - is responsible for the environmental crisis in a way that no other animal, plant or mineral is because we do have moral responsibility. Moral responsibility is what separates us from nature; it is also what makes us guilty of its defilement.
The Canadian bishops' social affairs commission managed to find the right balance in its March statement, The Need for Conversion (WCR, March 17). The bishops state that the current crisis is not only ecological, but also moral and spiritual. That's why "conversion" is needed.
"The very term 'environment' suggests there is a centre, which is the human being," the bishops say.
In giving this emphasis, they separate a properly Christian perspective on the environment from pantheistic tendencies, tendencies that assume God is nature and nature is God.
But in asserting that human beings are stewards of creation, they carefully avoid the view that such stewardship means the domination of nature. This view - sometimes ascribed to traditional Christianity - is a source of the attitude that humanity has the right to run roughshod over the environment in order to meet its needs and desires.
"We have forgotten," the bishops say, "that 'we command nature only by obeying her.'"
Creation is God's gift to humanity. Like any gift from God, it should be treasured, not exploited and trashed. A clean environment is the image of God. It is also the heritage we should pass on to future generations. This ought to be the Christian attitude, one that informs the decisions of all Christians, particularly decision-makers in both government and industry.
Conversion is needed. We cannot stop with statements of broad principles, such as the social affairs commission has given. We - and this primarily means lay Catholics - need to challenge and change the structures and processes that lead to environmental destruction.
This is particularly true in Alberta. As the engine of economic development in Canada, Alberta's resource industry has been developed with little understanding that nature is a God-given treasure.
Yet a Christian witness is largely absent in those groups that are challenging Alberta's uncontrolled development. There is a Christian responsibility to say environmental concerns are as important as economic ones in decisions about the three largest resource issues currently facing this province - tarsands development, the availability of abundant clean water and whether to allow nuclear power.
If we are unhappy with the radicalism of a Paul Watson - and we should be - we have a responsibility to offer a Christian environmentalism. Sadly, there is little evidence of such a perspective in the debates now taking place.
- Glen Argan
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