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Archive for September, 2015

This past weekend, the Pope addressed the United Nations on the issue of climate change. While those on the left used his remarks on the topic to view the Pope as liberal, (or at least progressive), his doctrine is actually fairly orthodox, and not at all a new line of religious reasoning. In fact, environmental stewardship is embedded in the bible, and has a long history as accepted doctrine in the church. Leviticus 25: 23-24 states that “The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is mine; with me you are but aliens and tenants throughout the land that you hold, you shall provide for the redemption of the land.” This provides a very clear statement of religious rules, that the earth is not ours by ownership, but borrowed under the pretext that it shall be cared for in perpetuity for all of god’s creation. In fact, Pope Francis took his papal name from St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of those who care for nature, who once said: “If you have men who will exclude any of God’s creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity, you will have men who will deal likewise with their fellow men.” Thus, what Francis has said about the dignity and intrinsic value of all creation, is embedded deeply in the text of the bible, and thus within Judeo-Christian doctrine.

In Genesis 9:17 God speaks of a covenant not just between man and God, but between God and “all life on the earth.” In Leviticus the Israelites are instructed not to “reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest. You shall not strip your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the alien: I am the LORD your God,” (Leviticus 19:9-10). These are meant as instructions for the stewardship of all creation. Yet, proponents of the anthropocentric view often point to lines like Genesis 9:3 as evidence that the world is for man’s consumption. The line states, “Everything that lives and moves about will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything,” and certainly can be read as somewhat of a blank check, when taken out of context. However, the lines from Leviticus show that, though creation is open to man’s use, it is not for selfish gain that it was given, and it is not solely for man, but for the whole of creation as well. There is no line, in the entire bible, which suggest that selfish aims are morally permissible. When we examine one line for the intent of the whole, we miss the bigger picture, which in this case means the clear and consistent instruction to be careful stewards.

Francis’ teachings are consistent with the bible, which affords value to all of creation, while maintaining the primacy of humanity. Thus, Francis’ view is not a marked shift in the anthropocentric nature of the religious discourse on the environment. He acknowledges the environment that provides for humanity as the “fruit of a loving creator,” but argues for stewardship from human terms. Of primary concern to the pontiff is how “misuse and destruction of the environment are also accompanied by a relentless process of exclusion.” Thus, Francis calls for “preserving and improving the natural environment and thus putting an end as quickly as possible to the phenomenon of social and economic exclusion, with its baneful consequences”

Many view the Pope’s views as a radical departure from church teaching, yet these views are neither new nor unprecedented. While he argues for addressing climate change, and suggests that creation has intrinsic value, he does so with human dignity in mind. From a deep green perspective, the Pope stops short of addressing significant contributing factors, such as unsustainable population growth, which is clearly contributing to the changing environment, (as many estimates suggest humans have overshot carrying capacity–or will soon). While he affords intrinsic value to creation, he does not argue for the right of ecosystems to exist for their own sake, rather than for what they can offer man, as those in the deep green movement believe.

Those of the deep green view have adopted a biocentric perspective, which sees man as a part of and not separate from his ecosystem. We view it as arrogance to see the world as designed for our own use, by which we can condescend all other species to subordinate roles. We reject the view that only humans are capable of rationality, and that we thus should steer the ship. Instead, we see that we, like other animals, have self-interest and seek to provide for ourselves in the way other species do. As such, we are restricted by the same limitations in our ecosystem that all other species are limited by, (food, water, climate, shelter, mates, etc.). We envisage an economy that understands complex systems, feedback and bifurcation, entropy, energy and nutrient cycling, (etc.). An economy that emulates the dynamic equilibrium of the old growth forest, where we only take up what we need, and cycle it efficiently in an organized manner, and with a fair amount of niche redundancy for the sake of resilience. That, like all living things, we accept the limits of growth.

We must be careful to note that this is not what Pope Francis is arguing for. That his view equates to environmental stewardship for the sake of social justice, and not necessarily for the sake of high ecosystem function.

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