Saturday, October 13, 2007

Encore for Gore

First of all, I say "Hurray!" Gore found his niche. (I liked him up until the late 80's when he sold his soul to Naral.) Still, I imagine there are many snarky blogs being written by Catholics who get itchy when the conversation moves to environmental issues. It's not an attitude I can understand. There was even a Catholic talk radio host who this week was downplaying the "green" moves the Vatican has made of late, denying that the Vatican is going green. And mention the fact that some twenty years ago the theme for the World Day of Peace (a theme which ultimately is authorized by the Pope himself) was care for the environment, and these same Catholics will brush it aside, as if the Pope weren't himself that day or something.
What is wrong with this picture?
They may say, "It's all fake science; it's not 100% proof-positive that human activity is responsible for current changes around the globe; this has all happened before..."
So what?
Even if there is only the likelihood that human (read: commercial) activity is resulting in some damage to the planet, ought we not at least try to limit the possible harm?
Too many Catholics, I'm afraid, get more of their convictions in this matter from economic worldviews and from a diminished appreciation for creation that owes very little to Church teaching and very much to the "massa damnata" thinking of certain influential members of the Reformation.
It's God's planet we're talking about, after all, and we were put here as stewards, "to cultivate the earth."
I wish we could find grants and funding to help our little building here in downtown Chicago go a bit green.


Lisa said...

Beautiful reflection and points well-taken. We really have an obligation to get out the message that being environmentally conscious and proactive grows from our Catholicity and is not counter to it.

I suspect that some steer clear of environmental stewardship because it requires looking closely at one's own usage of natural resources and the comforts we cherish. Perhaps, too, there is some thread that connects those Catholics opposed to environmental advocacy with those Catholic who state they are adamantly pro-life but either do nothing on other life issues besides abortion or even profess to support things like the death penalty. If only we could figure out that thread, we could build even more bridges among people whose deepest convictions start at the same Gospel.

harv681 said...

With Gore, I think it is more a matter of the messenger and not so much the message...

James said...

Re: Catholic Discomfort With Environmentalism


I think that part of the Catholic discomfort with environmentalism has something to do with the competing strains of environmental thought. It bears much similarity to the union issue. In America, there were two schools of thought present in the labor movement. One
school of thought was the "worker's rights" school of thought- that saw the union as improving the bargaining power of workers. However, there was also a communist strain of thought in the union movement. And so that tension between communism and freedom played out in the Catholic realm.

It's the same thing with the environment.

On the one hand, you have the Thomistic notion of stewardship, which is very much in keeping with the tradition of the church.

At the same time, you have the more Rousseauean notion that "nature was good and pristine, until man ruined it."

And so there is a profound tension between these two schools of thought. Of course, the Rousseauean approach is far more secularist. Unfortunately, the assumptions of Rousseau undergird most secular discourse on the environment.

Because these folks proceed using the assumptions of Rousseau, the remedies that they recommend are truly drastic, often involving population controls and the elimination of jobs.

Of course a Thomist comprehends the important place of man in nature and is uncomfortable with the radical remedies of the Rousseauean.

Of course as you know, there are no easy answers for the faithful Catholic.

So much of this is caused by misunderstanding.

The other thing that I would point out- from what I can see its that the Pope hopes that the Holy See's embrace of natural energy and nature is to help beckon people onto a journey that will hopefully culminate in the rediscovery of natural law.

Anonymous said...

It is hard to align with an environmentalist movement whose followers also align themselves with a radical political agenda--you mentioned Gore and NARAL. One has to be careful in supporting one without seeming to support the other...

xaipe said...

Thanks very much to harv, James and anonymous for contributing to the conversation. It is important that we make our distinctively Catholic contribution to discussions about the environment, the way Pope Leo did in his day to the workers' question. To deny the issues entirely is to leave the whole arena to those who would apply unchristian "remedies" wholesale. We would have abdicated to them.
But I have also seen frightening denials (in the name of "bible Christianity) of any environmental problems at all. I mean, there are those who, in the name of God's sovereignty and his "preordained hour," think any concern for the environment is irrelevant! This worries me as much as any "Rousseauean" interpretation. Has anyone else witnessed the bible being used to disparage environmental concerns?

James said...

Honestly, the situation that you cite raises a broader issue... the hermeneutic question.

Or to define the question more precisely- how does one authentically understand and interpret the Word of God. Of course as Catholics, we must be thankful for the Church's tradition... it eliminates the need to reinvent the wheel. Instead of starting from scratch, we have two-thousand years of scripture scholarship behind us.

Hermeneutics brings with it twin perils- both of which lead to a rupture in in the harmony between faith and reason. One the one hand is the danger of being overly literalist- the evangelicals and the baptists might be a good example of this. A simple concrete illustration might be the issue of biological evolution. As Catholics, we believe in the God is the Creator of the Universe. However, this does not prevent us from accepting the fairly compelling evidence for the biological evolution of plant and animal species. It is not wrong for us to accept biological evolution as a physical fact, so long as we understand it to be a subroutine within a much larger computer program, not the entirety of the program. However, we see the major conflict caused by the juxtaposition of a literal reading of the Old Testament with convincing scientific evidence to support the biological evolution of the human species.

The other peril to beware is the use of contemporary methods to relativize the sacred scripture, especially the New Testament into meaninglessness. The two poster children for this would be the American Episcopalians and the United Church of Christ (Congregationalist). In more recent times, they have used it to tear down traditional moral theology in the realm of sexual ethics.

Well, it's simple common sense that faulty assumptions and bad methodology rarely yield good results. As a science, theology is no exception to this notion, and so the use of sacred scripture to disparage environmental concerns would not surprise me.

I think that the so-called "red state / blue state divide" has hardened the battle lines over these issues. Now much of this is also caused by the long-time use of these issues as the weapons of political warfare. Consequently, controversial remedies are used to frame the discussion of issues, such that they merge with the real issue. Health care would be a good example of this. You mention the health care issue and either people don't want to talk about it or want socialized medicine.

Ultimately, all of these issues are caused by the collapse of the Aristotelean notion of nature. Descartes said that it was man's destiny to master nature, and it is from that point we have proceeded.

Most people don't have the specialized academic training that makes it possible to appreciate these nuances. And so discussion of the environment becomes a discussion of whether you're for or against the most controversial remedies proposed- not a genuine dicussion about the environment- but instead a political discussion using the environment as a proxy for wider differences.

Anonymous said...

ummm...Yeah--what he said!

Sr. Lorraine said...

Every week as I bring out the recycling bins, I hope I"m making some kind of contribution to conservation of the environment.
But some people go to extremes--I recently heard a PETA rep speak on the radio. They seem to think that animals have the same rights as human beings. But there is a BIG difference, like, we're rational--or supposed to be!
I'm a little suspicions of Gore because he's profiting from his environmentalism (he has financial interests in some carbon-offset company). Also, the way he flies around in his private jet spewing out pollution is just a bit too like "do what I say, not what I do"!