Where's the Christian View of Ecology?

Interview with Antonio Gaspari, Director of Greenwatch News

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VATICAN CITY, JULY 4, 2002 (Zenit.org).- To find out Christian humanism’s view on the environment, ZENIT interviewed journalist and author Antonio Gaspari, director of Greenwatch News, the European agency specialized in environmental issues.

The U.N. World Summit on Sustainable Development convenes in South African from Aug. 26-Sept. 4. It is a follow-up to the Rio de Janeiro conference on the environment held a decade ago.

Q: In reading the newspapers, listening to the radio, and watching television it would seem that Catholic thinkers have little to say on the subject. Is this true or just an impression?

Gaspari: It is paradoxical that the debate on environmental issues is dominated by ideological groups that have a highly reductionist and materialist idea of man and who conceive nature as a vengeful and irrational mother. Yet, the Catholic point of view is not taken into consideration, which expresses a harmonious and consistent view of the relation between humanity and creation.

Over the last 30 years, we have witnessed growth in sensibility for the flora, fauna and all that we Christians call creation. This phenomenon manifests a higher level of civilization and greater attention to the rights of human beings. However, I am worried about the cultural parameter in which environmental problems are framed.

In fact, the view of the world of many ecological thinkers reflects a conflict between humanity’s development; economic, scientific and technological progress; and the conservation of the environment. It would seem that everything that is labeled natural, animal or vegetable is good, while everything that is the fruit of human labor, scientific and technological innovation, is evil.

In this connection, we are witnessing the claim of what has been described as the “Babel of rights,” according to which, the protection of animals, the flora, and the inanimate world is in conflict with human life. Man and his activities are seen as the main cause of the planet’s death. Hence the rise of the widespread dictum “Man is the planet’s cancer.”

Q: In what way does Christian thought differ from this mentality?

Gaspari: There are many differences which, moreover, are substantial. First of all, Christian thought is different in its concept of man.

In Christian thought, man, “made in the image and likeness of God,” has a special dignity that is conferred on him directly by God. The Lord is so convinced of the goodness of the human creature, that he entrusts to him the responsible governance of creation.

Already in the first chapters of Genesis one reads: “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it”; and then, speaking of the first human couple, the Lord says: “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.”

In regard to the concept of nature, Christians also have a diametrically opposite idea to some currents of modern environmental thought. Indeed, Catholic thought sees creation as something good.

John Paul II recalled this when he addressed 40,000 youths in early October of 1988, in the Meinau Stadium of Strasbourg: “In the beginning, God did not will evil, or disorder, or man’s humiliation, or the disorder of nature, or contempt for the poor. He created the world to be good, beautiful, harmonious. He created nature for man. God is love. … The verse that is found throughout the account of the creation of the stars, earth, plants, animals and man, says: “And God saw that it was good, very good.”

Alarming, however, is the way that some, who call themselves defenders of the flora and fauna, refer to nature. They think of it as a selfish Mother shut in on herself — a stepmother who is bothered by men’s activities, and who wishes to avenge every action carried out by man. Hence, the rise of the irrational and primitive idea of perceiving natural phenomena, such as tornados, hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, etc., as nature’s vengeance against humanity.

For these reasons, the Vatican, on the occasion of world summits organized by the United Nations, has found itself at times in positions that are diametrically opposed to those of the delegations of some countries or environmentalist NGOs [nongovernmental organizations].

Q: What, then, is the relation between man and nature?

Gaspari: John Paul II has explained on several occasions that, in the relation between man and nature, it is necessary to accept the world as a gift of God. Not to look down on it, or to use it in a selfish way, but to give thanks. … However, man cannot remain with his arms crossed, fearing nature.

God has called him to have dominion over nature. He has given man the intelligence to discover its laws and secrets, to control it. This is the meaning of work. The world is entrusted to man’s hands and his creative genius, his courage. Human intervention is limited by respect for God, which means respect for life and the dignity of men, as well as prudence so as not to run the risk of upsetting the balance of nature. Herein lies man’s greatness.

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