Questions of Faith
In the last two decades or so, there has been a powerful worldwide focus on the impact of global warming. It’s widely accepted that if this problem is not tackled, it will detrimentally affect future generations. Climate activists have shaken up the consumerist status quo, challenging all of us to live in a more eco-friendly manner. But are there any biblical or theological principles which support this belief or should we embrace planetary degradation?
There is a strong historical and religious current that rejects the notion that Christians should be interested in preserving the environment. Often viewed through the lens of the ‘end times’, there are plenty who believe that if there is a new world to come established by God, we shouldn’t care about the longevity of the earth.
This ‘escapist’ theology has promoted the message that another more lasting home awaits the saved, often to the detriment of our present world. Indeed, some Christian denominations interpret planetary destruction as a sign of the end times and so welcome it enthusiastically.
While it’s true Catholics place their hope in the world to come (Heaven), the notion that there will be a radical discontinuity between it and our present world does not have scriptural warrant. Just as there was an intricate relationship between Jesus pre- and post-resurrected body, so too will there be a link between the old and new creation. In this vein, it’s important that we treat our present world with care and respect.
Of course, if you delve into the Bible, this principle of protecting creation can be found quite quickly. The Book of Genesis tells us that humanity is to have “dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth” (Gen 1:26). Although the word dominion has connotations of power, authority or coercion, most biblical scholars have interpreted this word to mean stewardship. If this is correct, humans are instructed to be ecologically conscious and treat properly all of a creation that God has deemed “very good” (Gen 1:31).
The poverty and austerity of St Francis were no mere veneer of asceticism…”
The idea that Christians should be eco-friendly isn’t a particularly new idea. St Francis of Assisi – the patron saint of animals and ecology – preached avidly about the sacredness of creation and the preciousness of animals.
Another Francis – our current Pontiff – reminds us 800 years later that this is an issue that still pertains to all Christians.
“If we approach nature and the environment without this openness to awe and wonder, if we no longer speak the language of fraternity and beauty in our relationship with the world, our attitude will be that of masters, consumers, ruthless exploiters, unable to set limits on their immediate needs.
“By contrast, if we feel intimately united with all that exists, then sobriety and care will well up spontaneously. The poverty and austerity of St Francis were no mere veneer of asceticism, but something much more radical: a refusal to turn reality into an object simply to be used and controlled” (Laudato Si’, 11).