Protecting the environment has been a consistent theme throughout Pope Benedict’s papacy. Though I’ve not had the pleasure of reading his latest book on the subject, it’s worth reviewing what he’s already said about being “green.”
Too often the debate about environmentalism is hindered by focusing on the politically divisive issue of global warming. Unfortunately, ideological blinders continue to deter people from coming to the realization that we live in a world of finite resources that are being consumed at an ever-increasing rate. This doesn’t mean the state should cap the amount of energy people are allowed to consume, but it does mean that we, as Americans, should start thinking about reducing our environmental impact.
Denying the possibility of life by providing universal contraception is not the answer to our ecological problems, even though ranking officials at the United Nations and members of the elite media feel that it is. As Benedict pointed out in his 2009 encyclical Caritas in Veritate: “Our duties toward the environment are linked to our duties toward the human person…It would be wrong to uphold one set of duties while trampling on the others.”
How, then, are we to go about solving the world’s ecological problems? A starting point may lie in clarifying the Church’s teaching on the subject.
Some environmentalists blame Christianity for the degradation of the environment. Man’s dominion over the “fish of the sea and the birds of the air,” the argument goes, exemplifies a speciest worldview that fails to recognize the value of the “natural world.” This argument, however, fails to understand that mankind itself is part of the “natural world” and that for many years the Church has emphasized responsible stewardship of the Earth. “The environment is God’s gift to everyone,” Benedict writes, “and in our use of it we have a responsibility towards the poor, towards future generations and towards humanity as a whole.”
Christian stewardship, therefore, is not a license to do whatever one pleases to the environment. As beings made in the image of God, we are called to advance our legitimate needs but only by using the planet’s resources in a responsible way. We are not called to be in “kinship” with our animal neighbors. As I have written about before, human life is not on par with a flock of geese or blade of grass. “It is contrary,” Benedict adds, “to view nature as something more important than the human person.” For “human salvation cannot come from nature alone.”
Stephen Kokx is an adjunct professor of political science and a featured columnist at RenewAmerica.com. Follow him on twitter @StephenKokx