Human Roots of the Ecological Crisis
Last week we looked at the technology crossroads confronting us and the globalization of a technological framework that conditions lifestyle and the shaping of social possibilities by powerful groups. Today we consider
1. The Crisis and Effects of Modern Anthropocentrism (#115-136)
A third area of concern is the crisis and effects of modern anthropocentrism. God has given earth to us, and we must use it with respect for its original good purpose. We are not called to mastery over the world, but to responsible stewardship. We are also God’s gift to one another. When we fail to acknowledge as part of reality the worth of a poor person, a human embryo, a person with disabilities, it is difficult to hear the cry of nature itself. We cannot underestimate the importance of our relationship with the environment, with others and with God. Pope Francis calls for a new synthesis capable of overcoming the false arguments of recent centuries (#115-121). He declares: “There can be no renewal of our relationship with nature without a renewal of humanity itself. There can be no ecology without an adequate anthropology” (#118); to feel responsible for the world, human beings must first truly understand who they are. Then he urges us to bring our rich Christian tradition into fruitful dialogue with the following three situations:
A. Practical Relativism
Seeing something as relevant only if it serves immediate interests can lead to environmental degradation and social decay and promote the “use and throw away culture”. Some examples Pope Francis cites beyond consumer goods include human trafficking, organized crime, drug trade, commerce in blood diamonds, the buying of organs, eliminating children and using the fur of endangered species. Political efforts and the force of law will not be sufficient by themselves to bring about change; rather the culture itself must be called into question (#122-123).
B. Protecting Employment
In Genesis, man and woman were given the garden in order to preserve and keep it fruitful. From this example, Pope Francis suggests that work understood in relationship to others is what gives meaning and purpose to our human activities. Together with this perception is the awe-filled contemplation of creation which we find in St. Francis of Assisi. Pope Francis asserts that when our capacity for contemplation and reverence is impaired, it is easy for us to misunderstand the meaning of work. He encourages work as a means to express our human dignity. As such it should be a setting for rich personal growth, where many aspects of life enter into play: creativity, planning for the future, developing our talents, living out our values, relating to others, giving glory to God. Our lives need to have a balance of reflection and work. With this in mind, helping the poor financially is only provisional; they need to be allowed a dignified life through work. He notes further that technological progress is not when the costs of production are reduced by laying off workers and replacing them with machines. Instead, the creation of jobs is an essential service for the common good. For this reason “it is imperative to an economy which favors productive diversity and business creativity”, and “civil authorities have the right and duty to adopt clear and firm measures in support of small producers and differentiated production” (#124-129).
- Biological Technologies
Pope Francis states that human intervention in plants and animals is permissible when it pertains to the necessities of human life. However, he notes that it is difficult to make a general judgment about genetic modification. A broad, responsible, scientific, and social debate needs to take place, one considering all of the available information and including those directly and indirectly affected. Technology separated from ethics will not easily be able to limit its own power (#130-136).
Summary quote of this chapter’s message: “It can be said that many problems of today’s world stem from the tendency, at times unconscious, to make the method and aims of science and technology an epistemological paradigm which shapes the lives of individuals and the workings of society. The effects of imposing this model on reality as a whole—human and social—are seen in the deterioration of the environment…(#107)
Questions for Reflection
- Do you feel caught in a “use and throw away culture” when technological advances necessitate the purchase of new equipment without the option of upgrading your present one? Can you find a way out of this dilemma?
- Pope Francis emphasizes the importance of contemplation and describes characteristics of work. Has your work been such an opportunity for you to integrate contemplation and action? How would you see yourself promoting these values for others?
- When you buy products, are you conscious of the way the product has been developed? Has the development process respected the employment of persons and the innate characteristics of
plants and animals?