Christianity - Ethics Environmental Ethics Hope for the Common Good As people who receive the planet as God's sacred gift to us, we have a particular responsibility to live in harmony with and care for the natural world, ensuring that God's gift will be enjoyed by the generations to come. Up until the last few decades there have been few examples of environmental awareness in the Christian tradition. While the contribution of some individuals is noteworthy, it has not led to environmental ethics being prominent in the mainstream of Christian thought and practice until quite recently. It has only been in the last fifty years, with the advent of a global concern for ecology, that Christian theology has embraced environmental ethics in a substantial response. With this new interest in ecology, Christian theologians are now making more substantial use of the biblical reflections on creation as well as the work of historical figures such as Francis of Assisi, Hildegard of Bingen and Pierre Teilhard de Chardin Old Testament Christian scriptures have a number of ecological themes, many are taken from the Old Testament. There are few specific teachings on environment to be found in the New Testament, however, some important principles in the teachings of Jesus have significance for environmental ethics. The first example to consider is that of the creation stories of Genesis 1-2. These stories provide the accounts of creation and provide a number of important insights concerning creation and the relationships and responsibilities that exist between God, humankind and the rest of the created order. Religious truths From these chapters of Genesis Christians draw religious truths such as: that God is the creator of all things; that there is a close relationship between God and the created world; that the created world is a good thing; that human beings have a particular responsibility, known as stewardship, for the created world and that failure to fulfill this responsibility of stewardship will inevitably lead to undesirable consequences for humankind. Genesis 1:28 One of the more significant verses in this section of the Bible is Genesis 1:28 which includes the instructions to have dominion and to subdue the earth. It is these instructions which have contributed to the historical exploitation of the environment with the understanding that humankind had been given license to freely use the world's resources. Stewardship Contemporary interpretations of this text highlight the mutual relationship which exists between humankind and the rest of creation. The world provides resources needed for human life, however, the negligent use of these resources will lead to environmental degradation and a loss of the capacity of the earth to provide. Thus this passage forms part of the teaching on stewardship in the Christian tradition. Christians are taught that they have a fundamental responsibility to care for creation. In this sense they are God's partners in creation and are responsible for ensuring that it is nurtured and cared for in sustainable ways. The Christian understanding of stewardship guards against selfish or careless exploitation of the world's resources. Genesis 2:15 Another passage from Genesis speaks of God placing humankind in the garden and instructing them to till it and guard it. These instructions from Genesis 2:15 are further aspects highlighting the Christian understanding of stewardship. The earth's resources will provide for human need, however, humankind has a responsibility to protect environment and ensure it remains fruitful. Messianic prophecy Passages anticipating future messianic times also convey some important environmental themes. Prophecies such as those found in Isaiah 11:1-9 and Joel 2:21-26 show a flourishing environment and a state of harmony between humankind and the rest of creation. These messianic visions reflect beliefs of a future time where people will live according to the will of God. It is important to note that environmental wellbeing is integral to this vision. Deuteronomy 20:19-20 Deuteronomy 20:19-20 includes instructions about the conduct of a siege in the context of war. It prohibits the wanton destruction of the crops of the besieged city. In presenting this prohibition, the text highlights the wrong involved in any needless destruction of the natural environment. Leviticus 25:5-6 The Old Testament also teaches responsible agricultural practices whereby the fields are to lie fallow every seventh year in order to ensure the continued fertility of the soil and to guard against over taxing its resources (Leviticus 25:5-6) Leviticus 22:28 Further teachings prevent hunters from killing the adult and its offspring on the same day (Deuteronomy 22:6-7 & Leviticus 22:28). This constraint is in place in order to prevent the destruction of a species which would result if a generation was not able to reproduce. There is also a provision in a number of texts for animals to be given the same Sabbath rest as humans enjoy. (Exodus 20:11, Exodus 23:12, Deuteronomy 5:14). Psalms and Job Two other elements of ecology are also found in the Old Testament. The first is a reverence and respect for creation which is espoused in the Psalms and secondly there is a sober assessment of the relative insignificance of humanity in the light of the wonders of creation found in the book of Job 39-41. Both these examples challenge an anthropocentric view which exalts humankind over the rest of creation and which leads inevitably to its exploitation. New Testament - Reign of God Jesus’ teaching on the reign of God extols the virtues of respect, consideration, harmony and balance which are at the heart of modern environmental ethics. While he may not have taught explicitly about environmental concerns, Jesus' teaching on the reign of God is, nevertheless, a powerful element of environmental ethics. Matthew 6:28-31 Further examples from the New Testament, such as Matthew 6:28-31, use the example of the natural world to convey the ways of God to listeners. Thus the balance and simplicity of nature are placed before followers as worthy of contemplation in order to more perfectly respond to the will of God. Mastery of nature The recognition of the fragility of the environment and the limited extent of the world's resources is a relatively recent development. Furthermore pre industrialised societies have had a far lesser impact on the environment than that of modern communities. It is understandable, therefore, that theologians throughout the history of Christianity were largely unaware of their responsibilities towards the environment. Indeed, the focus had frequently been on the ability and capacity of humankind to harness the world's resources in more sophisticated and efficient way. This thought was popularised by the 17th century French philosopher Rene Descartes who extolled the virtue of humankind demonstrating its ingenuity and capability through more complete "mastery of nature". Utilise gifts and talents Christian theologians saw that it was important for human beings to fully utilise the gifts and talents provided by their creator and that to use their intelligence and ingenuity to exploit the world's resources and control the natural environment was in fact a form of worship of the creator. While such thinking may seem abhorrent to modern Christians, it needs to be understood that theologies such as this were developed in the absence of any understanding about the potential of humankind to damage and destroy the natural world. While Christian history as a whole has not been alert to the importance of environmental ethics there have been significant individuals who have made important contributions to environmental awareness. Francis of Assisi Francis of Assisi was born in the 12th century into a wealthy family of Italian nobility. He rejected wealth and power to live in harmony with nature. Francis celebrated nature as vision of God and is famous for his prayers and meditations on the beauty of creation as well as his practical concern for all of God's creation. Hildegard of Bingen Hildegard of Bingen was a leader of a monastic community in the 12th century. She was a famous student of nature who investigated and made use of the healing qualities of nature and taught of the need to respect nature and learn from it. Her writings, music and art all reflect a profound sense of oneness with creation and an immense respect for the work of the creator. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin Pierre Teilhard de Chardin was born in the late 19th century and is highly regarded for his reflections in the fields of science, philosophy and theology. He proposed that matter is impregnated with purposeful energy that constantly evolves towards a greater complexity, matter is not merely an inert mass, it is the indispensable pre condition for spirit and is the basic building block of life. With the increasing social awareness of ecology, Christian theologians have presented important insights into environmental ethics which are not only informing the understanding of Christian adherents but are also contributing to dialogues with scientists, economists and politicians throughout the world. Pope John Paul II Church leaders have universally stated the urgency and priority of environmental action. From the Catholic Church, Pope John Paul II has made important contributions to environmental ethics. Principally through his statement on ecological awareness, "Peace with God the Creator, Peace with all of Creation". This statement was released on January 1st 1990 as the Pope's peace day message. WCC In June 1991 the World Council of Churches held an international summit on the environment and released a statement called "The Joint Appeal in Religion and Science: Statement by Religious Leaders at the World Environment Summit" In 1990 and again in 1995, the American based National Religious Partnership for the Environment published appeals for greater ecological awareness while the Evangelical Environmental Network published its own Declaration on Creation in 1996. Other initiatives such as the "Forum for Religion and Ecology" provide an opportunity for ongoing dialogue among concerned individuals and groups. NCCA Within Australia there are a number of important initiatives to be noted. The National Council of Churches in Australia (NCCA) declared a "Decade to overcome Violence" in 2001. This campaign includes a focus on overcoming violence against the environment. The NCCA has also produced an important statement on environmental ethics called "Sustaining Creation". Released in March 2003 this statement has a particular focus on calling on governments at various levels to provide leadership and act responsibly in relation to the environment. Catholic Earthcare Australia The Catholic Church in Australia through the Bishop's Committee on Justice, Development, Ecology and Peace (BCJDEP) has set up an organisation called "Catholic Earthcare Australia" (CEA). It has the role of advising the Bishops on matters of ecology including the safeguarding of the integrity of creation, environmental justice and ecological sustainability. CEA is responsible for carrying out research, developing and furthering national networks, sponsoring and undertaking environmental initiatives and providing educational materials. In 2005 CEA held a national conference in Canberra and has produced a number of video, cd and dvd resources including an environmental audit that can be used by organisations to review their environmental practice. Other significant Australian initiatives include: • Anglican Diocese of Newcastle Environment Commission Anglican Diocese of Canberra and Goulburn Commission for the Environment • Catholic EarthCare Australia • Columban Centre for Peace, Ecology and Justice • CREATE (Christian Environment Network developed by the Catholic Archdiocese of Brisbane) • Earth Bible Project • Season of Creation • Uniting Justice resources Climate change initiative Over the last few years the National Council of Churches in Australia, Catholic Earthcare Australia (CEA) and the Anglican Diocese of Canberra and Goulburn's Environment Commission have been working in partnership with other organisations on a climate change initiative. This initiative is specifically designed to further the NCCA's environment statement "Sustaining Creation" with a direct focus on calling on the Australian Government to ratify the Kyoto Protocol on climate change. Theologians Among Christian denominations there are many important theologians and activists who are working in the field of environmental ethics. Most of these individuals have been calling on the Churches to act urgently and more decisively in the field of environmental ethics. Most have been critical of the Churches for their tardiness in taking serious steps in responding to environmental issues and strongly challenged the Christian tradition as a whole. Sallie McFague Sallie McFague is from the liberal protestant tradition. She is a feminist theologian who is setting out to construct a new theology of nature and of God which connects God with the human process rather than distances God from creation. She identifies a need to develop a new metaphor for God which recognises that the world is the physical expression of God not a separate "product" of God. Thomas Berry Thomas Berry, a Catholic theologian born in 1914 was a member of the Passionist Order of Priests. Berry espoused a mystical approach to ecology. He argued that God made the world and therefore God is profoundly related to it. Accordingly if we lose our sense of the splendour of the natural world then we also lose our sense of the divine. Berry suggested that human beings must see themselves in perspective i.e. only existing for about 60,000 years in a cosmos as much as 15,000,000,000 years old. The cosmos is to be seen as an ongoing energy event rather than a sudden creation at a specific point in time. He stresses that human beings as creatures are not separate from the rest of creation who can be valued over and against the rest of creation. Finally he says that we need to develop a new creation story (myth) which takes into account our now more developed sense of awareness of the human impact on the environment and the growing sense of profound unity with the environment. Matthew Fox Matthew Fox was a Catholic theologian born 1940. He was a member of the Dominican Order of Priests before ultimately being expelled by his order after long running disputes with Rome and has now been accepted into the Episcopalian church. Fox proposes a mystical approach to the environment known now as Creation Spirituality. His main idea was that of original blessing i.e. an ancient notion that the cosmos has been continually blessing (bringing life to) human beings since their evolution. This idea stands in contrast to the idea of original sin which Fox identifies as a very recent idea. Sean McDonagh Sean McDonagh is a Catholic missionary Priest, a member of the Columban order of Priests and has worked extensively in the Philippines. McDonagh focuses on the relationship between justice and ecology. This approach is called eco-justice. McDonagh identifies the type of greed and exploitation which is at the heart of injustice to be the same factors which are at the heart of environmental degradation. He also identifies that significant amounts of environmental degradation take place through the exploitative action of the rich and the practices which are forced upon the poor, particularly in the need to meet debt repayments. McDonagh has been a strong critic of the lack of involvement of the Church in environmental issues. While the Christian biblical tradition provides significant guidance in the field of environmental ethics, it has to be said that until recent times there has been little done by the Christian Churches in the field of environmental ethics. There have always been individual and communities within the Christian tradition who have provided examples of leadership in this field, however, it has not been a prominent concern for Christians overall. In recent times, there have been many significant statements and other initiatives developed by Church leaders both within Australia and internationally, however, there is still an absence of widespread engagement at the grass roots levels of Church communities. While most Christian communities tacitly recognise the importance of environmental ethics, it is yet to become a major focus of day to day life for most Christians and their local Church communities. In the present climate of increased environmental awareness there remains a wide range of perspectives among the Churches. Liberal members of the Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant Churches are generally very aware of teaching on environmental ethics and are often active in response to the issues raised. Conservative members of these same denominations are less likely to be engaged in environmental issues in a significant way. Some of the fundamentalist and evangelical Churches have been reluctant to place significant emphasis on environmental concerns as any form of transformative social action is seen as a low priority in comparison to evangelisation in the light of the anticipated return of Jesus and the end of the world. Mainstream Christian thinking acknowledges that there is a special relationship between humankind and the environment because both humankind and rest of the created world are created by God. They acknowledge that both reflect the glory of God and convey the image of God. They also recognise that God commanded human beings to live in fruitful relationship with the earth and that humankind has a requirement of stewardship of the earth. Thus, it is evident that there is a richness in the tradition of Christian teaching on environmental ethics and a clear rhetoric calling for action in recent times. However, there remains a considerable challenge in education and action to engage significant numbers of local Christian communities in significant environmental actions. This challenge is particularly evident in Western industrialised countries where Christian communities enjoy high standards of living which depend on significant and often negligent use of the world's resources. In poorer parts of the world, there is considerable engagement of Christian communities on environmental issues. This is because for Christians in these parts of the world environmental degradation is an issue which is affecting them in a very serious and tangible way through a lack of clean drinking water, rising sea levels, damage to crops etc. People in richer countries are largely insulated against these challenges, although it is clear that this insulation is a temporary thing and that within decades more affluent countries will be faced with similar environmental disasters.