Sunday, January 27, 2008

Christian Environmentalism

Is the idea of Christian Environmentalism an oxymoron?

I'm interested to see the great emphasis in Britain on the preservation of the land and wildlife.

This country spends a simply enormous amount of its time and money looking after the ground and the things growing out of and living on it. A great deal more than the Canucks. In fact, it amounts to something of a national obsession. I've always known from my own upbringing that Brits are completely dotty about gardening, and I've observed that the entire country is one enormous cultivated garden. When my plane was first over England, there was a brief gap in the cloud cover and the thing that struck me was the endless expanse of green patchwork quilt we were flying over.

There are records of some form of land management/nature conservancy in this country going back to before the Saxon period. The Benedictine monks started it when everything was still covered in forest. The Saxon farmers who moved in after the Romans pulled out were just cutting trees down willy nilly. When the Benedictines showed up, they converted them not only to Christianity, but to responsible husbandry too. The monks invented the whole idea, in fact, having done more or less the same trick on the continent.

It seems clear that in Britain the concern has yet to be transformed, as it has in Canada, into some quasi-mystical earth goddess religion. It looks, from the superficial internet evidence at least, to actually be about land, wildlife and resource management. Something very important when you've got as little land as we do and as many people.

I grew up with my mother teaching me taxonomy and marine biology as she learned it in university. Of course, since then, the religious and social/political questions have taken over my thoughts, but I have been expanding those thoughts a bit since. But now I want to know if there is a genuine Catholic understanding, how important it is in relation to everything else that we have to pay attention to, and what our response ought to be.

I think while we rightly reject the neo-pagan Environmentalism that seems to have taken over the business of science, we mustn't be caught by the temptation to pendulum away from the issues altogether. There must be a genuine Catholic response to the use of natural resources. (Sorry, Gillian: I know "pendulum" isn't a verb.)

I'd like to start thinking about what that should be.


Anonymous said...

Plus, one of the best way to get your own countrymen to realize just how dangerous foreigners are is to force them to confront that those foreigners don't give a damn about the environment.

Mark S. Abeln said...

I've thought much about it too.

Environmentalists do make a strong point, I've always thought, but their solution is socialism. Politically, the environment became the socialists' rallying cry when industrial unionists started letting them down.

But I doubt the socialists' sincerity; it is a means to another end. PETA activists, when they "liberate" oppressed animals, they euthanize them. I wouldn't want them to do me a similar favor.

A sola scriptura Protestant understanding doesn't help, and a Liberal Christian understanding just takes us back to socialism.

Luther pulled some relevant books out of the Bible, and the Enlightenment ignored the philosophical patrimony of the Catholic Age, all of which had quite a lot to say about the meaning, value, and place of Creation. As you said, the "monks invented the whole idea".

Here is a simple test, which ought to be in line with Catholic thought: is a particular landscape beautiful?