06 February, 2010

The environment, Religion (and gays again?)

Although Christians have been given a bad rap because of the translation of  "subdue the earth" in Genesis, they might more accurately be criticized for accepting and reinforcing exploitative Capitalism. Be that as it may, there are many examples of Christians caring for our world, (E.g. St. Francis of Assisi). These days even Evangelical Protestants are very involved in "stewardship of the earth" (E.g. Sojourners, Jim Wallace).

Benedict's Action, not just words
Pope Benedict XVI has become extremely interested and active in environmental issues. On 26 November 2008  the Vatican began operation of a solar system (powered by 1,000 solar panels atop a major building in Vatican) for heat, lighting, air conditioning etc. Digital displays were installed  in the building so that visitors could visually see the energy savings.

Shortly after this project was in operation, The Vatican created a climate forest on a very large tract of land in Hungary. Enough trees  were planted to make up for all the carbon dioxide emitted in Vatican City State. The Vatican's aim is to make itself the first "carbon neutral" state in Europe. None of this could have been accomplished without the support and urging of Pope Benedict. "The [solar panel] project received the 2008 Euro Solar prize, awarded by by the European Association for Renewable Energy, a secular body." (See Allen, page 298).

Benedict's words support the cause of environmentalism
Although many religious leaders, especially popes are noted for using lots and lots of words, here is an example of action to be a good steward of creation and promote environmentalism. However, following upon JP II, Benedict has spoken and written much on protecting the environment. Without discussing each, I will merely list some of the "environmental issues" important to Benedict:

Climate change and global warming
Degradation and loss of productivity in vast agricultural region
Pollution of rivers and aquifers
Loss of biodiversity
Increase in extreme weather
Deforestation of equatorial and tropical areas
Displacement of populations and "environmental refugees"
Conflict over natural resources
The global economic crisis (E.g. the selfish activities of the investment industry)
Benedict also proposed strategies to begin work toward protecting the environment:
1. A new mode of calculating the cost of economic activity that would factor in environmental impact
2. Greater investment in solar and other forms of energy with a  reduced environmental footprint
3. Strategies of rural development concentrated on small-scale farmers and their families
4. Progressive disarmament, including a world free of nuclear weapons

Praise and criticism of Benedict's position
A wide variety of environmentalists, whether religious or secular, have praised and supported Benedict's efforts. However, there are many who also disagree with his position. Some secularists are generally uncomfortable with Benedict's emphasis on the role he allows for a creator-god, natural law and the defense of human life (E.g. his anti-abortion stance and belief that population control is not acceptable).

Interestingly there are a large number of influential conservative Catholics who oppose the pope. Only two examples will be mentioned. An American deacon, Kieth Fournier, who fears that Benedict it too closely aligned with eco-centrists and bio-centrism is worried that the pope or Church may, "open the way to a new pantheism tinged with Neo-paganism, which would see the source of man's [sic] salvation in nature alone, understood in purely naturalistic terms." Tom Roeser, a Chicago "Catholic, recently wrote that Benedict's call for new government controls on the environment in his World Peace Day message 'reflects a Bismarkian view of the big state, versus appreciation of the value of entrepreneurism'." (See "Eco Skeptics)

Progressive Catholics can support Benedict, but how far?
It seems that Vatican II Progressive Catholics might find common ground to dialogue, support and work with Benedict on the environment. However, the greatest furor with the  most publicity related to Benedict's brand of "green environmentalism" relates to the way he expresses, uses, and exemplifies, the valid Catholic position that the human person is central to all life.

In the fourth paragraph of his speech to the diplomatic corps accredited to the  Holy See, Benedict says, "...this concern...for the environment should be situated within [a] larger framework...how can we separate, or even set at odds, the protection of the environment and the protection of human life, including the life of the unborn." This is the only mention of the right-to-life controversey.

Why bring up "the Gay Issue" here? Why bash Gays?
The tenth paragraph of the speech begins, "To carry our reflection further..." However what follows has no immediate and direct connection to the previous paragraphs. The pope goes on to say that,
"...the problem of the environment is complex....Creatures differ from one another and can be protected, or endangered in different ways....One such attack comes from laws or proposals which, in the name of fighting discrimination, strike at the biological basis of the difference between the sexes. I am thinking, for example, of certain countries in Europe or North and South America. Saint Columban stated that: 'If you take away freedom, you take away dignity."....Yet freedom cannot be absolute, since man is not himself God....For man, the path to be taken cannot be determined by caprice or willfulness, but must rather correspond to the structure willed by the creator. (emphasis added).

My reading and my interpretation
Gay individuals, gay organizations, and heterosexual individuals who support human rights erupted in vocal opposition to these words and the message they send. A few immediate observations: Why use such a strong, aggressive word, as attack, here? Why is it necessary to fight  proposals designed to end discrimination? So is the attack necessary to fight against those who (in God's plan) are born homsexual? That can't be! Is Benedict implying that homosexuals take the path they do because of caprice or willfulness?

I think Benedict's statements in the tenth paragraph are a gratuitous, unnecessary insertions of the institutional Church's current understanding of homosexuals and homosexuality, primarily to make a point.These words were not necessary to make the argument about environmentalism.  It certainly makes one wonder whether the pope and "the Church" can even  comprehend that gay people are real individuals with the same needs and wants as every individual. (BTW, I don't think "the Church" appreciates that there are thousands and thousands of gays just in the U.S., who are or "were Catholic" and who could respond to the Church, as the People of God, if the People of God offered  an open hand of repentance, acceptance and love.

Conclusion: Where he's on target. Where he's off-base
In the end, Benedict XVI has made tremendous practical strides on environmental issues; all Catholics, at least moderate and progressive Catholics, can accept, support and further these changes. This is good. It may open a crack through  the door of collegial cooperation for the sake of the Gospel. A lot of work remains for us. We must nurture and support a love of the world and its culture as it is now. We must see the glass of modernity and post-modernity as, at least,  half full rather than half empty.

Finally, we must pry open a real, compassionate dialogue between LGBT people and the hierarchy (as well as well as in the local parish and neighborhood), lest the discrimination, harassment and unwillingness to support gays in their love and its human expressions........lead us become another Uganda and waste so many lives of God's children.

Another resource:
 "For Pope Benedict, a Different Shade of Green."


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  2. Davidbaer,

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    I must admit, however, that I'm not exactly what you are saying. Feel very free to comment again and, perhaps, then I will really get your point. I do want to understand and may need some help.

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Comments most welcome.