A MESSAGE ON THE ENVIRONMENT
Pope Francis and Ecumenical Patriarch today, the foremost Christian leaders, said, in a joint statement:
“However, “in the meantime”, the history of the world presents a very different context. It reveals a morally decaying scenario where our attitude and behaviour towards creation obscures our calling as God’s co-operators. Our propensity to interrupt the world’s delicate and balanced ecosystems, our insatiable desire to manipulate and control the planet’s limited resources, and our greed for limitless profit in markets – all these have alienated us from the original purpose of creation. We no longer respect nature as a shared gift; instead, we regard it as a private possession. We no longer associate with nature in order to sustain it; instead, we lord over it to support our own constructs.”
In this paragraph, which I have chosen to cite, there is no mention of “climate change.” I make this observation because there are many on the political right who claim that climate change is a myth – though, in my opinion, these people would be like the medievalists who claimed the earth was flat. The statements of the two most prominent leaders of the church is not a scientific statement, it is a theological statement. How are we to interpret Genesis 1:28: “God blessed them and God said to them: Be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it. Have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and all the living things that crawl on the earth,” or “The heavens belong to the Lord, but he has given the earth to men. (Psalm 115:16)” They are teaching us clearly that it does not mean to exploit the earth as we wish. We, instead, are stewards, co-operators with God, who wisely harvest the earth and preserve its beauty. This is the authentic teaching of the Church.
Did not Pope Francis say, “The earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth.” (Laudato Si 21) We who have lived in Detroit (auto factories); Pittsburgh (steel mills), Akron (rubber factories), or Cleveland (the pollution of Lake Erie, the burning of the Cuyahoga River) know from experience how ugly we can make the world and its air and water. I have a very dear friend who once lectured me for twenty minutes about the myth of “climate change,” but finally admitted that, yes, we should have ecological controls to insure clean air, clean water, healthy food. We cannot allow the gains we have made in these areas to be lost to an unbridled “profit motive” that would exploit the resources God has given us in His infinite wisdom.
On a political note, I am disheartened about some of the policies of Trump and his secretive EPA administrator, Scott Pruitt, which J. R. R. Tolkien may have foreshadowed in his story of Saruman and Wormtongue in the Shire: “And looking with dismay up the road towards Bag End they (the hobbit travellers) saw a tall chimney of brick in the distance. It was pouring out black smoke into the evening air” (J. R. R. Tolkien, Return of the King, “The Scouring of the Shire.”) I meditated on this: Central to the Christian Gospel is the return to paradise and the removal of the curse on Adam and Eve. “No longer does the flaming sword guard the gates of Eden, for the tree of the cross has come to quench it wondrously.” (Kontakion, Veneration of the Holy Cross) Technology is a divine gift that can create a paradise, but could also be used for uncurbed exploitation of the world’s resources in order to make a profit. We deny climate change to justify this exploitation, which is a great sin. We must be good stewards of the gifts we have received, and not show partiality to the rich. (James 2:2) My prayer is that Mary’s gospel can be fulfilled, “He has put down the mighty from their thrones and exalted the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things and the rich he has sent away empty.” (Luke 1:52-53) This is sung daily in the Church.
The Orthodox Church has an office for this day (September 1). The Troparion: “Lord and Savior, who as God brought all things into being by a word, establishing laws and gioverning them unerringly to your glory, at the prayers of the Mother of God, keep secure and unharmed all the elements which hold the earth together, and save the universe.” (Tone 4, translation by Ephrem Lash.)