Over at “Always Yes“, Tom has asked the question “People or Gaia?”. Curiously, this links in with some of my own thoughts over the last week or so.
Last weekend, the Victorian Council of Churches held its rural conference in Bendigo. The topic for these conferences is always chosen by the locals, so it is no surprise that during this seemingly eternal drought 3 or the last 5 rural conferences have been about water–including this one, which also looked at other rural environmental issues.
The Keynote address on Friday night was given by a retired Christian Brother scientist, who ended his presentation with the statement that “Ecology must be at the heart of the Christian faith”. Well, that got me, because as far as I am concerned the place “at the heart of the faith” is already occupied: by Jesus Christ. So I raised the question of how ecological concerns could find a place at the heart of the Church without dethroning Christ and instituting the very religion that the Old Testament prophets railed against. In particular, I noted the rather unhappy instance of the “Creation Season” displacing the paschal mystery as the focus and hinge of the liturgical year. At first the speaker misunderstood me and said that we should work for a synthesis of Christological and Ecological teaching. No, I insisted, for this would be syncretism of the worst kind. Rather, if a case were to be made for ecology being a truly vital concern of the Church, then it must be shown how this concern emerges directly and necessarily from orthodox Christology itself.
This led, the next day, to a very fruitful discussion between half a dozen of the more theologically inclined participants. After a lot of beating around the theological forest (which involved first sorting out whether or not ecology belonged to the area of Christian Ethics or Christology proper), we hit upon the fact that through the Incarnation and the Paschal Mystery, Christ is mediator not only between us and God, nor only between me, God and my fellow human beings, but indeed between us humans and the rest of God’s creation. He is the lense not only through which God sees us, but indeed through which we see God’s creation around us. Of course, there is the ethical/moral element (we discovered that there was quite a bit about the land in the decalogue–eg. the Sabbath Commandment and the Honouring your Father and Mother promise), but we were glad to come to such a point where we had broad agreement on the fact that ecological concerns could be seen through orthodox Christology. Liturgically, we noted that the most natural focus for ecology in the Church year occurs at its very centre, in the Readings of the Easter Vigil. Here again, it is vitally connected with the Paschal Mystery. Of course, from there you can head off down the Eucharistic theology road, but we will leave that for the moment.
Anyway, besides Tom’s write up, I then found a piece in The Catholic Herald called “Beware of people who whorship Mother Earth” by Ed West. Unfortunately, the CH neither puts the whole of its articles on their website, nor do they archive all their articles, so this one has disappeared from the cyber-ether. No matter, trust me, it was good. Here are a few snippets:
What are the tenets of this new green creed? That nature is good and humans wicked; that primitive man was in harmony with nature, while modern, Western man is myopic and selfish; and that Mather Nature will soon wreak a dreadful vengeance that even the Old Testament God would find excessive–and that we probably deserve.
At the core of earth-worship is hostility to civilisation, and in that sense it shares much with paganism…
He goes on to point out that Christianity has been, since its inception, a “city religion”, while paganism held fast in the rural areas (Lutherans in Australia might not believe this, their experience being somewhat the opposite!).