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Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Caring for Nature

For some time now I have been aware of the reports and, sometimes, controversy over the whole issue of climate change and nature.  Some folks think we are heading toward a climate crisis—global warming and the like.  Other folks scoff at such an idea and assume everything is fine.  Most of us are scientifically not savvy enough to have a clue how to think about it.  I know I am not smart enough to be an expert.  In fact, it is a struggle to know enough to have an educated opinion.           

What I know is I trust science.  Having said that, I also know quite a few religious people put no faith in science.  In fact, quite a few religious folks think there is a basic conflict between religion and science.  I do not find myself in that camp.  I see science and religious as compatible, but different, ways of seeing and understanding our world.  I like to think I am both scientifically appreciative of knowledge and religiously motivated to see the Spirit involved in our world and in my life.             

Lately, I have been doing a little more focused reading and thinking about the natural world and the human threat to that natural world.  I know many religious thinkers have focused on this issue.  I am aware Thomas Merton, the 20th century monk I enjoy reading and teaching about has a good take on the human relationship to the world.  I would agree with Merton that all the major religious traditions speak about this.           

Within the Jewish and Christian traditions there is the shared Genesis story of creation.  While I have no interest in the debate over evolution and creationism, I do have an interest in the fact that the Genesis creation stories (there are two versions of the creation),  always affirm the goodness of God’s created world.  Step by step the Genesis story says God created something and then affirmed the created something to be “good.”  Humans are part of this created something.  Granted, Genesis talks about humans created in the “image of God” and this is special, but it does not mean that we are so special, we don’t have to care for the world in which we find ourselves.           

This is the place where the conversation or debate begins.  Are humans taking care of the world in which we find ourselves?  Sadly, some would say it does not matter.  The world is here for human domination.  We can do with it as we please.  This attitude says the world is there for whatever purpose we want to make of it.  We can use it as we please.  But I wonder if there are not places---even in this view of the world---when the “use” becomes “abuse.”  This is where the folks who see an environmental crisis looming.           

Scientifically, there is sufficient evidence for me to think there is some kind of serious problem---maybe even crisis---looming.  Part of the human problem is the scale of time.  For us one hundred years is a huge time period.  In ecological history one hundred years is a drop in the bucket.  We see in the oddity of one summer’s weather or the weirdness of one winter season a predictor.  That is highly unlikely.  But cumulatively, I do see problems.           

A recent writer on this topic, Thomas Berry, helps me see some of the scope of the issue.  Berry was an active Catholic, a priest and a scholar of both science and religion.  When he talks, I listen.  He puts it pretty starkly.  He says, “our ecological destruction is causing the end of a geological era…”  And he comments further that this awareness is “absent from the concerns of most theologians and lay people.”           

He helps me with some further commentary.  He says, “We are changing the chemistry of the planet, we are disturbing the biosystems, and we are altering the geological structure and functioning of the planet…This process of closing down the life systems of the planet is making the Earth a wasteland…”  Clearly, these are strong words.  I can see why people cavalierly dismiss by saying, “I don’t believe that crap.”  Such dismissal announces, “there is no problem,” and life goes on as usual.  But what if there is a problem?           

That’s where I am.  I do think there is a problem.  I have no clue how big the problem.  But there is a problem.  The problem may be a crisis or it could become a crisis.  But where there’s a problem, it seems to me we should be working on and enacting a solution.  I put it this way.  It is time to begin to take care of nature.  Too many of us have a “couldn’t care less” attitude about nature.           

That seems to me to be the simple, but stark, choice.  Do we care about nature and will we theologically work with God to treat it like the garden God envisioned?  Or do we take a “couldn’t care less” approach to nature and participate in turning Earth into a wasteland?  I don’t need proof to take a stand.  I am opting for the “care for nature” perspective.  It is not just for myself.  I am old enough to escape any serious consequences.           

But I think of all the babies being born.  It is highly likely they will live to 2100 and beyond!  What kind of earth am I bequeathing them?  Will it be polluted wasteland or paradise?  I am convinced God wants me to care…to care about nature.

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