This Dark Age

A manual for life in the modern world.

By Daniel Schwindt

Proper attitudes toward the environment

In a way, by arriving at a discussion of nature and our attitude toward it, we have arrived at the most basic expression of the principle that grace presupposes nature. The created universe and the life that unfolds within it are the foundation of existence outside of which grace would have no meaning or way of being brought to fruition. In this sense, we must consider creation as a good, as something given in order to make love between man and God a concrete possibility, and we must respect it as such, and not pretend that it is a dead thing with nothing other than a purely utilitarian value.

Because of this lofty purpose behind creation, our attitude toward it impacts our attitude toward life in general, including our attitude toward ourselves:

The way humanity treats the environment influences the way it treats itself, and vice versa…Every violation of solidarity and civic friendship harms the environment, just as environmental deterioration in turn upsets relations in society. Nature, especially in our time, is so integrated into the dynamics of society and culture that by now it hardly constitutes an independent variable.”[1]

In order to further understand this connection, we can say that the environment is a collective good,[2] and is therefore closely linked up with the common good, and so it is fair to say that a disregard for the environment is counter to a basic principle of Catholic Social Teaching. Respect and care for the environment is a duty not only because of the consequences it may have for the living, but because we also are to act as stewards for future generations. In fact, it is no exaggeration to say that we are one with the earth, for our very bodies are made up of its elements. It is through this connection that we can say truly:

“God has joined us so closely to the world around us that we can feel the desertification of the soil almost as a physical ailment, and the extinction of a species as a painful disfigurement.”[3]

We are not given dominion over the earth in order to exploit it at will. Such interpretations of the biblical imperative to “till it and keep it”[4] are perversions of the truth.[5] “If you chance to come upon a bird’s nest in any tree or on the ground, with young ones or eggs and the mother sitting upon the young or upon the eggs; you shall not take the mother with the young.”[6] The utilization of nature’s gifts must be coupled with the restraint of a caring husbandman.

[1] CV, 51; See also LS, 92.

[2] CSDC, 466.

[3] EG, 215.

[4] Gen 2:15.

[5] LS, 66-67.

[6] Deut 24:6.

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