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Posted May 22, 2004

Book: Environmental Stewardship in the Judeo-Christian Tradition: Jewish, Catholic, and Protestant Wisdom on the Environment
Edited by Michael B. Barkey
Action Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty, Grand Rapids, MI, pp. 124

An Excerpt from the Jacket:

Many people mistakenly view humans as principally consumers and polluters rather than producers and stewards. Consequently, they ignore our potential, as bearers of God’s image, to add to the earth’s abundance. The increasing realization of this potential has enabled people in societies blessed with an advanced economy not only to reduce pollution, while producing more of the goods and services responsible for the great improvements in the human condition, but also to alleviate the negative effects of much past pollution. A clean environment is a costly good; consequently, growing affluence, technological innovation, and the application of human and material capital are integral to environmental improvement. The tendency among some to oppose economic progress in the name of environmental stewardship is often sadly self-defeating.

An Excerpt from the Book:

The revelation of God both in nature and in salvation history does not lead us to believe that we should return to some prelapsarian garden in the earth’s distant past. Angels with flaming swords block that way forever (Gen.3:24). As Pope John Paul II has pointed out, ecological responsibility “cannot base itself on the rejection of the modern world or on the vague wish for a return to a “lost paradise.” Human dominion over nature is not necessarily evil; yet our task lies before us. We must always be on guard against a two-fold temptation that is repeatedly denounced by God: first, making idols of nature or creatures that, in so doing, exalts them above our primary duties toward God; and, second, neglecting the needs of our human neighbor. We are awaiting the New Jerusalem, a city to be given to us at the end of time out of God’s free bounty, which will descend upon a New Heaven and a New Earth. In the meantime, we must combat the evil in ourselves and in our world. We must seek better ways to love God by keeping his commandments and loving our neighbor as ourselves. In a sense, the love for our neighbor can be extended to the non-human world. However, we will have to make prudential judgments about many complex questions and expect inescapable tradeoffs along the way. Since “one can love animals” but should not “direct to them the affection due only to persons,” whenever there is an unavoidable choice between people and nature, we must, like God, put people, the summit of his creation, first.

Finally, we should always have faith that God never abandons his people. Our talents were given to us for a reason: to enable us to love God and our neighbor in Christian freedom. We may be confident that God will also provide us with the gifts and graces that are needed to care for both nature and ourselves. Nonetheless, we should still not expect that any of our many pursuits in the coming years — let alone complex activities such as environmental stewardship — will be without new problems of their own. As the great Catholic theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar has recently reminded us, Jesus said that wheat and the tares grow together. Believing that we can uproot all evil may threaten the goods on which we all depend. Catholic teaching about the Fall is a realistic, not a pessimistic view, in this perspective. There is much bad and much good in our world, but the persistence of evil should not discourage us. Unless the Lord comes in glory, total perfection for us as a species and perfect harmony within nature are beyond our reach, but we know that someday he will come. In the meantime, we seek salvation and our human future amid great uncertainties, but also in joyful hope that the Creator who brought this world and the human race into being is certainly still at work in it — and in us.

Table of Contents:

Foreword: Father Robert A. Sirico

The Cornwall Declaration on Environmental Stewardship

A Comprehensive Tora-Based Approach to the Environment

The Catholic Church and Stewardship of Creation

A Biblical Perspective on Environmental Stewardship