Spirituality in an Age of Ecocide
Newsflash: Santorum Out of Touch with Catholic Theology
Does it make it better or worse that Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum—who seems to want to impose his own religious views on the rest of us (or at least on women)—is actually out of touch with some central Catholic doctrines? I am not talking about his seemingly complete inability to honor Jesus' radical idea that we love our enemies or spend at least as much time thinking about our own sins as condemning others. From where I sit these simple, undoubtedly traditional, and enormously difficult Christian values don't enter into his thinking very much, if at all.
No, I'm talking about his recent attack on the values of environmentalism. After saying that President Obama was operating with a "phony, non-biblical theology" he explained what he meant by claiming that the Obama administration followed a "radical" theology in which "man" was meant to serve nature. The true, the biblical, view, Santorum tells us, is that "the earth is here to serve man."
The big glaring problem with these assertions for a self-proclaimed highly religious person is that for at least three decades countless religious leaders, theologians, and ordinary people of faith have been talking, and acting, as serious environmentalists. (For details, and references to what follows, see my book A Greener Faith: Religious Environmentalism and our Planet's Future.)
To begin with, religious environmentalists reject Santorum's (culturally male?) assumption that either we have to rule the earth or it has to rule us. Instead of thinking that in any relationship one party or the other has to be in charge, on top, or more important, religious environmentalists have talked of "partnership," "cooperation," "recognition," "reciprocity," "interdependence," and even "love." They have stressed that whatever is done to nature will ultimately rebound onto humans; they have integrated issues of class and race into a concept of "eco-justice," which seeks, in the words of the World Council of Churches, to join a society of peace and justice with a human respect for and support of the "integrity of creation."
Let's be clear: the advent of religious environmentalism is not simply the province of the "usual suspects" of often politically progressive liberal Protestants, Reform Jews, or Engaged Buddhists. Generally conservative evangelical Christians in the U.S. have some vibrant and active environmental groups and environmentalism is now, as the saying goes, as Catholic as the pope.
Consider how John Paul II virtually began his papacy by naming St. Francis as the patron saint of those would seek to protect the environment; soon after he challenged the validity of an unquestioned faith in technology as something that increased the "threat of pollution of the natural environment." In this caution the pope was not simply recognizing the negative impacts of pollution on people. He was also warning against a human alienation from nature, and asserting that God wanted people to be "guardians" as well as "masters" of the earth. That is why, he argued, our relations with nature are not simply a matter of human convenience, but are subject to moral laws—just as our relations with other people. Morally our current treatment of the earth suffers from a "lack of respect," not just reckless and imprudent exploitation. "Respect for life and for the dignity of the human person extends also to the rest of creation, which is called to join man in praising God." Finally, in a statement that seems to border on a mix of deep ecology or paganism—remarkable for the leader of a religion that for centuries had violently persecuted indigenous spiritual traditions—John Paul offered the hope that "If nature is not violated and humiliated, it returns to being the sister of humanity."