The Sacredness of Nature Theology of Ecology Pushes Respect for the Environment

By Patricia Rice Post-Dispatch Religion | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), August 2, 1997 | Go to article overview
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The Sacredness of Nature Theology of Ecology Pushes Respect for the Environment

Patricia Rice Post-Dispatch Religion, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Do you consider it doing God's work when you take this newspaper to a recycling center? Or when you toss banana skins and grass cuttings into a backyard mulch pile? Or when you shop for a used table instead of a table made from tropical wood from diminishing rain forests? Or when you house-hunt for a newly built house in town rather than on fields where corn grew last summer?

Some theologians are developing a theology of ecology that calls for a wholesome enjoyment and respect for the sacredness of the natural world and bodily existence. The theology of ecology, and practical ways to live it, were discussed at a recent International Earth Summit in Ruma, Ill.

Farmers have often pointed to Bible texts requiring people to be good stewards of the land so future generations could harvest it. For three decades, religious leaders have criticized agribusiness owners and industrialists who disregard these commandments.

It's different now, says a leading theologian of the ecology. For the first time in human history, we have an "embryonic awareness" that Earth cannot support our style of life indefinitely, said John F. Haught, of Georgetown University in Washington and author of the book "The Promise of Nature and Cosmic Purpose."

"If we want a theology capable of responding to the full dimensions of the ecological crisis, we must learn once more to revere the natural world for showing forth to us the sacred reality that underlies it," he said at the Ruma gathering.

Christians can begin by putting fresh emphasis on the biblical creation, he said. When Christians stress redemption exclusively, they can exaggerate the "fallenness" of nature, he told the seven-day gathering of 50 nuns from 12 countries at the motherhouse of the Adorers of the Blood of Christ, in Ruma. Voices echoed their Polish, Italian, Latino and Indian homelands.

A leading Polish environmentalist who spoke at the summit said looking at ecology from a spiritual view can galvanize her nation's resolve to respect the land, air and water.

"We want to learn from the West's mistakes and not repeat them," said Anna Kalinowska, director of the University of Warsaw's Center for Environmental Studies. She helped her Catholic parish and a rural community organize two environmental model houses and a farm to help Poland leap from the 1940s agriculture, where it languished under Communism, to a safe environment. Visitors at the model houses are reminded that the earth reflects God's glory.

Because her country had limited chemical fertilizer under Communism, Poland has abundant, chemical-free farmland. Many farms flourish because they meet European hospitals' standards for growing organic food. Still, she fears that a rush to meet other European Union standards may reduce agricultural diversity. Farmers may stop breeding some animals. The wielkopolske, a fierce-looking, black-spotted pig, for example, would not likely meet European Union ham standards.

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