Theological Foundations for Environmental Ethics: Reconstructing Patristic and Medieval Concepts

Theological Foundations for Environmental Ethics: Reconstructing Patristic and Medieval Concepts

Theological Foundations for Environmental Ethics: Reconstructing Patristic and Medieval Concepts

Theological Foundations for Environmental Ethics: Reconstructing Patristic and Medieval Concepts

Synopsis

Earth is imperiled. Human activities are adversely affecting the land, water, air, and myriad forms of biological life that comprise the ecosystems of our planet. Indicators of global warming and holes in the ozone layer inhibit functions vital to the biosphere. Environmental damage to the planet becomes damaging to human health and well-being now and into the future -- and too often that damage affects those who are least able to protect themselves.

Can religion make a positive contribution to preventing further destruction of biological diversity and ecosystems and threats to our earth? Jame Schaefer thinks that it can, and she examines the thought of Christian Church fathers and medieval theologians to reveal and retrieve insights that may speak to our current plight. By reconstructing the teachings of Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, and other classic thinkers to reflect our current scientific understanding of the world, Schaefer shows how to "green" the Catholic faith: to value the goodness of creation, to appreciate the beauty of creation, to respect creation's praise for God, to acknowledge the kinship of all creatures, to use creation with gratitude and restraint, and to live virtuously within the earth community.

Excerpt

Earth is imperiled. Human activities are adversely affecting the land, water, air, and myriad forms of biological life that constitute the ecological systems (hereafter, ecosystems) of our planet. Wetlands, forests, grasslands, and aquatic ecosystems are degraded or destroyed daily, endangering or driving into extinction the animal and plant species dependent on these habitats for their survival. Indicators of global warming and holes in the ozone layer inhibit functions vital to the biosphere. Pollutants and toxicants emitted into the air, flushed into waterways, and spread on the land persist in the environment, advance through the food chain, and threaten the survival of myriad types of living entities. The diversity of biological life is declining. Experimental and inadequately safeguarded technologies decimate, injure, and genetically alter living entities and render areas uninhabitable for decades. Highly radioactive and other hazardous wastes accumulate without acceptable long-term solutions for disposition, and even relatively benign wastes are increasingly problematic by their sheer volume prompted by the throwaway mentality that prevails, especially in industrially developed countries. Urban sprawl accompanied by increased automobile use causes a plethora of problems. In one way or another, human damage to the planet becomes damaging to human health and well-being now and in the future, and too often this damage affects people who are least able to protect themselves.

Where does religion fit into this dire picture? Religious communities can play pivotal roles by reminding their members about traditions that can guide their attitudes, thoughts, and actions during this age of widespread ecological degradation. Scholars of religions can help by examining teachings that appear promising, while leaders can instruct their followers on their traditions' ways of thinking about and acting toward other species and systems that constitute Earth. Scholars can also examine traditions that may appear less efficacious, clarify and correct them where necessary, and alert the leaders of their respective communities to problematic dimensions that should be deemphasized.

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