Pablo Martínez de Anguita, PhD
As Pope Francis stated in his encyclical Laudato si’, the current environmental crisis, global in scope and local in impact, requires major changes in how we think about our world and its future and multi-disciplinary efforts are needed to produce solutions to our interconnected environmental problems.
During the last decades, religions and ecological movements have started to converge. As Mary Evelyn Tucker explains, the environmental crisis has called the religions of the world to respond by finding their voice within the larger Earth community.1 At the same time, religiosity also started to take place in some areas of ecological thinking.
As environmental thinking went deeper, the need for a sense of the “sacred” emerged. Some authors see it as a useful tool for conservation. But this tool must “exist” beyond our own definition. Sacred things are sacred, not because of their utility as sacred things, but as a result of a broader sense that preserves them precisely from utility, which further aids us in understanding ourselves in the broadest sense: within the whole of reality.
Beyond a mere religious utilitarianism, and from an understanding of the deepest connections between humans, religions or worldviews, and nature, we need to understand the deep relationship between faith and ecology, especially in our catholic world. “Environmental solidarity” can be defined as a broader paradigm to understand this relationship that at the end can be the key to “sustain” sustainability, based on the deepening of the meaning of the religious sense.2
The religious sense is nothing more than man’s original nature by which he fully expresses himself by asking “ultimate” questions, searching for the final meaning of existence in all of its hidden facets and implications. Ecological thinking recognizes the existence of this religious sense.
As ecological thinker Jeffers3 expresses, “our privilege and happiness are based on loving God for its beauty… and contribute (although very lightly) to the beauty of things by making our life and our surrounding more beautiful according to what is in our hand,” but as he continues, this ecological thinking expresses a desire that does not find a concrete answer: “we are not important for him, rather the contrary, He is important for us…” our love cannot “demand or hope any love back.”
The contribution of the Catholic Church, and paraphrasing Jeffers, is that “this All worthy of the deepest type of love” entered into the life of men as a man so we could know better, “so our eyes could see, our heart could feel and our hands could touch”.4 The newness of Christianity consists in the fact that “this Mystery sometimes intuited but never revealed completely, comes into the life of men as a man, expressing the final ideal of existence, an ideal that fully responds to the human desire of fulfillment.”
Christianity is the announcement of the Christ event, of God who has come into the world as man. The mystery is no longer the “unknowable.” In the Christian sense, “mystery” is the source of being, God, in as much as He makes himself available to experience through a human reality. This concrete mode can no longer be eliminated, and remains crucial for everyone and forever.
But for us, humans concerned with our environment in the 21st century, how does Christ become involved in our efforts and what do they have to do with Him? The nature of Christian hypothesis5 is such that its truth can be seen to “correspond” with our hearts only within the risk of a relationship – or discipleship.
Following our hearts as opened in the presence of the Mystery of Love embodied in the Lord, we are liberated into the truth. “I am with you always; yet to the end of time” (Matt 28:20). “If Jesus came, he is, he exists, he remains in time with his unique, unrepeatable claim, and he transforms time and space, all time and all space.”6 All our work, all our efforts towards keeping the beauty and integrity we have found in the creation, can be saved, preserved from being lost. They can correspond to our deep human desires, the desire of our hearts to preserve the beauty of a creation that lives in the mystery of His resurrection.
There is a correspondence between ecologism and Christ. In fact, ecologism can be a path to holiness and a way to discover the beauty of the Holy Trinity, and how from this beauty men and women are compelled to take care for the creation and its ecosystems. In the coming years especially after Laudato si’ this understanding of the correspondence Christ gives to the desires of beauty will start to take place through the Catholic realities and experiences that have started to develop this “environmental solidarity” on the praxis.
Pablo Martínez de Anguita, PhD is a professor of forestry and rural development at the Universidad Rey Juan Carlos (King Juan Carlos University) in Madrid, Spain.
1. Tucker, ME, Worldly Wonder: Religions Enter Their Ecological Phase, Open Court, Chicago 2003
2. Martínez de Anguita, P, Environmental Solidarity. How Religions can Sustain Sustainability, Routledge, New York 2012
3. Quoted by Schwarz, W and Schwarz, D, Breaking Through. Green Books, Bedford 1987
4. Giussani, L, Creating tracks in the history of the world. Encounter, Madrid 1999
5. Giussani, L, At the Origin of the Christian Claim. McGill-Queen´s University Press, Montreal 1998
6. Giussani, L, Why the Church? McGill-Queen´s University Press, Montreal 2001