II: Towards Christian Theological Solutions to the Global Ecological Crisis

Contemporary Christian Theologies of Nature and Climate Change: Roman Catholic, Celtic, Orthodox, Indigenous, and Mainline

Invoking again an iceberg analogy, the submerged cultural inertia of our life-world’s tacit theology is more powerful than we readily acknowledge, precisely because we don’t even know it is there. But there are some strikingly unusual features of the visible bit of the Christian theology iceberg under the conditions of modern liberal secularism.

Firstly, in many areas of the Christian world, theologies of nature have changed dramatically since early modernity, and particularly over the past 50 years. But secondly, in virtue of Christian theology itself now residing within the hermetically sealed personal freedom realm of religion, the visible bit of Christian theology has an astonishing /«visibility in the public gaze of Western modernity. The religious nature of theology itself now means that Christian theology seems powerless to speak to any errors within our culture’s theology.1 This is a tragic shame because what is most striking about many trajectories in contemporary Christian theologies of nature is how strongly opposed they are to PDT.

Let us start with Pope Francis’ 2015 Encyclical Laudato Si'.

A Contemporary Roman Catholic Theology of Nature - Laudato Si'

of Nature - Laudato Si’

Pope Francis starts his encyclical about our common home quoting Francis of Assisi. The Canticle of the Creatures opens with

Praise to you, my Lord, through our Sister, Mother Earth, who sustain and governs us.2

Most deliberately, Pope Francis starts from a stance that is an inversion of the power and use focused outlook of PDT. In this canticle we are related to and dependent on the earth, and our relationship with her is one of love and submission, not of controlling voluntarist use.

The theology of nature outlined here is, from the very start, antivoluntarist,3 anti-pragmatist,4 upholds essential meaning,5 and it is situated in a cosmology that is overshadowed by transcendence.6 The Pope’s stance denounces an “irrational confidence in progress”7 and boldly owns the fact that “it is human causes that produce and aggravate climate change”.8 The Pope also recognises that it is the poor and vulnerable who suffer most directly from the environmental degradation produced by climate change and the rising global scarcity of basic resources such as clean drinking water.9 Climate change is not simply an ecological problem; it is an international moral problem of the first order. A plunder logic drives our economic, commercial, and production norms, and this the Pope finds to be incompatible with a Christian creation theology where all creatures are intrinsically valuable in themselves.10

At a basic cultural level (Theology A), the Pope finds that we lack what is needed to confront the crisis we have produced.11 At a Theology B level, we have lost an awareness that hubris, sin, and merely dominating power are always problems within fallen human nature that must be firmly resisted. Without recognising sin and without acknowledging our moral failure, we and the earth itself become subjected to a destructive “tyrannical anthropocentrism”12 which arises out of a distorted conception of dominion,13 and which is ultimately a function of idolatry.14

The above is a highly distilled summary of the first two chapters of Laudato Si’. I could go on with a similar summary of the remaining four chapters, but the above is adequate. What this encyclical makes abundantly clear is that the Pope—the highest teaching authority for

1.3 billion Roman Catholics worldwide—completely rejects the idea that modern PDT is theologically valid for a Christian. The reasons for his rejection of this stance are not spelt out in much depth in Laudato Si’, as the focus of the encyclical is practical and moral. This encyclical is part of the social teaching of the Catholic Church so it is not written for the academic specialist but for the practising Christian, and for all people with a deeply concerned interest in the need to nurture and protect our common home.

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