Part 21:  April 2016

Why Green Our Faith:  Guiding Spiritual Principles For Integral Ecology

In this time of grave ecological crisis, a global cry is rising up shouting, “What must we do to protect and cherish the integrity of the planet?”  Pope Francis, in Laudato Si, is offering one way forward by challenging us to envision integral ecology which holds social justice and ecological justice together as one. This is at the heart of the encyclical’s message.   How will the human family live into integral ecology. It is critical that faith communities actively participate in the dialogue. What is needed are sound guiding principles that will allow us to see more clearly how our Christian faith and integral ecology are interconnected. The emerging field of ecological ethics is striving to do this.

Many principles are being developed to help us as “believers (to) better recognize the ecological commitments which stem from our convictions”. (LS 64).  Following are a few which exemplify the wide range of contexts needing consideration:

Evolutionary Context:  All creation has emerged from an evolutionary process. Humans are not separate beings; rather, we are an integral part of the web of life.

Ecological Context: Humans have a responsibility to care for and protect the existence of and the biodiversity of all life systems now and into the future.

Social Context: Economic activities and institutions must promote human development in an equitable and sustainable manner. Gender equality must be affirmed as a prerequisite to sustainable development.

Spirituality Context: All is sacred. All creation has intrinsic value and dignity within their relationships of inter-relatedness which must be respected, apart from their usefulness.

Sustainability Context:

Every aspect of creation also has an instrumental value. Everything is needed by another to sustain its existence. A self-sufficient community will only use what is required to sustain healthy and balanced eco-systems.

One principle not often referred to is that of Beauty.  Jame Schaffer gives us a profound reflection: “Beauty is constitutive of who we are and manifests as intrinsic generosity expanding our experience of inter-dependence and inter-relatedness with all life.” 1

For the full flourishing of the planet it is imperative that we choose to integrate these principles into our beliefs, lifestyles and actions.  A Covenant Model of Global Ethics 2 offers a ray of hope particularly recalling the covenant with Noah made between humans and all living beings. Covenant means to come together by making a promise. For Integral Ecology there is the promise to protect the common good.  However, we know that we are promise- makers and promise breakers. In humility we acknowledge where we have alienated ourselves from the web of life. In hope we rise up again and again to build a new covenant with Earth, with God’s grace and the good will of all peoples. The Paris Summit is the gleaning of such a covenant as countries search together for a global vision to mitigate the impact of climate change.

Encouraging us, Francis offers another principle:“Caring for eco-systems demands farsightedness.” (LS 36). Yet deeper still is Love for earth and the human family which springs forth from our indwelling and sustaining relationship with the Divine.

1 Jame Schaefer, “Valuing Earth Intrinsically and Instrumentally: A Theological  Framework for Environmental Ethics”, Theological Studies, 66 (2005): 783-814.

2 J. Ronald Engel, “A Covenant Model of Global Ethics”, Worldviews 8, 1 (2004), 29-46