Nature v. environment

Pope Francis’s Laudato Si teaching letter on “care for our common home” has evaporated from the news at this point, but within Catholic communities it’s still being chewed on and will be for many years to come. R.R. Reno offers his perspective:

Francis describes the root of our [environmental] problem as a failure to affirm God as Creator. Because we do not orient our freedom toward acknowledging God, the Father, we’re drawn into the technological project. We seek to subdue and master the world so that it can serve our needs and desires, thus treating “other living beings as mere objects subjected to arbitrary human domination.” By contrast, if we acknowledge God as Creator, we can receive creation as a gift and see that “the ultimate purpose of other creatures is not found in us.”

In short, without a theocentric orientation, we adopt the anthropocentric presumption that we are at the center of reality. This tempts us to treat nature—and other human beings—as raw material to do with as we wish. For Francis, “a spirituality which forgets God as all-powerful and Creator is not acceptable.”

A related thing I’ve been thinking about for a few years is that, even if we succeed in conserving the environment and transforming the technology that degrades it, we won’t necessarily succeed in conserving nature. Nature and environment are different; the former being wild and untouched, perhaps unknown, and the latter being tamed, manicured, and enhanced for our purposes.

Yet without us, nature wouldn’t have observers capable of consciously recognizing the gift that it is. The lesson seems to be that everything we encounter is changed because of the encounter.

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