If you’re a Christian, what do you suppose is the most pressing problem in the world today? The rapid fading of Christianity in the West? The dramatic increase in, and official approval of, sexual licentiousness and perversity? The wholesale slaughter of the unborn? The martyrdom and suffering of Christians in the Mid-East? That it seems likely many souls are being lost to Hell?
Or that there is a slight chance that because of mankind the global average temperature will increase by a few tenths of a degree or so, a change which will materially benefit some and perhaps faintly increase the financial burden of others?
Or maybe the chief concern is that there are no more trilobites, a kind of armored aquatic cockroach, and that Tyrannosaurus Rex, Archaeopteryx, Saber-toothed tiger and a great host of other animals which have gone extinct cannot therefore creep and crawl across the earth and “give glory to God”?
Pope Francis, God bless him, says the possibility of man-caused global warming, the disappearance of species, and, yes, the use of plastic and paper are among the most crucial matters facing the Church.
The Pope recently said it was a “sin” to “destroy the biological diversity of God’s creation,” and this might be so. But since well above ninety-nine-percent of all species that have ever lived have gone extinct, mercilessly destroyed by natural processes, it’s not clear that mankind has any special culpability.
Yet Francis said, “Because of us, thousands of species will no longer give glory to God by their very existence, nor convey their message to us.” Thousands? Millions (like the dinosaurs) are no longer giving glory to God. Should we weep for them? Predictions of species extinction are prone to preposterous exaggeration. At worst, man can be said to have contributed to the extinction of a few species, like the Passenger Pigeon, but we have also given support to others: there is no danger of lettuce, cows, and chickens going extinct. Don’t laugh: this is a serious theological point. Why?
We need to make some distinctions here, since it is impossible—not unlikely, impossible—for man not to influence his environment. People must eat, and our food is plants and animals, and plants and animals must be grown. To live, we must change the environment—all of it. Since everything on the earth is connected to everything else, for man to live means his effects will touch the land, waters, climate and every living thing. The question then becomes: what are the limits of our influences?
God loves people. God said to Adam and Eve, “Be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it.” Filling the earth with people necessarily means people will and must change the earth for the benefit of people and not the benefit of “creation.” Yet many see the non-human creation as the equal, if not the superior, of man, and this accounts for these folks’ dislike of people and their efforts to curtail mankind’s number.
The Pope said, “To commit a crime against the natural world is a sin against ourselves and a sin against God.” Filling the earth is not license to abuse it. One can certainly mistreat creation, and some do. Would that people abandon their materialist lives and philosophies, lead more peaceful existences, and turn their faces to God!
Lamenting this materialism, Francis said, “We have turned [the earth] into a polluted wasteland of debris, desolation and filth”. Sadly, this is hyperbole; worse, with local exceptions, it is false. Indeed, the world is better off for mankind now (materially, not spiritually) than it has ever been because of man’s efforts. The earth is greener: crop output is up amazingly. Fewer people go hungry. Storms are down in number and intensity. Inclement weather is not nearly as destructive as it once was.
All the horrors that await us under global warming are mere projections, and, so far, empty threats. Unfortunately for scientists, reality has not cooperated with their doom-laden predictions, which is ample reason to ignore their forecasts until they can produce skillful ones.
Yet for our alleged “sins” against creation, the Pope has asked Christians to undergo an “ecological conversion.” Instead of admonishing us “to work out your salvation with fear and trembling,” he demands we separate our refuse, plant trees, and car-pool.
We have to ask: will “avoiding the use of plastic and paper” really lead more souls to Heaven? Or will inculcating an ardent environmentalism cause even greater misunderstandings of man’s true relation to creation and to God?