Genesis 2:15 The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.
Twisted his words? It was a direct quote. Do you dispute the validity of the quote?
Why do you think that Catholics should regard the environment as something to be exploited and destroyed? This is the church of St. Francis of Assisi, who loved all things that God's hands made and had a profound and humble respect for nature. He is one of my favorite saints. I have here on my desk a small illustration of him in nature. I have a statuette of him in my garden.
If there is nothing sacred, if there is no higher meaning or purpose, then what is life and matter and the environment? His words at last month's general audience that you quoted are a continuation of what he wrote in the encyclical earlier this year.
In his recent encyclical, Caritas in Veritate, Pope Benedict dedicates five paragraphs to how a proper understanding of and care for the environment is essential for the integral development of the human person and human society.
Since being elected, Pope Benedict has spoken out so often and so forcefully about environmental concerns that many secular journalists have dubbed him "the green pope." Nowhere has he given as authoritative, extensive and compelling a treatment of authentic Catholic environmentalism than in this encyclical. In it he presents a far deeper foundation for the protection of the environment than one will find on the websites of Greenpeace and the Sierra Club or in the musings of Al Gore. He also exposes the anthropological causes of the environmental destruction of modern times and describes how they can be remedied. Finally, he inspires Catholics to assume their responsibility to guide the environmental movement to promote both the protection and promotion of nature and the safeguarding and advancement of the human person.
His discussion is an important primer for every Catholic. We can break the teaching down into ten points.
First, "the environment is God's gift." The Pope says that "in nature, the believer recognizes the wonderful result of God's creative activity, which we may use responsibly to satisfy our legitimate needs, material or otherwise, while respecting the intrinsic balance of creation. If this vision is lost, we end up either considering nature an untouchable taboo or, on the contrary, abusing it. Neither attitude is consonant with the Christian vision of nature as the fruit of God's creation." When we lose the connection between creation and its Creator, we risking ending up either with a pantheism or a wasteful consumerism, both of which are contrary to the truth and dignity of nature.
Second, environmental responsibility flows from remembering the bond between God and nature. Benedict notes that the modern atheism that has tried to turn the theory of evolution into an argument against God's existence has actually led to the environmental abuses. "When nature, including the human being, is viewed as the result of mere chance or evolutionary determinism," he argues, "our sense of responsibility wanes." If nature is just matter, then it does not matter in the final analysis what you do with it. Only if nature has a built-in purpose is it possible to speak about violating that purpose. "Nature is at our disposal," he stresses, "not as 'a heap of scattered refuse,' but as a gift of the Creator who has given it an inbuilt order, enabling man to draw from it the principles needed in order 'to till it and keep it' (Gen 2:15)." The desire for "total technical domination over nature," viewing it merely as "raw material to be manipulated at our pleasure," flows from modern atheism, which sees in nature "merely a collection of contingent data."
Third, "the environment is God's gift to everyone." The environment is not something that can morally be selfishly exploited by individuals or nations to the detriment of others in the present or future. "In our use of it," the Pope says, "we have a responsibility towards the poor, towards future generations and towards humanity as a whole." He therefore calls for "solidarity and inter-generational justice" in the proper use of nature. "The fate of those countries [deficient in natural resources] cannot be left in the hands of whoever is first to claim the spoils, or whoever is able to prevail over the rest. Here we are dealing with major issues; if they are to be faced adequately, then everyone must responsibly recognize the impact they will have on future generation."
Fourth, because the environment is God's gift to every man and woman, "it is contrary to authentic development to view nature as something more important than the human person." This is a healthy corrective to those who have given the green movement a bad name by caring more about the proliferation of spotted owls and humpback whales than the flourishing of human beings.
Fifth, nature has a built-in "grammar" that "sets forth ends and criteria for its wise use." This is a new way of articulating the ancient truth that nature reveals a natural law that needs to be respected.
Sixth, all persons and nations are called to exercise a "responsible stewardship over nature." The term "stewardship" is used in contrast to "ownership," and implies the vocation to be "good stewards" in developing and passing on the gift with which we have been entrusted. The Pope specifically refers to our duties toward subsequent generations: "We must recognize our grave duty to hand the earth on to future generations in such a condition that they too can worthily inhabit it and continue to cultivate it."
Seventh, Benedict states, in the deepest theological point of his treatment of the environment, that the relationship between man and the environment is one of a "covenant," which, he says, "should mirror the creative love of God." The word "covenant" is often used in contrast to a "contract," the latter of which can be mutually exploitative. Covenant implies that there is a sacred bond linking the two. In predicating that the bond should reflect God's creative love, the Pope seems to be saying, first, that creation should be loved as the handiwork of God himself and second, insofar as nature is God's gift to man, it should become a treasured pathway to reciprocate the love of God, going from gift to the Giver.
Eighth, "human ecology" and "environmental ecology" are intrinsically related. 'The way humanity treats the environment," Pope Benedict says, "influences the way it treats itself and vice versa." If our personal or national moral approach to others is based on "the quest for truth, beauty, goodness and communion with others for the sake of common growth," then those values will affect our environmental policy. If our individual or political behavior, however, is grounded on hedonism and consumerism, then we will be exploitative of the environment and of others through the environment. "Every violation of solidarity and civic friendship harms the environment," the Pope says, "just as environmental deterioration in turn upsets relations in society." He illustrates the point by giving the example of war. Often wars are caused by selfish hoarding of natural resources, like water and lucrative minerals, and wars in turn give rise to vast destruction of natural resources. That is why his upcoming 2010 Message for Peace will be dedicated to the theme, "If you want peace, take care of creation."
Ninth, the decisive element in the protection of nature is not economic incentives or deterrents, educational campaigns, windmills or solar panels, but the "overall moral tenor of society." The great litmus test for that moral tenor is how we treat the most vulnerable: "If there is a lack of respect for the right to life and to a natural death, if human conception, gestation and birth are made artificial, if human embryos are sacrificed to research, the conscience of society ends up losing the concept of human ecology and, along with it, that of environmental ecology. It is contradictory to insist that future generations respect the natural environment when our educational systems and laws do not help them to respect themselves… Herein lies a grave contradiction in our mentality and practice today: one which demeans the person, disrupts the environment and damages society." This is a strong response to those environmentalists who say, erroneously, that the cause of environmental destruction is overpopulation.
Finally, the Church has a responsibility toward creation and "she must assert this responsibility in the public sphere." Pope Benedict says that the Church "must defend not only earth, water and air as gifts of creation that belong to everyone. She must above all protect mankind from self-destruction." This is a task, obviously, that to be fulfilled requires far more than the Pope's efforts. It requires the dedicated work of every Catholic, to create that "overall moral tenor of society" which respects the covenant not only with nature, but with other human beings and especially with the God who has made us stewards of the gift of the environment