The green revolution has a not-so-new player.
"The Vatican is going green ... and Al Gore is not leading the charge this time" were the headlines at a recent conference in the U.S. about the church's increased engagement and interest in environmental questions. It's an interest being championed by the Pope himself.
In his New Year's Day message, Pope Benedict wrote: "The destruction of the environment, its improper or selfish use, and the violent hoarding of the Earth's resources ... are the consequences of an inhumane concept of development.
"In meeting the challenges of environmental protection and sustainable development, we are called to promote and safeguard the moral conditions for an authentic 'human ecology.' "
The Pope highlighted three key challenges in a recent message to the Pontifical Academy for Social Sciences:
* The environment and sustainable development
* Respect for the rights and dignity of persons
* The danger of losing spiritual values in a technical world
Addressing the first challenge, Benedict said: "The international community recognizes that the world's resources are limited and that it is the duty of all peoples to implement policies to protect the environment in order to prevent the destruction of that natural capital whose fruits are necessary for the well-being of humanity.
"To meet this challenge, what is required is an interdisciplinary approach... Also needed is a capacity to assess and forecast, to monitor the dynamics of environmental change and sustainable growth, and to draw up and apply solutions at an international level.
"Particular attention must be paid to the fact that the poorest countries are likely to pay the heaviest price for ecological deterioration."
"Creation care," "Earth stewardship" or "green spirituality" -- this new religious environmentalism is based on the theological view that God expects humankind to care for the world, not abuse it.
There are two ways of speaking of ecology and respect for creation: One starting from human beings and the other starting from God. It is an environmentalism that can be summarized in the motto: "Let's save nature and nature will save us."
Although this environmentalism may be good, it is also dangerous. Spiritual environmentalism teaches us to go beyond pure "protection" and "respect" of creation; it teaches us to unite ourselves to creation in proclaiming the glory of God.
Care of the environment is an important consideration for all of the world's inhabitants, but where does it rank in our consideration of moral obligations? What role does it play in our moral consciousness?
A small percentage of Catholics rate conservationism and environmentalism very high on their list of moral responsibilities; they consider it to be on an equal level with protecting the unborn. Some think it means not running the water longer than necessary during a drought, and turning off lights rather than leaving them on. Some people are concerned that what is emerging is not an increasing understanding that creation is imperilled but rather a cover for pagan earth worship!
Archbishop Celestino Migliore, the Vatican's permanent observer at the United Nations in New York City recently addressed participants gathered in Columbus, Oh., for one of a series of Catholic conversations on climate change.
"The degradation of the environment has become an inescapable reality," he said.
Since God gives us only things that are for our good, the gift of nature both as a whole and in its individual parts should not be taken for granted. In all of our efforts to be "green," ecologically sensitive and respectful, let us be sure that we are advocating a strongly faith-motivated Christian environmentalism for those who find it hard to like the stereotypical environmentalist!