A Brief Update & Some Thoughts About Environmentalism

You may have noticed that I have not posted much the last 2 or weeks. The reason for this is that His Beatitude Metropolitan Jonah asked me to do some pastoral work in Texas. From now until the end of May I’m serving Holy New Martyrs of Russia in Georgetown, TX on Saturday and Sunday. During the week I’ll be helping at St Seraphim Cathedral in Dallas. I am looking forward to both parts of my assignment. Mission work is always a joy. As for St Seraphim’s, this was the first Orthodox church I attended here in America.  Please remember me and the communities I’m serving in your prayers.

On a personal level I’m glad to be back in Texas. I was born in San Antonio and I attended college in Dallas so I have many friends and family in Texas. So all in all, a delightful and welcomed assignment (aside from living away from my wife for 4 months).

Two other projects have been keeping me busy.

First is my preparation of an upcoming Liberty Fund event (Liberty and Responsibility in Modern Environmental Thought) this weekend in Tucson, AZ. Doing the reading for the seminar I was impressed with how overtly religious, albeit not in a theological sense, is the rhetoric of the founding thinkers of the contemporary environmental movement.  While this might seem as if it offers a natural home for Christians and other religious believers, I think this is a false conclusion. Yes, theological religious language can be twisted to ideological ends. But secular religious rhetoric is already ideological.

What especially drew my attention was the distinction drawn in the secular literature is between the natural world and the artificial or man-made world. Humanity, in this model, is somehow NOT a part of nature and is even seen as a threat to the integrity of nature.

The biblical and patristic witness is very different. Here while there is a like distinction between nature and humanity this relationship is situated within the larger relationship of that which is between the Creator and the creation. Or in patristic language, between the Uncreated and the created.

Seen in this context, humanity and non-human creation share a common origin and goal: the Most Holy Trinity. This means that neither the human community nor the non-human creation are themselves the source of their own being or meaning; again these are both found in God and so come from outside and as a gift.

Further, and this is what often seems to infuriate secular (and even Christian) environmentalists, the human and non-human realms are related to each other hierarchically.  In this relationship God calls all humanity to serve as both the stewards and masters of creation. Included in this is the vocation of each human person to be a wise steward of his or her own life through ascetical self-mastery.

At the center of our relationship of the person’s relationship with God, his neighbor, the natural world and self, is ascetical struggle. Our relationships with the world of self and others (Divine, human and non-human) is foundationally a moral relationship whose divinely authored meaning is gift to be received in gratitude.

Secular environmentalism and its unwitting Christian collaborators reject out of hand humanity’s call to fill the earth and subdue it through the twin creative works of procreation and labor. For those who embrace an ideological understanding of environmentalism procreation and humanity’s use of the created order (i.e., human labor) is precisely the problem. To be fair we have not always used the myriad good things of creation—including our own liberty—wisely. Why we will be any wiser in our use of creation by abandoning the Christian tradition and embracing secular environmentalism is not something I’ve ever understood. Maybe I just need to read more but secular environmentalism seems to me to be utopian.

My second project has been a forthcoming article on Charles Murray’s new book, Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010 that will appear shortly for the Acton Institute. I’ll post the article here after it appears on Acton’s site.

For now though, I would like to welcome you back and say I am looking forward to continuing our conversation here and at Acton and AOI and one or two other blogs where I will be posting essays in the near future.

As a quick aside, I now and then get email suggesting that I shouldn’t write for conservative think tanks or blogs. I don’t. I write for those groups that will publish—and typically pay—for what I write. My interest is exploring the relationship between the Christian life and the social and human sciences.  I am happy to write for anyone who is willing to give me the opportunity to do so.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

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  • Frmichaeldemko

    Fr. Gregory,
    God Bless you in your work.

    fr. Michael Demko

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  • http://avowofconversation.wordpress.com/ Macrina Walker

    Father Gregory,

    As one of those people who has expressed concerns about the blogs that you write for, I would point out that my objection – actually it is more than an objection, it is that I am genuinely scandalized when I see Orthodox clergy associated with such things – is not simply that they are right wing, but it has more to do with the vitriolic spirit in which they are written, the lack of Christian charity, and the disrespect shown to the bishops of the Church. I fail to understand how something like the AOI blog (which I try not to read but every now and then there is a link which I click against my better judgement) can be justified as Orthodox or receive support from Orthodox clergy.

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