By Fr. Dr. James Ngahy*
At the very dawn of the year, 2020, it is of extreme importance that we start moving with appropriate gear so that we do not fall by the wayside; hence, fail to reach our destination successfully. It is a fact that the question of ecology entails the whole planet, as it is a collective good. In fact, already its etymology, which is “Ökologie” in German, or “oίkoς” in Greek, means ‘house’ (Mother Earth), giving us that sense of commonality and collectivity! Our responsibility towards ecology, therefore, extends to future generations.
Climate change concretised or depicting itself through global warming, cyclones and floods, is not a story in the air; it is a reality that we face, a reality that we encounter today, in our contemporary world. In the book of Genesis, God gave us dominion over creation (cf. Gen. 1:26-28), but we have corrupted it by sin of selfishness and greedy. Instead of dominion, we have turned it into domination.
“We have come to see ourselves as her lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will. The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life” (Laudato Si’, no. 2).
Pollution, deforestation, dismantling of natural sources of water – catchment areas, illegal and uncaring exploitation of natural resources, genetic engineering, human trafficking (which is the third illegal and inhuman global money-making industry after arms industry and drug industry), just to mention but a few, are part and parcel of the causes of ecological crisis.
All this poses serious and urgent call to our life styles today. That our lifestyles should be oriented according to the principles of sobriety, temperance and self-discipline, both at personal and social levels. People need to escape from the consumer mentality and promote methods of production that respect the created order as well as satisfying the basic needs of all. This change of mentality would be helped by a greater awareness of the interdependence between all the inhabitants of the earth.
The encyclical letter of the Holy Father Francis on Care for Our Common Home, “Laudato Si’” remains to be a pathfinder to ecological crisis solution! Indeed, the Church as a whole speaks with loud and clear voice about the nature of man (human being) who is created in the image and likeness of God, and the place of him in the world, which is now being turned into ecological crisis. Surely, Vatican II was the reinsertion of the Church into history and the rediscovery that the kingdom of God (malkuth shamayim) is not alien to the earthly reality.
In practical terms, this means that the ecological crisis is becoming – if not has become – one of the major theological themes of theological anthropology fully aware of its relationship to God. It calls into question directly the relationships among human beings, which is social ecology, and with nature, which is physical ecology. From this point of view the ecological crisis can be seen as an aspect of the groaning of creation.
“We are well aware that the whole creation, until this time, has been groaning in labour pains” (8:22). This groaning is triggered by the sin of egoism of individuals as well as society. The harmony and balance of nature is being dismantled; it is not respected according to God’s order, God’s command.
“This sister now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her” (LS, no. 2).
In the last few decades, especially after the Vatican Council II, the Church as well as individual theologians and philosophers have taken some initiatives to addressing this serious aspect of ecological crisis. For example, Alasdair Maclntyre who has written, ‘After Virtue’, James Lovelock, ‘Gaia’ and Stephen Hawking, ‘A Brief History of Time.’
Their searches or writings on ecological crisis solution have been based on models of development rooted in a relational vision, in a more personalistic and ecological attitude towards the world, towards creation. One comes to realise that there is a return to the truth of the biblical vision of humanity to an understanding of the relational aspect of reality. This relational attitude is a structural characteristic of the Christian vision of reality at all levels. Being is relational.
However, in the Scriptures we do not find definitions of God, human being and the world. And of course, the Bible is not meant for that. It is not a dictionary! But there are series of narratives in which the multiplicity of relationships between God, human being and the world are recounted. A human being is understood as a complex of relationships with God, with his fellow human beings – men and women, and with the world, the creation of which God mandated him to care for.
Nature is always seen in relationship to God and humanity. The life of God Himself is understood as relational life and source of relationships. God as Trinity, a communion of life and love, creates the world as ‘other from Himself’, as a distinct reality with which He is in relationship. In particular, He creates human being as and in His image. This implies that a human being is not an individual, closed in himself or herself, centred on oneself, but a person, as dialogical being, who reaches his fulfilment in relationship with others and with nature.
The relational dimension expressed in the Scriptures – between God and human beings, between God and creation, between human beings and creation, and among human beings themselves – is not limited to the spirit, but it is also revealed in the reality of its physicality. The body is the place of exteriorisation, of communication, of the physical and spiritual manifestation.
The biblical and ecological perspective throws into chaos the theory of division, namely body and soul, mind and spirit, human being and the world, men and women, appraised by some old and modern individualism supporters. This biblical and ecological perspective challenges the rigid boundaries between human being and nature, between “mine” and “yours”; the spirit of “I, Me and Myself”; the absolutisation of private property. The spirit of “I care for myself, and I don’t care for the other, ‘to whom it may concern’!” Source of ecological crisis!
It is exactly the ‘bodiliness’ as immersion in the cosmos, that reveals the common dimension of brother-sisterhood, which binds us to nature. In a way, nature is our common body. This pushes us to rethink on our attitude towards creation, in a sense of the ‘Integrity of Creation.’ It leads us to relate to it (creation) in terms of reciprocity as it stands in terms of sister-brotherhood. Here lies the greatness of the vision of Francis of Assisi, which is taken up by Pope Francis, clearly expressed in “Laudato Si’”.
Since everything is truly connected, an integral ecology must guide humanity’s decisions and life-styles; hence, intercept the ecological crisis that we are facing. We should not forget that, “We ourselves are dust of the earth (cf. Gen. 2:7); our very bodies are made up of her elements, we breathe her air and we receive life and refreshment from her waters” (LS, no. 2). The cyclones (in Mozambique), the drought (in some parts of Zambia and Zimbabwe) and floods due to heavy extraordinary rains which we are experiencing today both in East Africa and some parts of Southern Africa, including Malawi, should be a challenge to us in terms of ‘food for thought’ on ‘Ecological Crisis’ as it is a reality which we encounter today!
*Fr. Dr. Ngahy, Missonaries of Africa, is director of the Centre for Social Concern (CFSC) in Lilongwe