EIGHTY years ago British historian R.H.Tawney wrote Religion and the Rise of Capitalism. As he saw it, ‘Too often despising the external order (the environment) as unspiritual, the Puritans made it – and ultimately themselves – less spiritual by reason of their contempt.’
Today’s ‘neo-Puritans’ typically despise the human species, but idolise the environment! As Richard North remarked, ‘Having fallen out of love with God, we are falling in love with the environment. It makes for a pretty deficient religion. But as an object of worship, Nature takes some beating’ (The Coming of the Greens, 1988, p.252).
In The Greening of the Church (1990) Irish Columban Fr Sean McDonagh quoted Cardinal Ratzinger as expressing the view that the Green’s ‘synthesis’ has an ‘anti-humanist element’ (p.191).
Indeed, in 1967 one renowned leader of the movement, American historian Lynn White, ostensibly traced ‘the historical roots of our ecological crisis’ to Jews and Christians who have regarded our species – homo sapiens – as the crown and reflective centre of the evolving universe. Thereupon, such influential Catholics as Passionist Fr Thomas Berry and former Dominican Matthew Fox went ‘belly up’ (so to speak) and became paranoid in their abhorrence of any hierarchical and anthropocentric world view.
But, the problem is not anthropocentrism as such, but an anthropocentrism too narrowly conceived. We need to distinguish between anthropo-centrism and anthropo-solipsism – between regarding man (male and female) as the most or as the only important species.
In fact, whether we like it or not, in the whole universe as thus far known there are no other forms of matter to match our genes and the brains that stem therefrom in molecular complexity and reflective competence. By way of our brains (if we choose to use them) we are collectively able to gain reflective in-sight and super-vision into the depths and heights of everything, discovering the inner form or information
of all things seen and unseen.
In his first encyclical Redemptor Hominis (1979), Pope John Paul II proclaimed that the Redeemer of man (m/f) – Jesus Christ – is also the on-going centre of the universe and of history, which extends from the beginning to the end of time, culminating in what is destined to be the perfect man in the collective sense (Eph.4:13).
So, without shame or apology, the Church’s mission is centred on MAN. But as the Holy Father said in 1980, ‘The more it is anthropocentric, the more it must be theo-centric or directed through Jesus Christ to the Father’ (Dives in Misericordia). Certainly, both in the past and still, the various currents of human thought have tended to separate theocentrism and anthropocentrism and even to set them in opposition.
But the Church – following Christ – seeks to link them up in a deep and organic way. And this, he said, was perhaps the most important teaching of the Second Vatican Council.
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