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Priest discusses Catholics and the environment

Liz Harter | Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Even though it may be perceived to be the opposite, Catholic’s have a responsibility to respect and be stewards of the environment, Father John Pearson said during a Conversation on Catholicism event at Saint Mary’s Tuesday.

“It is a common statement that Christians are the enemy of the environment,” Pearson said.

In some ways that is true, he said, but Christians should not be singled out because they were as unconcerned with the environment as everyone else was in the past.

“It’s a recent phenomenon, a burgeoning movement of environmentalism,” Pearson said. “Christians made up the majority of people in Europe so they get a lot of the blame [for things that occurred in the past]. But that statement stretches things a lot.”

Pearson said people who say Christians are not friends of the environment oftentimes claim that the book of Genesis and the Creation story found within teaches Christians to dominate society because it states “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.”

This passage, though, has been further interpreted to mean that humans are called to “cultivate and care” for the Earth, Pearson said.

Pearson laid out six different thought processes that people may have to explain why they consider themselves and environmentalist. He said the list he was presenting was not exhaustive, but it contained the reasons he could think of to be an environmentalist off the top of his head and expressed them in simplified way.

The first idea on his list was that “a nematode, a mosquito or a rat has as much of a right to live as a Saint Mary’s student.” He said people with this attitude have the idea that all things are equal and all have the same right.

The second attitude he presented was that humans “are on a spaceship called Earth with no help in sight.”

Pearson said people with this attitude think that the Earth is a limited, closed system and if humans mess up that system they cannot fix it so environmentalism is a type of self-defense.

The third viewpoint he brought up is that humans “owe it to [their] children, but maybe [they] shouldn’t have children.”

People who subscribe to this thought process believe that they owe it to the next generation to be environmentally friendly but if the Earth is so destroyed right now maybe humans shouldn’t have children, he said.

The fourth was that the Earth is a destroyed vessel and humans need to respect the Earth or they won’t be able to live.

Along the same lines as the fourth, Pearson said the fifth thought process that people have towards environmentalism is that the “Earth is on loan and we have no right to mess it up.”

The sixth and final viewpoint that Pearson presented in his conversation was the thought that “how do you know that the species you drive to extinction doesn’t contain the cure for cancer or another big disease.”

He said that Catholicism and Christianity would most identify with his third idea that human beings owe it to their children to be environmentally friendly, though they would get rid of the second half saying they shouldn’t have children.

“We have the right to use the Earth within reason for our survival but we have to cherish it,” he said.

The stance of the Catholic Church is that humans live on an Earth provided by the Lord for our sustenance, he said.

“We have a duty to be concerned that whatever is done on Earth is done with a sense of duty, responsibility and stewardship,” Pearson said. “We have to cherish it for the sake of those who live on the Earth both now and in the future.”

Pearson provided the fact that the Vatican recently installed solar panels on the roof of the Paul VI Audience Hall, which generate enough electricity to provide all the heating, cooling and lighting needs of the building throughout the year as an example of the Catholic Churches dedication to environmentalism.

“It seems to me that the church is equally passionate [about environmentalism] in it’s own way in that all things relate to one another in a way that creates this thing that we are on this planet,” he said. “It’s all a very good sign of where the future lies.”