Something is in the air. Or is it in the water? A sense of ecological crisis looms over our planet. Interest in the environment is spreading. In Washington, Congress has been at odds with the White House over how to make the next clean air legislation tougher. And, lo and behold, officials in Los Angeles have gotten so serious about air quality they have proposed a plan for cutting down pollution that could make carpooling mandatory.
[This article is part of a reading list on Catholicism and the environment.]
When the leaders of the seven industrialized nations met in Paris in the summer of 1989, their final communiqué gave evidence of just how "mainstream" environmentalism has become. That the president of the United States supports such ecological high-mindedness should come as no surprise. Recall the last presidential campaign when Messrs. Bush and Dukakis skirmished over who deserved to be called the environmental candidate.
For many, of course the environment has never not been an issue. Fetid garbage dumps, closed beaches, air you can see as well as breathe, the extinction of whole species—the causes for concern have long been with us. More recently interest has arisen in developing a religious response to the ecological crisis. Some have found the resources for such a theology and spirituality in Eastern thought and practice. Others, like Joseph Sittler and Ian Barbour, seek out elements of the Christian tradition for the development of a "creation-centered" perspective.
At the same time a number of critics (Arnold Toynbee, Lynn White) have argued that the Christian tradition is suspect on the matter of the environment. They argue that Judaism and Christianity have fed an anthropocentrism which, intentionally or not, demeans the rest of creation as it exalts those who are a "little less than the angels" (Psalm 8:5). Certainly Hebraic monotheism declared that all others but Yahweh were "no-gods." Included among those thus denied divine status were the deities of Greek and Roman mythology who protected streams, mountains, and forests. It is possible to see in this demythologizing a loss of reverence for nature. Christianity's contribution to the problem—its celebration of the Incarnation—has promoted the centrality of humanity in the plan of creation and redemption and accorded secondary status to the rest of creation.
With a bit of poetic license and some ingenuity a few individuals (Thomas Berry, Matthew Fox) have sought to re-present the tradition and demonstrate a more sensible Christian attitude toward the created order. Some of this work has borne fruit, awakening among believers an interest in the environment and providing a degree of religious seriousness for addressing an issue that is more important and complex than the faddishness and trivialization which mass media politics inevitably encourages.
Despite these efforts, it is lamentable but true that the question still can fairly be asked, "What does Christianity have to say to the contemporary ecological movement?" That it has something to say is important to assert, but what it has to say is not primarily advice on public policy or clear moral judgments for settling disputes about economic growth versus ecological protection. In this regard, the Christian tradition is, in the words of Richard McCormick, "more a value raiser than a problem solver."
The values that Christianity points to in the cluster of issues raised by the environmental crisis is humankind's essential relatedness to nature, an understanding of the created order that is precisely what is at stake here. Too often the discussion over the ecosystem turns on arguments from self-interest, even if enlightened self-interest, a stance that we believe is fundamentally flawed.
Treating the environmental issue as primarily a calculation of long-term versus short-term interests maintains an attitude of instrumental rationality that is essentially part of the problem. The Jewish and Christian understanding of creation, at least in one of its strands, is profoundly insightful and potentially transformative of modem ways of addressing the crisis of creation.
The needed transformation lies at the level of our deep convictions, our world view. The relational dimension of the Jewish-Christian heritage must replace the atomized individualism of our current outlook. The mentality of consumerism, the myth of progress, and our technological mind-set are all problematic in regard to the environment; they are also symptomatic. Each is the distortion of a human good, a distortion rising from the nonrelational anthropology of our age. If our environmental sensitivity is to change, the transformation must take place at the root of the problem. But that transformation is more convoluted than might first appear.
The human abuse of nonhuman nature has spurred a harsh reaction by defenders of the environment, who exhibit a brand of ecological activism, and environmental romanticism, that borders on the antihuman. Nature is idealized. The achievements of human civilization are disparaged. The environmental romantic, however, mirrors the fundamental outlook of the technocrats. Both see humanity at odds with nature. In one case this leads to calls for more effective ways of manipulating, subduing, and dominating nature. In the other, there is opposition to technology, economic growth, and development efforts. In both cases humanity is set in opposition to the rest of creation. Either alternative is unacceptable from a relational world view. To separate nature from human culture is environmental romanticism. To consider human culture apart from the nonhuman is to invite the impoverishment of the first and the devastation of the second.
The Jewish and Christian traditions put before us a world view in which humanity is not against nature but a part of it. Neither element is rightly viewed in isolation. The exploration of this relational anthropology is the basic contribution theologians can make to the environmental movement. We can examine the traditions to see which developments have been distortions, which trajectories misguided, which insights forgotten. The constructive task is to illustrate how the resources of the Jewish and Christian heritage can be used in promoting ecological wisdom.
Lessons of Genesis
Like every myth of origin, the two Genesis stories of the beginning of all things (Genesis I:1-2:4a and 2:4b-25) have been used to explain and justify the ways human beings relate to one another and to the nonhuman world. As narratives of how things came to be and depictions of how things were and presumably ought to be, these creation stories have been elaborated into cosmologies and theories of the soul and twisted into ideological support for male-dominance and industrial exploitation.
The first of the two stories has been the basis of both the overlordship and stewardship images for the role of humanity in the natural world. "Let us make the human being in our image and likeness .... God blessed them, saying to them, 'Be fertile and increase; fill the whole earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and all the living things that move on the earth'" (Gen. 1:26 and 28). Part of the human being's likeness to God is the exercise of dominion over the rest of creation. The twin images of being given dominion and being commanded to subdue the earth and all the creatures which fill it are closely connected with sovereignty. God's sovereignty is asserted often in the Hebrew Scriptures. Here the image and likeness of God, the human being, is entrusted with sovereignty. From the perspective of the first creation myth in Genesis, without such dominion and power over the rest of creation, the human being would not be "like God."
But there is a contrasting theme in this story. "And so God created the human being in God's image; in the divine image did God create the human being, male and female did he create them" (Gen. 1:27). How is it that being created in the image of God results in the differentiation of male and female? Clearly the myth does not wish to attribute gender to God, much less dual bisexuality. The point is not that God is male or female or male and female, but that God is relational. The only God that the Hebrew tradition knows is the God who is about the business of creating; that is, the Hebrew Scriptures contain nothing about God in se, God considered apart from the creating God. Even in one of its creation myths, the Hebrew tradition envisions God as the God of the covenant, God in relationship. To be the image of this God, the human being must be relational. Humanity is sexed in order that human beings may be driven into relationship one with another.
This is a central theme of the second of Genesis's creation myths (2:4b-25). The dominion motive is depicted in the first human being naming all the animals that God has made and led before him "to see what he would call them" (Gen. 2:19). All other creatures will be what the human being says they are—certainly an extraordinary statement of the power over creation given by God to humanity. But the context of this conferral is the human hunger for companionship. In the first of the creation myths, the first divine judgment on humanity is that it is "very good" (Gen. 1:31). That judgment is made on humanity differentiated into male and female, relational being. The first judgment of God regarding human beings in the second myth makes this even more explicit. Having fashioned the human being from the clods of the earth and breathed the divine breath into him, God announces that "it is not good for the human being to be alone" (Gen. 2:18). Again there is the insistence that human beings are meant to be in relationship to one another. Thus, in this second creation story, companionship is the explicit ground given for the creation of the two sexes. But it is important to note not only human beings are intended for relationship to one another. This is also the reason for the creation of "the various wild beasts and birds of the air" (Gen. 2:19). The natural world is not merely intended for subjugation by human beings but for companionship.
Dominion over the earth and all that it contains, the command "to fill the whole earth and subdue it"—certainly this conveys power. Such a claim to power by human beings over all nonhuman creation contains the possibility, all too often realized, of domination and exploitation of the earth. Clearly the claim to power must be balanced by the call to responsibility, the traditional appeal to stewardship. The relationship between humanity and the rest of creation has often been cast in the Jewish and Christian traditions as that of a caretaker, one charged by God with the maintenance of the earth. The nonhuman world has been given to human beings for our good, to be used responsibly for our self-development, to answer to our purposes and thus to fulfill God's purpose in creating it. To be sure, this stewardship image prohibited wanton wastefulness, the mere exploitation of nature by humankind. The world is presented as a garden given into our care to be tended and nurtured. But undeniably the role of stewardship carries the implication that nonhuman creation is to be used.
The theme of companionship, the relationship which exists not only between human persons but between humans and nonhumans, has been largely submerged in the stewardship theme. We need to recover it. Companionship implies mutuality. It excludes the reduction of either side of the relationship to a tool of the other's purposes. Martin Buber, so deeply rooted in the biblical tradition, explored the meaning of companionship under the rubric "I-Thou." The contrasting possibility is "I-It." The reduction of "thou" to "it" results from making the other into an extension of oneself. The other becomes mine—my husband, my wife, my parent, my friend, my student, my boss. "It" can be manipulated in order to fulfill the task which I set, for "it" belongs to me. "It" has no intrinsic value, only the instrumental value that I assign it. The other as "thou" cannot be possessed, can never become my "thou." When recognized and respected as "thou," the other is seen to be of inherent value, to be an end and not a means to an end.
As a human being can be reduced to an "it," so a nonhuman being can become "thou," in Buber's terms. "It" can be a possession but not a companion. "Thou" is always a companion. But in what sense, other than the mythology of the second creation story in Genesis, can one speak of the nonhuman world as companion to human beings? At a time of global ecological crisis, we certainly do not need a revival of the nineteenth-century Romantic poets' personification of Nature. Indeed, such personification is the very reverse of what Buber meant by treating the nonhuman world as "thou," for instead of allowing the other to be what the other is, personification insists that the other must be what I am if I am to enter into any relationship with it. Such personification is another, more subtle way of reducing the nonhuman other to "it."
Augustine & Francis
The Catholic tradition offers two important symbols that deserve to be explored as ways of re-appropriating the biblical theme of companionship in creation: poverty and sacramentality.
In Book 9 of his Confessions, Augustine recounts an incident that took place shortly before the death of his mother, Monica, as they stayed at Ostia on their way home to North Africa after his baptism in Milan. Seated at a window overlooking the garden of their rented house, they speculated on the life of the saints in glory. As Augustine describes their experience, they entered into a rapturous ecstasy in which they had a foretaste of that life. Passing through all the spheres of the sun, moon, planets, and stars of their Ptolemaic universe, they came to the outermost limit of their own minds and transcended even that. All the heavenly spheres ceased their music, Augustine writes. Everything that exists by passing away, that is, all creatures, since the mark of creatureliness is temporality, fell silent after singing the song which they constantly sing: "We did not make ourselves, but were made by God who is forever" (Bk. 9:10, 25).
Eight centuries later, Francis of Assisi grasped the two central elements of this Augustinian song of all creation. As with so many charismatic men and women, the historic Francis has been lost in popular mythology. But two themes of the Franciscan legend seem rooted in Francis himself: poverty and the unity of all creatures. The singer of the Canticle of the Sun, who recognized the sun and moon, earth and air, fire and water, his own body, all animals and plants, and death itself as brothers and sisters, also entered into a mystical marriage with Lady Poverty. This Franciscan emphasis, which finds its legendary expression in Francis's preaching to the birds and the wolf of Gubbio, is grounded in one insight: all creatures are united in the depths of their being by the fact of being creatures.
The discovery of one's finiteness is the recognition of one's poverty. When one grasps the "iffiness" of one's existence, the shocking fact that the source and foundation of one's being is not in oneself, then one knows oneself as truly poor. To be poor in this fundamental sense is a definition, not a description. True poverty, the poverty of the spirit, is the realization that there is no intrinsic reason for one's being at all. In this fundamental poverty of creatureliness, there is equality. The human person has no more claim to intrinsic being than a plant or animal, a star or a stone. This is not in any way to deny the unique role which the human person plays in the divine economy. Indeed, in light of the Christian doctrine of the Incarnation, that role is one of extraordinary dignity. But the role given to humanity is as sovereignly the gift of God as is the role of every other creature. The human person is the point in creation to which the fullness of the self-gift of God can be given. But the human person has been created as such.
The doctrine of creatio ex nihilo is not a claim about how the universe came into being, but why. It is the Christian response to the question that Martin Heidegger held was the beginning of all metaphysics: why is there being rather than nothing? If the question seeks a reason within being itself, it is doomed to remain unanswered. The doctrine of creatio ex nihilo insists on the fundamental poverty of the universe: the universe has no intrinsic ground for existence. When all else has been said, when the heavenly spheres fall silent, Augustine knew, the great truth that must be proclaimed is that we—all of us individually and together—did not make ourselves. And so Francis saw that it was neither an act of human self-denigration nor an effusion of poetic personification to address the sun and the moon, the fire and the earth, and all animate and inanimate creatures as his brothers and sisters; it was the simple truth.
The only reason for anything to exist is the free agape of God. The universe exists because God loves it and wills to give God's self to it. Utterly dependent, creation is divinely gifted. Thus, to see creation as a whole or any creature in particular as what it is, namely, totally dependent on the gracious will of God, is to see revealed the grace which is its foundation in being. Since everything that is exists because of the free act of God—the overflowing agape that is the source of all being—then everything is a sacrament of the goodness and creative power of God.
The themes of creation and poverty intersect in the Catholic vision of sacramentality. A sacrament is not a stand-in for something else, a visible sign for some other invisible reality. The essence of a sacrament is the capacity to reveal grace, the agapic self-gift of God, by being what it is. By being thoroughly itself, a sacrament bodies forth the absolute self-donative love of God that undergirds both it and the entirety of creation. The Catholic community has recognized seven particular events as being revelatory of grace. But every creature, human and nonhuman, animate and inanimate, can be a sacrament. The more richly developed our sacramental vision, the more sacraments crowd in upon us. Francis of Assisi's interweaving of poverty with the brotherhood and sisterhood of all creatures is profoundly Catholic because it is profoundly sacramental.
This sacramental vision is by no means limited to the Roman Catholic church. When Jonathan Edwards described the marks of true conversion in his great Treatise on Religious Affections, he gave as the first mark of such affections that they "do arise from those influences and operations on the heart which are spiritual, supernatural, and divine." In explanation of this first mark of the converted, Edwards wrote that "in those gracious affections and exercises which are wrought in the minds of the saints, through the saving influences of the Spirit of God, there is a new inward perception or sensation of their minds, entirely different in its nature and kind, from anything that ever their minds were the subjects of before they were sanctified." The saints, to use Edwards's term, see reality differently from the unconverted. They do not see things that others do not see; rather, they see what everyone else sees but in a different way. They see everything in its relation to God: they see it as creature. Edwards's "new inward perception or sensation" is the ability to hear the song of all creation that Augustine and Monica heard, to see the community of all creatures as creatures that Francis saw. At the risk of "catholicizing" the great eighteenth—century Calvinist, one way of describing this "new inward perception" of the Edwardsean saint is the capacity for sacramental vision.
The cultivation of sacramental vision is the richest way of recovering the companionship motif of the Genesis stories that the Christian tradition has to offer in the current global ecological crisis. The discovery that every creature, including oneself, is a sacrament of the love of God that causes all things to be provides the deepest foundation for reverencing creation. The recognition of the other as a creature and, therefore; that which exists because it is loved by God cannot occur where the other is regarded as "it." By its nature a sacrament requires that it be appreciated for what it is and not as a tool to an end; in Buber's terms, a sacrament is always "thou." Since every creature can and should be a sacrament, so every creature can and should be "thou," a companion. But this sacramental vision demands unflinching recognition of the poverty of one's own being—for many too terrible to be true—and joyful acceptance of the absolute agape that supports one's own being—for many too good to be true: This requires the expansion of the imagination.
Paul Ricoeur has written that "we too often and too quickly think of a will that submits and not enough of an imagination that opens itself." Seeing the world sacramentally cannot simply be commanded. However necessary it may be for the survival of the planet in our time, sacramental vision cannot be made a moral imperative. It might better be understood as a Christian aesthetic that needs cultivation. The whole of Catholic praxis is training in sacramental vision. Liturgy and social action, marriage and parenthood, prayer and politics, music and dance and the visual arts, all educate us to appreciate the other as sacramental, worthy companions of our poverty and our engracedness. They teach us to see things as they are. In Gerard Manley Hopkins's words, "These things, these things were here, and but the beholder / Wanting." At present, "beholders" are desperately wanted.
Elements of a New Ethic
If the ecological crisis is to be addressed effectively, the ethic of individualism must be replaced with an ethic of companionship. Both creation myths in Genesis agree in their depiction of the human capacity for relationship as that which makes humanity "like God." The exaltation of the individual at the expense of the community, which in its crudest form becomes the "trickle-down" theory of social responsibility, stands in contradiction to this foundational insight of the Jewish and Christian traditions. Not surprisingly, this individualist ethic has debased the image of stewardship from participation in the creative activity of God into cost-benefit analysis. While it is important to attempt to reassert the stewardship motif in its pristine form, it is also necessary to strike at the heart of the problem, to confront impoverished and impoverishing individualism with the relational anthropology of the Jewish and Christian traditions. The crisis of the environment is directly linked to the problem of humanization. For unless nonhuman beings are treated as "thou," human beings will be treated as "it." This is why the appeal to self-interest cannot yield sufficient support in responding to the global environmental crisis. Such an appeal merely reinforces the basic problem. Far more adequate and far more faithful to the Christian tradition is the reappropriation of the companionship motif of the biblical creation stories.
The religious discussion of human responsibility toward creation must move beyond stewardship for the sake of both theology and the environment. Theologically, stewardship has been open to a deist interpretation whereby God is seen as having begun creation and then handed over care of it to humanity. When the image of stewardship dominates our imagination, God can be removed from the scene as human beings are given oversight of the earth and move to center stage in the drama of creation. Too easily the duty of caring for God's world becomes the task of shaping our world. Just as stewards are not anxious for the master's presence lurking over their shoulder, so humanity is content to keep God in a distant heaven.
Companionship evokes a different attitude toward creation. This difference in attitude will be reflected in an environmental ethic grounded on a relational anthropology. Such an ethic does not spring full-blown from the companionship theme. The movement from an over-arching frame of mind to an ethical method is more complex. What the companionship motif provides is an orientation that should guide us in devising an environmental ethic.
The first point of orientation that the companionship motif provides is the desirability of a transformed context within which to develop an environmental ethic. Governed by images of stewardship and ruled by precepts based on self-interest, our moral imaginations are unable to envision an environmental ethic that is adequate, to the Jewish and Christian heritage. In contrast, images of companionship encourage the moral imagination to consider that more than the good of the individual self is at stake. Once the intrinsic good of creation is seen, then approaches to the environmental crisis that treat creation only as an instrumental good for humanity become inadequate.
Basic to any ethic is a determination of the moral standing of the "other" one encounters. The reduction of creation to "it" has promoted a loss of respect for nature and an attitude of instrumental rationality. Doing justice to the environment becomes difficult when the context of decision making is so one-sided. Rediscovering the "thou" dimension of all creation provides a corrective to the tendency to relate to nature only as "it" by moving beyond the technological vision of instrumental rationality to a reawakened sacramental vision of companionship. So fundamental a reorientation alters the context for assessing our responsibility toward the environment.
The context of mutuality created by an awareness of both the poverty and the sacramentality of all the created order should yield an ethic less prone to denigrate the intrinsic worth of nonhuman creation. The poverty of the entire created order forces us to acknowledge our ties with the rest of creation in its dependence upon the creator. At the same time the sacramentality of all creation prevents any debasement of our common creaturely state. Our poverty as creatures and our dignity as sacramental mediations of divine grace must be held in tension as twin aspects of our organic connection with all creation.
The second point of orientation for an environmental ethic is an expanded notion of the common good that includes nonhuman creation. The common good, in John XXIII's classic phrase in Mater et magistra, embraces "the sum total of those conditions of social living whereby people are enabled to achieve their own integral perfection more fully and easily." As a way of elaborating what those "conditions of social living" entail, John went on to list an extensive roster of human rights. Both Paul VI and John Paul II have continued to use the language of human rights when discussing the common good. Theologian David Hollenbach suggests that the use of human rights in recent Catholic social teaching is a way of specifying the essential needs, basic freedoms, and relationships with others that comprise the common good and serve human dignity. In this essay we have suggested a perspective that sees the created order as an "other" with whom we have a relationship and that this relationship is part of the common good. Protecting that relationship with nonhuman creation is properly one of the aims of human rights.
Various addresses of Pius XII are also important resources for social ethics. So, for example, while not denying the right to private property, Pius made it clear that property rights are not primary but secondary. Private property is always subordinate to the more fundamental right of all people to the goods of the earth. This reiteration of the priority to be given to the universal destiny of goods contains the germ of an important insight. Pius saw the relationship of humanity to the earth and the rest of its inhabitants as basic to the common good. There is no need to protect the environment by ascribing rights to nature or individual animal species. It is humanity's fundamental human right to share in the goods of the earth that is at stake in the ecological issue. Setting this human right in the context of companionship is necessary, however, to prevent the human right to the universal destiny of the goods of creation from being interpreted according to a narrow mind-set of instrumental rationality.
The third point of orientation for an environmental ethic concerns the means whereby an expanded notion of the common good can be safeguarded and promoted. Here too the tradition of Catholic social thought has something to offer. In Pacem in terris John XXIII drew attention to the existence of the "universal common good." The unity of the human family was the basis for John's espousal of a common good that transcended national boundaries. In the same encyclical John noted that the "whole reason for the existence of civil authorities is the realization of the common good." The difficulty was that existing political institutions "no longer correspond to the objective requirements of the universal common good." Subsequent popes have continued John's move from a national to an international to a transnational plane when analyzing social questions.
Issues that touch upon the universal common good—and the environment is one of these—go beyond the competence of individual nation-states. It is necessary to develop vehicles that protect the well-being of the global environment. An international agreement like the Law of the Sea Treaty serves as an illustration of the kind of structure that the papacy advocates for the sake of the universal common good. In contrast, the tendency to define narrowly the self-interest of a nation—as the Reagan administration did in opposing the Law of the Sea Treaty or as Japan has done in resisting fishing and whaling treaties—remains a major obstacle to building effective vehicles for the universal common good.
The language of the common good challenges political arrangements not only at the level of transnational issues. Ours is a nation that has prized individual liberty and has a strong attraction to free market economics. But we cannot avoid asking what social mechanisms on a national level must be devised so that the varied activities of citizens are directed to the common good, understood as including the good of creation. Romantic calls for simpler lifestyles or ideological reliance on purely voluntary measures are simply insufficient. Debate on the specific nature of these necessary mechanisms requires political leadership notably lacking at all levels of government.
No proposed environmental ethic can avoid confronting the pressing question of the relationship between ecology and economic development. Are ecological concerns to be traded off for the creation of jobs in poor areas? Or vice-versa? Is industrialization to be discouraged in nations with undeveloped economies for the sake of preserving certain animal and plant species? The common good cannot be a mere abstraction which prescinds from specific social and historical conditions. Building a shared understanding on the matter of the common good and the place accorded to the environment among other goods is a crucial enterprise for true development.
In Redemptor hominis John Paul II opposes a false development that is "dilapidating at an accelerated pace material and energy resources, and compromising the geophysical environment… "This critique of forms of development that ignore the earth's ecosystem echoes an earlier position articulated by many third-world hierarchies. At the 1971 Synod the bishops stated that "such is the demand for resources and energy by the richer nations, whether capitalist or socialist, and such are the effects of dumping by them in the atmosphere and the sea that irreparable damage would be done to the essential elements of life on earth, such as air and water, if their high rates of consumption and pollution, which are constantly on the increase, were extended to the whole of mankind."
Donal Dorr has suggested that the episcopal view helps explain the use of the strong language about exploitation that is found in many third-world pronouncements about the international economic system. For too long the presumption was that the task was to "raise" poorer nations to the level of production and consumption found in richer countries. The 1971 Synod pointed out, however, that such a view, whatever other failings it has, ignores the abuse of the environment that has accompanied development based on the first-world model. This development has come at the price of exploitation, directly the exploitation of the earth.
An indirect form of exploitation is the overuse of the universal goods of the earth for the benefit of a few, penalizing people in nations where economic development was slow in occurring. The earth cannot sustain everyone at the level of consumption found in the first-world. The first nations to undergo modern industrialization have used more than their fair share of the earth's resources. Nations seeking economic development now must compensate for the abuses of those who benefited from earlier exploitation of the earth. According to third-world leaders, the limits now proposed on development constitute an exploitation of poor nations. No consensus yet exists on how to reconcile ecological concerns and developmental needs, but some headway in resolving them is a sine qua non if the environmental movement is to make progress.
Getting it Right
An attitudinal shift is foundational for dealing with the environmental crisis, and theology has a leading role to play in this endeavor. The main contribution of the church in the ecological crisis should be to foster a correct attitude toward all of God's creation. The motif of companionship is an important initial stage for establishing the imperative of a new way of relating to the created order. Without that starting point, the problems of developing a politics and economics cognizant of the ecological common good will be multiplied.
There is the danger that the language of companionship could be understood as simply fostering romantic forms of opposition to technology. But a simplistic "back to nature" movement fomenting broad opposition to technology is a distortion of a proper theology of creation. Technology is an outgrowth of our own human nature as creative beings. Unless we do violence to ourselves, technology will continue. What is needed is the wisdom to direct the process of technological change, not to stop it. The primacy of ethics and politics over technology must be asserted. First, we must assess the human goods that technology must serve. Second, the political process is the arena in which many of the moral choices will be worked through and implemented. Effective political action must follow careful ethical reflection. To fail in either of these realms is to permit technology to slip beyond human direction. In order to guide change there must be a sense of the goods that are to be sought and an appreciation of the ranking of goods that may conflict. Only then can we know what goods technology must serve, what policy choices are to be made, at what price, and what institutional arrangements are required for implementation. From the outset, however, the scale of goods will be skewed unless humanity's relations with nature include an awareness of the "thou-ness" of creation.
Although, we believe, the retrieval of the companionship theme and a deepened commitment to the common good tradition are required criteria for the development of an environmental ethic, other criteria are also essential. The Jewish and Christian understanding of creation should not be wedded to any economic ideology. Neither capitalism nor socialism in their historical realizations differs in the way they view creation and humanity's relation to it. Both Adam Smith and Karl Marx had a strong bias toward instrumental rationality. At the same time, neither system should be dismissed as inevitably inhospitable to environmental concerns. Whether or not a sacramental vision of creation can take root in either approach remains to be seen. In both systems what must be addressed is the proper balance between the environment and economic development. Here the magisterium's theme of true development is a reminder that economic growth must be based on a model that is ecologically sustainable. In this regard the World Council of Churches' call for a criterion of sustainable efficiency strikes an important note for future decision making.
In addition, the criterion of social justice cannot be lost in the struggle for ecological responsibility. A simple disavowal of economic growth may perpetuate injustice to humans in the name of nonhumans. Ecology has to do with the relationship of organisms to the total environment, including other organisms of the same or different species. Ecological balance has unquestionably been lost in the way that human beings have treated nonhuman nature. Righting the imbalance, however, cannot entail injustice to fellow human beings for the sake of other species. Poorer nations will not be willing to forego economic development at the behest of wealthier nations, who have belatedly seen the results of their own assaults on nature in the quest for more and more expansion. To avoid a new imbalance, an environmental ethic must be informed by a careful analysis of the demands of economic justice.
Justice in economic development, economic growth premised on sustainable efficiency and a heightened role for the environment in our understanding of the common good are three vital elements in any environmental ethic. But seeing the world rightly precedes our ability to act wisely and justly. The first task before us, that which theology can assist, is to revision all beings as united in their createdness, given to one another as companions, sacraments of "the love that moves the sun and other stars."