“And the Word became flesh and lived among us and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. “ John 1:14
Christianity is believed to be the culprit of many of today’s issues. Is it ? let’s step back. The first christians competed with the pagans and the latter’s faith was very much grounded on nature oriented beliefs, rituals and faith. For christians to face the pagans they had to either integrate some of the pagan elements in their faith and demonise others. For example, the merry and kind God of pastures Pan who’s goat appearance became associated with the devil, indirectly the message here is that nature is corrupt and imperfect and humans had to endure and resist in this valley of pain to gain they keys to Heaven.
The result of this narrative placed humans as supreme in the Creation, everything has a purpose of serving humans, the only soul-bearing living creatures, created to be similar to God. This view is quite simple and rather contains the point of view of those times than the universal values of christianity. That view can be understood as a PR strategy to sway people from paganism and as marketing tactics to best “sell” christian principles in times where complex dogma and theology (and education) were not widespread and religion for most meant superstition, worship natural elements and live by the seasons as 99.9% were farmers subdued by powerful overlords and injustice. Christian preachers had to speak their language, get across the message of Jesus in a way they could understand and give up gods and spirits. This was a time of social and economical collapse nearing the end of the Roman Empire. The question for those preachers was: What is the best way to communicate a vision of peace, justice and love by enacting values of revelation, liberation and solidarity to people who never asked themselves these questions? How to bring societies to experience humility, grace and gratitude? How to appreciate the goodness of creation? How to centre the believer in love, hope and faith and identify in the christian faith something that brings energy, inspiration and consolation? It did work, today Christianity is the 1st religion on the planet in its many branches, although often expressed more as superstition, just like the above tales, rather than actually promoting its core values.
9th December 2015 I took a walk on St.Peter’s Square in Rome, and noticed something unusual was happening, I could see images of natural landscapes and animals projected on the facade of the Basilica and I was shocked, only the “Creation”. Really, The Vatican? It was beautiful, a message where the humans were not placed above nature, but a part of it. I later learnt it was a display meant to raise awareness on the importance of the environment and need to contrast the current climate crisis, endangered plant and animal species. The only images of our societies showed piles of waste, traffic jams, polluting factories, intensive farming, later combined with images of poverty, refugees and injustice. That same year Pope Francis stated ““The Eucharist joins heaven and earth; it embraces and penetrates all creation.”
I came to discover the existence of ecotheology, tconnecting religious ethics, leadership, ritual, social practice, faith and link it with ecology, where scholars are digging in millennia of Sacred Texts and philosophical reflections inspired by faith to show that ecology matches faith as a glove and encompasses humans and the natural world in one life. Ecotheology is mainly a Christian trend looking at renewal of faith through connecting the christian message with nature, and positive human-Earth relations. Although possible it is not that easy, traditionalist views within organised religion, interfaith diversity in understanding the natural world and religious dogmas are definitely pulling the brakes on ecotheology. Nonetheless entire global cultures and institutions from science to humanities are starting to move towards a more ecological viewpoint and so is religion.
Just observe Christian core beliefs and ethics, what you notice are three pillars, mutuality, social justice and responsibility, which are a common thread in the messages left by Jesus Christ, meaning that the Christian faith does not contradict ecology, embraces it. Look at the Old Testament, Genesis, it has a message that gives meaning and orientation to life, purpose, time, space, origins and destiny of life, as well as a role to humans as Earth-keepers which can assume a much broader meaning and understanding today and the challenges we face as a species.
As we speak steps are being made; World Council of Churches launched the Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation, working on Earth Guardianship, climate justice and indigenous community rights. Pope Francis began promoting the bull on “Care of Our Common Home” and fosters interfaith dialogue also on ecological issues.
We live in a time of scientific, cultural and yes spiritual momentum as humanity adapts to new challenges, the call is cooperation, social engagement and promoting ecological communities. Should you want to learn more we advice to to look at the works of Father Thomas Berry, the founder of ecotheology and how faith can live within the rhymes and limits of the natural world as part of the Earth community, and that the biosphere reveals how humans’ relation to nature is the Deep Incarnation of the Christian Faith.
“…Be praised, my Lord,
for Sister Earth, our Mother,
who nourishes us and sustains us,
fruits and vegetables of many kinds
and flowers of many colours.
Be praised, my Lord,…”
St. Francis of Assisi