Patristic views on ecology
Posted 03 December 2003 - 02:39 AM
there is an ecological crisis. It is whether, crisis or not, the
conveniences of the modern world are a help or hindrance to the
ascesis and labor necessary to salvation. I do not favor or promote a
romantic return to "simpler times." I do wonder, though, if some sort
of return--no matter how impractical--is better for us spiritually.
It seems to me, the above proposed question might be restated thus:
Do modern medical methods help or hinder our ascesis and suffering necessary to our salvation?
We may bemoan the materialism of our culture, but it is not the conveniences of our modern age which make us sinful and lazy. We must avoid blaming our enviroment for our sinfulness.
The idea has been posted that we humans can commit crimes against nature, I agree, if by that we are speaking about human sins: homosexuality, kidnapping, murder, rape etc..., but these are not actions a human can commit against a tree, or a rock.
Certainly man can behave sinfully with the enviroment. He can dam up a stream and destroy the welfare of his neighbor's farm. But what if his neighbors farm is a poor piece of property? What if his neighbor can only produce 100 bushels of wheat, but if I dam the stream and resource the water so as to produce from my property 1000 bushels of wheat, have I still sinned against my neighbor?
Joseph was a wise man who hoarded wheat and then sold it for a price which increased Egypts wealth and power towards its neighbors. Was he wrong to have done so?
Energy is a valuable commodity in the world, and because of it wheat is relatively cheap. Did the Fathers ever address these issues? Yes, but we do not readily find their works on such topics available, some are simply lost, others are simply untranslated, but a few can be found if one searches diligently. There is a priority as the Apostles themselves declared, "It is not pleasing to us to leave behind the Word of God to serve tables." These words addressed a crisis, but the Apostles did not wholly skirt the issue, rather they instructed that an election should be held and certain men be chosen to address the crisis, these men the Apostles then ordained and thus was born the ministry of deacon.
The above crisis was about the allocation (or lack of equal representation therein) of resources. The Church addressed the crisis as it existed within her sphere of authority, meaning the Church and then later the Apostle Paul also addressed a similiar crisis.
Ecology is a modern concept for a modern world, but it is also a concept which carries much philosophical baggage which is often contra-Orthodox [I refer to the political dialectial tension in which the term ecology is used to create covetousness by dividing the world into the haves and have nots]. However, I am not arguing that being ecologically minded is a bad thing, but it might become so when it is used to incite animosity, anger, malice, rancour and covetousness.
It is possible for a poor man to be more greedy than the rich man if he has covetousness rooted into his heart, even a wooden spoon can become an object of wealth and covetousness. A sppon is a utensil of convience, but if it causes us to sin and fall away from the kingdom of God, we should throw it away, but usually we simply prefer to take such advise as hyperbole. That last works out to mean, "God really doesn't want us to throw away the spoon, He just wants us to abandon covetousness." Sometimes it seems to me that the hyperbolic path is the path of Saints. So perhaps simplicity is better spiritually?
Posted 03 December 2003 - 05:01 AM
"Even if we cannot agree that there is a crisis, however, surely we can agree that the only course of action in response to this and all other questions is the same: to follow "the way of the ascetics" (with an appropriate salute to Tito Colliander's marvellous book), to strive relentlessly to live out of love towards God others and in radical restraint of our own appetites. "
And Father John was also wise... we don't need to go back 100 years but we do need to use our bodies the way they were meant to be used (this is good both for our bodies and for our souls) and to restrain our greed. We need to put into practice what the Fathers have told us to do. A simple, pious life filled with work is the answer to the destruction we have created in the world entrusted to us by God.
Guest_R L Maximos Darnley
Posted 03 December 2003 - 09:53 AM
This it seems is entirely consistent with an ecologically sustainable approach to life. Whether there is a global ecological crisis or not, and I tends to believe that there is, good stewardship is surely predicated on such an approach to life in general.
Posted 03 December 2003 - 07:20 PM
He talks about this a lot. Sin is falling short of the purpose for which you were created, and to sin through things or against others is to first misuse our conceptual images of those things or people. So to try and stop the misuse of the earth on a mass scale you would have to transfoem the way of thinking of most of the people in a radical way, considering most of them think life is to experience the maximum possible pleasure or happiness they can within this short time they have. That this pleasure inevitably generates pain and distress as a chastising force for the instruction of the sinner and the setting aright of evil, is, as I understand it, a manifestation of God's judgement, and the pleasure within the soul that results form deliberate self-restraint is a form of God's providence, the continual increase of blessings as a reward for the right use and gratitude for the existing ones.
Sadly, today, the tension and anxiety over the ecological crisis (and whatever other crisis is being used to fill the "news") contributes in part to the cycle of seeking pleasure to overcome the pain it causes. Not sure what my point is, just rambling on with my thoughts here. Our problems on the earth have become so big, with wars and global media and extreme forms of greed and mindlessness, that most of these things are way out of our hands on the level that they are presented.
I remember reading in "the ascetic of love", one of Mother Gavrilia's sayings was that "the fridge of the faithful should be almost empty". I love this saying because to me, this sums up our faith so well. Thats why, and forgive me, but when I am at a priest's house, and I see a really well stocked fridge, and four cars in the driveway and just an abundance of things and luxuries, I just kind of feel that it says something about the quality of counsel I might receive, you know? It really sums up a persons attitude to life.
But if a worldy type of just normal person comes to your house and sees that your fridge is practically empty (not that its a big thing you try to do or display, its just a symptom of your way of life and trust and faith), they see this and they want to put you in a mental home. They panic for you, God bless them. And they might be a full-on environmentalist but they just cant make the connection, they live in fear of the planet, they dont trust its maker. Simple living isnt a better way to live, its actually life. modern (in)conveniences just complicate and fragment our souls but alot of the time we lose the sense that way of life and faith are as inseperable from each other as soul and body, so we really think we can live like the others but have this living fervent faith. Its like somehow expecting a different document to appear on the screen of your computer than the one encoded on the hard disk.
Recently in Australia, we have had this really severe drought, and it affected alot of farmers really badly. A kind of benefit concert was arranged in order to raise money and assist them with enduring and surviving the effects of the drought. A friend of mine who is quite perceptive, while we were watching something about this benefit concert on t.v. pointed out that the idea to helping the farmers was presented as "we are going to help the farmers". God wasnt going to help them. No-one was going to appeal to Him for help. WE were going to set things aright. Now that the planet has stopped calling on God for help, or seeking afflictions willingly, we can only learn one way, by unsought trials. Needless to say, the drought continues and we are now forced to restrict our water usage or face fines from the authorities. Its not the deprivation of blessing for the setting aright of evil, its an official water restriction enforced by the authorities. I, for one, am not anticipating the end of the drought.
Guest_Fr John Wehling
Posted 03 December 2003 - 08:36 PM
Glory to Jesus Christ!
A few responses.
First of all, John responded to my post by saying:
>>We may bemoan the materialism of our culture, but it is not the conveniences of our modern age which make us sinful and lazy. We must avoid blaming our enviroment for our sinfulness. <<
John, I am not sure if you are attributing such attitude to my statement, but if so, this is not what I said or implied. My point is that, given that we are sinful already and that we need work as medicine for our sickness, modern conveniences might very well, in fact, be unhelpful to our ascetic labors.
Daniel, what I mean by impractical is simply that it might be inconvenient with the way most of us have become accustmed to living. But what is inconvenient and impractical in that sense might very well be the most practical thing spiritually. Sorry for the confusion.
Posted 04 December 2003 - 07:16 AM
"And as for pollution, most of it is caused by poor nations and people who do not have the luxury yet of spending excess capital on controlling pollution. "
According to Ken Davidson, the U.S. director of the World Meteorological Organization climate program department :"There are always skeptics on everything, but certainly the evidence we have today shows we do have global warming, and that most of this is due to human action."
"Carbon dioxide produced from burning fossil fuels is the most prevalent of the so-called greenhouse gases, whose growing concentration in the atmosphere is thought to be warming the Earth."
The US, with 20% of the world's population, is or was responsible for most of it.
The bad news : " Australia has overtaken the United States as the world's worst greenhouse gas polluter, according to an analysis of United Nations statistics.
Calculated on a per capita basis, Australia emits 25 per cent more carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas, than the US and more than double that of most European Union countries." We have to keep in mind though that Australia has a population of 20.000.000 (4.12.03) while the US has a population of 290,342,554 (July 2003 est.)which makes the US the largest single emitter of carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels according to the CIA factsheet.
According to the University of Michigan : , Economic development has a very large impact on the global environment.
* Rich countries produce, consume, and pollute far more than do poor countries.
* The rapid population growth of the poor countries is overbalanced by the high individual consumption of the fewer people in the rich countries.
* HOWEVER: Rich countries are becoming more efficient in energy use, and are slowing the growth of consumption. Poor countries are increasing energy consumption and CO2 emissions, and are often getting less efficient in energy use.
So, it all comes back to one thing - greed. We want more and more. As Orthodox, we are not responsible for what other people do, but we can at least do what we should by lessening our own demands and we, who live in more comfortable circumstances can at least stop blaming poor countries for what we are responsible for.
(Message edited by admin on 04 December, 2003)
Posted 04 December 2003 - 01:12 PM
Obviously I'm not suggesting that anyone here is guilty of doing that. Obviously, both "sides" of the ecology debate (as said debate is being worked out in the media, etc) use statistics. Obviously the above premise applies to both sides.
Just suggesting that there are things we can truly know...for example, the working of our conscience as it pertains to our daily sins, the experience of attending Divine Liturgy, and there are things that we will never have first hand knowledge of. On such things we form an opinion based on trusting those who feed us information and suggest conclusions.
It may be that one side of the ecology debate, as it is being worked out in the media etc, is Right and one side is Wrong. On the other hand it may be that both sides are Wrong, and the Truth is something (Someone) altogether different, with a different perspective on the whole matter.
Posted 04 December 2003 - 01:40 PM
In my reply I asked: "Do modern medical methods help or hinder our ascesis and suffering necessary to our salvation?"
We cannot bemoan modern conviences without also bemoaning the medical knowledge and technology used to further advance medical services.
There is a story about a Mother who is sitting with her six children and blurts out, "I wish I had only gotten pregnant four times." The first four assume that she meant she did not want the last two, the last two look at the four and wonder which one of the four did she not want?
Who is he unwanted child?
Which modern convenience"
Which modern convenience hinders our salvation? Is it the spoon?
Television was once cited as the most evil of all modern conveniences, but today it is perhaps the computer, or more likely our access to the internet?
Perhaps you only mean that our modern conveniences give us more time for play or entertainment? In my area there is at present a great concern because some bars are allowed to stay open and serve alcohol until four in the morning. This has become a neighborhood crisis because there have been several murders by people leaving, who then go outside and kill someone who offended them while thy were in the bar.
The City Council is attempting to determine who or what is at fault. Some believe it is the late hours and propose that the bars should close earlier, others say, "NO, that will only result in the murders taking place at an earlier hour, what we need is a greater police presence." Yet, that part of the city already has one of the largest and most present police forces. Who or what is to blame, "given that we are sinful already?"
Hopefully, there are no Orthodox Christians hanging out in these places, or at least not at those hours, but even if it were so, can we say that it is the fault of the power plant which burns lignite to produce energy which burns the night lights in the bar?
Can we assume that if we removed our conveniences, that men would simply begin seeking God? I am inclined to answer, "NO!" My failure to seek God is not the fault of modern conveniences. Man's failure to seek God is a heart condition, not an enviromental condition.
I do however agree, that hard physical work can be salvific, but not simply because it is hard work. I have performed hard physical work with men who work hard physically every day, yet they do not seek after God.
Please forgive me, I am not meaning to imply you think otherwise about these things, I am perhaps only replying to the voices in my own head.
Posted 04 December 2003 - 01:58 PM
I am trying to avoid a debate on the science issue, as urged by our moderator.
Posted 04 December 2003 - 03:26 PM
Often I read the many posts on this forum; and, must confess that often the too many words bog me down.
I liked what you said: "pay attention to our individual self . . . that is the Patristic mind distilled to its essence."
Would you clarify for me, please, the meaning of the "Patristic mind"? would you say that it is the same as having "the Mind of Christ" as St. Paul states it in his epistles?
thank you, Marie Duquette
Posted 04 December 2003 - 06:24 PM
About the possibilty of being lied to with statistics I would say what is needed is gift of discernment.
Of course, stats deal with whole populations "randomly chosen" if done properly, and this without prayer (we're not talking about casing lots to determine God's will, here), we're trying to relieve ourselves of as much human bias as mathematically possible, and thus look into the bare face of God's activity in creation (as Christianity, Orthodoxy ought view the matter IMO).
I understand from reading the Fathers that discernment comes from the personal ascetic struggle against sin, i.e., we learn most from our experience, particularly (but not only) our mistakes.
I believe the real crisis will always be one of faith, i.e., do we as a people "have it" or not and in either case how our living affects that.
I think it is always a good idea to take heed of warnings and ask God to show me my sins, be merciful and teach me to live better.
Posted 04 December 2003 - 10:07 PM
Posted 05 December 2003 - 02:44 AM
"if done properly."
That was the major point of the college text I mentioned (btw, I was just as surprised at the blunt title of that text as others may be...I'm using it as point of reference, an interesting read, not trying to say that statistics inherently evil or anything).
However, "when done properly" is where the trust factor comes in. imo, the trust part also comes in with how those stats are presented and used once the math is over (in general, not just with "the environment").
It's interesting your bringing in the "crisis of faith"...to some extent faith implies trust. Who do we trust? Who do we put our faith in?
I'm reminded of John Dunn's earlier post where he mentioned the concept that "people need a crisis"
I guess I'm wondering if it isn't just part of our constitution as people..."faith" is an attribute we all have, whether it be faith in God or faith (trust) in any of the countless "movements" in the world, or even if it's just that one only trusts oneself and ones own abilities (speaking generally).
I would also timidly venture that the need for "a crisis" could also be part of human nature in as much as it equates to a "need to worry" about something.
So, one might see the "environmental movement" (the "movement" aspect of it, regardless of whether the stats are done properly on either side) as a phenomenon arising from these needs in our nature (not suggesting this is a conspiracy, more that it's a phenomenon).
But if these needs (faith and worry) exist in our nature, it's interesting (at least to my pea brain) to look deeper, and from a Christian perspective, and wonder why they exist? For what reason were we created in a way such that we have these needs? What is the purpose they serve, and what is it that truly satisfies these needs?(faith is obvious, worry is a little more interesting, imo).
That said, I'm obviously just writing off the cuff and really haven't thought about this a whole lot. As the poster here who is the "low wattage bulb" when it comes to analytical thinking (and other things) I think I'll go focus on the beautiful blanket of snow that is covering the ground outside for a bit.
Posted 05 December 2003 - 04:11 AM
Owen, I agree with you absolutely and this is what I have been saying all along. As Orthodox we are responsible for ourselves and what we personally do.
I believe we have the same basic beliefs concerning this problem but that we are looking at it from different perspectives.
Can we really afford to bury our heads in the sand? We live in the world and in my opinion, those Orthodox who don't live simply are not living in an Orthodox manner. Study the lives of present-day monks and you will see that they live simply and that their monasteries are as self-sufficient as they can make them.
Should we join demonstrations and marches etc. - I don't but that's up to each individual Orthodox. Should we ignore what is happening in the world today and think that we are somehow special and that each family having two cars and two computers and two of everything (some families don't stop at two of course) is our God given right? Is this being Orthodox and is this in accordance with the teachings of the Fathers? I don't think anyone on this board would agree that we can live this way and still consider ourselves to be proper Orthodox.
Posted 05 December 2003 - 10:57 AM
Look at what Jesus Himself taught about cares and worries, how we should just let them go. Not that, as Christians, we no longer have the problems that "normally" generate our anxiety. Probably, if we struggle to be at peace internally, we will attract more of these things, but we would begin to see more clearly with our inner eye and the burden of the sense world would lighten. Its not a struggle between suffering and comfort. No-one escapes suffering. Outward comfort generates internal torment, North America and Australias anti-depressant habit proves this. But the willing acceptance of all types of suffering generates internal peace and divine consolation.
One pair of shoes, what a relief! One coat, a clear concience! Television out the window, bliss!
Posted 05 December 2003 - 11:22 AM
E. Ganatsios wrote:
Should we ignore what is happening in the
world today and think that we are somehow special and that each family
having two cars and two computers and two of everything (some families
don't stop at two of course) is our God given right?
It seems to me, as soon as you propose the observation with question using the olural pronoun "we" followed by "our", you have crossed the line into " other peoples' business."
I can only ask of myself, "Can I fulfill the commandments to Love God supremely and my neighbor equally [as myself], if I possess these things."
But even still, this question fails, IMO, because God is not oppossed to our possessions, whether much or little. He Himself rewards His faithful servants according to their labor, and we are told, "He who sows sparingly, reaps sparingly."
Now that is a concept which must be always present in our ecological discussions.
If my neighbor's land is a wet-land, but my land is fertile soil and my neighbor lets his land lie fallow [letting nature manage its wildlife], but the waters which feed my neighbor's wet-land runs accross my property, and if I dam that resourse in order to better manage my crop production, have I infringed upon my neighbor's "rights theologically?
Now, if my neighbor leases his property out during duck hunting season, perhaps my dam affects his livelihood, but what my neighbor's other neighbor loves duck, not to eat, but simply because he believes ducks are fearfully and wonderfully made by God?
Let us say I work out a managed water release which maintains his wet land through work [meaning controlled management on his part] enabling him to keep his wet-land as a resource from which he supplies his own household's welfare, and by this he enables others to hunt duck [whether out of need for their own welfare, or simply because they enjoy the experience of hunting], but his other neighbor can't bear the thought of the innocent ducks being shot at from behind blinds [the second neighbor believes this does not give the ducks a fair chance to escape from the hunter], so he petitions and finds other people likeminded and petitions the goverment to intervene and oversee my management of my dam and my neighbor's wetland.
Now this second neighbor campaigns for his cause calling it "ecological management" and then accuses my neighbor and myself of not being ecologically minded because we oppose his program to place himself and other parties as overseers of our property management. And then he envokes God's name by hiding it under the words, "These men are committing crimes against nature," and he must hide his convictions that ducks are fearfully and wonderfully made, because some of those in his policitical party do not fear God and are oppossed to joining any cause which would have them confessing [directly or indirectly] any belief in God. Therefore the laws which are now inacted to limit how much I can sow and reap on the property which I possess, and how many ducks can be shot on my neighbor's property are called "crimes against nature."
Now some of these atheists are school teachers who begin to teach children that certain entrepreneurs in their neighborhood are simply greedy capitalists who want to rape the land and destroy the ecological balance of nature. These atheists want to be the educators of the future [they feel they must teach men that God does not exist, but they cannot do this directly or openly], so they, in exchange for their political support of the "Save the ducks" convince others that my children and my neighbor's children should be required to attend their schools. They convince others that our home schooling is a form of "child abuse" because I am not able to instruct them socially and because my belief system is not oppossed to dams and duck shooting. And to pay for their education system they impose a tax on crops and duck hunting.
Now one year God holds back the rains causing my water resourses to drop and my neighbor's property to be incapable of supporting his usual duck population, so that the ducks choose to fly to a new wet-land. Meanwhile, I have to raise the cost of my wheat to off-set the financial loss of my drought, but taxes remain the same or increase [the latter being more likely since a good supply of bread and meat have attracted people to build a city nearby] to pay for new educational needs. This results in those in the city having a food shortage which causes them to accuse me and my neighbor of being greedy capitalists, so they campaign that the my property should become owned by the city and I and my neighbor should have our profits managed by an elected board of managers....
Now some call all this ecological management, but to me, it is simply covetousness on the part of others who want to manage my business.
Posted 05 December 2003 - 04:55 PM
And a word must be said about deliberate misinformation. The Canadian people were sold on the Kyoto Treaty and polls showed over 2/3d of Canadians support it. But when interviewed, people said they indeed supported it and would be willing to pay an additional $25 per year to support it. But the real cost would more than $2500. If they knew that, only about 10% -- the diehard ideologues -- would support it. Because there goes their daughter's education, or their son's braces, or, in some cases, the house! What's more, if it's all based on junk science, then Christian supporters of Kyoto are participants in a conspiracy to defraud.
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