Lesson 11: Live as Tenants of a Small Planet

Pope weighs in on climate changeWhen I was growing up, I would never have thought to include this in a Christian lifestyle. People were starting to limit the size of their families, but not because of the world’s limitations. But by the time I was called to my second parish, we were discussing world hunger, overpopulation, and pollution.

Even then the issues were controversial. A member of our congregation actually bought me a round-trip plane ticket to Chicago, so I could see for myself how much room was left for growth. He felt the view from the airplane would convince me “be fruitful and multiply” was still a sensible command, as well as assure me “God had created a world quite capable of absorbing human pollution.”

Of course, the hot question in the present debate is whether there is enough evidence to support claims that humans contribute to climate change. When Pope Francis took sides, many otherwise loyal Roman Catholics dismissed his views, claiming he was speaking outside of his competence.

The public debate certainly has tremendous political relevance; however, that is not the primary motivation for the way Christians treat the environment. No matter the scientific data, God’s people have always been called to be stewards of the creation. “Avoid waste” and “Practice fasting or reducing one’s needs or wants” have been good Christian disciplines in all ages. No one can question the Pope’s right to speak out from a biblical perspective.

From that perspective, to abuse the creation is to abuse God’s precious gift. Indeed, it is to abuse other people who shall continue God’s work after we are long gone. Caring for creation is to care for our grandchildren and their grandchildren.

That personal witness becomes even more critical in the context of modern scientific studies. The whole society has to come to terms with 21st century reality. After acting so long as if there were no limitations, citizens now must ask, “How much is enough?” The primary issue has become our willingness to discipline and deny ourselves for the common good, rather than insisting we can do anything we want for profit and pleasure.

The most valuable contribution from the Church is not specific programs for political action, but our personal witness that demonstrates self-discipline can lead to a very satisfying life for all. Self-denial does not preclude a happy life.

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  1. John Myers says:

    I am a farmer. Farmers have a unique connection to creation. We see the bounty, we pray for rain, and we do things that will only help the next generation financially because we feel we must leave what we’ve been given to manage better than we found it. We worry about that next generation and the world we’ll leave behind. Along with that concern, we worry about how the next generation will be able to succeed financially. As a society, and along with the discussion of self-denial, I think we must ask ourselves how paying for things with debt that is beyond paying will help those who we leave behind to pay it. Even if that debt appears to be for something worthy, it simply makes no sense to burden the innocent and tie their hands before the hands can continue good work. It is unconscionable. We have gotten away from this concept in both our personal lives and in our society at large in ways I find fascinating in my lifetime. We know it is wrong in our hearts, but no one seems to care. We must care.


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