Catholicism and Ecology


I was born and raised a Catholic along with about a billion fifty seven million other people worldwide. It is not easy being Catholic in a secular world and in light of what historians and the media have exposed in recent years. But because the baby cannot be thrown out with the bath water, it is important for all religions to cleanse themselves of problems and at the same time to hang on to their foundation. The basics of every religion, including Catholicism, can serve to enrich the human experience.

A Catholic mass is a ritual that reminds us of the teachings of Christ, mostly through parables. When a crowd was ready to stone an adulteress, Jesus invited a non-sinner to throw the first stone, and there was naturally no such person among the crowd. Christ forgave the woman even though he disapproved of her actions. Most religions are often attacked for promoting sheepishness and not encouraging critical thinking. But this parable is a good counter example to such an accusation. In it Christ clearly shows a capacity for independent thinking. He is not operating by the same crude principles that guide the mob. By applying consistent moral standards he is encouraging us to operate on a higher plane. Some even argue that he is in a sense urging us to respond to our built-in genetic capacity for empathy

Two-thirds through a Catholic service, there is communion, which is a more civilized and metaphorical version of a pagan rite. Catholicism’s most important holiday, Easter, is not only a symbol of spring’s renewal but of the spiritual rebirth that occurs when we abandon a selfish existence. I like the way they select Easter’s date by using the first Sunday after spring’s first full moon.

Then there is Christmas, which is a magical time for everyone. It is rooted in a celebration of a special child born to a poor couple. Magi followed an astronomical event (a nova or an occultation of Jupiter are two of the possibilities), and when they found the manger, they offered gifts. The story conjures pleasant images, and has inspired poetry and beautiful music over the ages, but basically it is a reminder to act selflessly and that the bonds between people are more important than the practical matters that take up so much of our time.

At most churches, during Christmas and throughout the year, a choir sings a variety of songs that are a pleasure to look forward to every Sunday morning. The walls of our particular church are adorned with artwork that reminds us of Christ’s sacrifices. There is well-preserved oak throughout the building, and the structure itself is solid and elaborate enough to inspire, without being ostentatious.

Unfortunately, it is at this point that I have to address some of Catholicism’s problems, which are shared by most of the world’s religions.

 (1)    If the Church wants to truly influence the world it has to respect some of the world’s best minds: those of scientists. It has to recognize that the Genesis account of the universe’s creation was just the best available explanation at the time of writing, thousands of years ago. The notion that all plants and animals have a common ancestor does not make us less human. It does not eliminate the need for ethics, and in no logical way does it undermine the achievements of Christ.

(2)     A priest’s celibacy should be a matter of personal choice offered to men and women alike. It is only one possible way of demonstrating devotion to spiritual matters. The present rigorous and inflexible position from a hierarchy above demonstrably creates far too many problems and abuses. In the modern world, it is also an ineffective recruiting strategy.

(3)     Birth control prevents overpopulation, which is directly or indirectly linked to many evils. To oppose family planning is naïve; doing so places tradition above human needs.

(4)     The Church needs to take a strong stand against environmental problems, many of which are rooted in an anti-Catholic lifestyle of avarice. If its leaders thoroughly care about people, it is their responsibility to tell let their followers know that an anti-ecological attitude leads to suffering through more frequent storms, greater rates of cancer and birth defects.