"The Christian must discover in contemplation, and in the giving of his life, those symbolic actions which will ignite the people's faith to resist injustice with their whole lives, lives coming together as a united force of truth and thus releasing the liberating power of the God within them." - James Douglass, Contemplation and Resistance.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Creation Care

Without confronting the moral status of the transnational corporations which are currently destroying our planet’s ecological balance, no proposal can outrun the onrushing ecological catastrophe. As Catholics, we have a powerful moral basis for taking the necessary action in the Catechism and the teachings of the Fathers. This necessary action must include expropriating natural and other resources from those corporations that are currently misusing them to degrade the creation upon which we all depend for life.

The moral foundation for what needs to be done is known as the "universal destination of material goods." St. Ambrose, mentor to St. Augustine, stated, "God has ordered all things to be produced so that there should be food in common for all, and that the earth should be the common possession of all. Nature, therefore, has produced a common right for all, but greed has made it a right for few." (St. Ambrose, Duties of the Clergy, 1. 132). The implications of this teaching as echoed in the most recent Catholic Catechism are very rich: "In the beginning God entrusted the earth and its resources to the common stewardship of mankind to take care of them, master them by labor, and enjoy their fruits. The goods of creation are destined for the whole human race …The right to private property, acquired by work or received from others by inheritance or gift, does not do away with the original gift of the earth to the whole of mankind. The universal destination of goods remains primordial, even if the promotion of the common good requires respect for the right to private property and its exercise ... The ownership of any property makes its holder a steward of Providence, with the task of making it fruitful and communicating its benefits to others, first of all his family. Goods of production - material or immaterial - such as land, factories, practical or artistic skills, oblige their possessors to employ them in ways that will benefit the greatest number … Political authority has the right and duty to regulate the legitimate exercise of the right to ownership for the sake of the common good." Catechism of the Catholic Church 2403 – 2405.

Property rights, far from being absolute, or the "guarantee of freedom" as globalized groupthink pretends, are subject to more primal concerns. Among these is the common ownership of Earth’s resources such that all receive a just share of its goods and that matters of common concern such as the survival of our species should be addressed communally. In other words, each of us belong to a social organism and have responsibilities beyond our individual desires or corporate interests. This responsibility cannot be evaded by legislation. In fact, it could be argued that our current notions of absolute individual and corporate property rights are a moral fiction produced by the ecological exploitation that has led to the current catastrophe.

Though energy corporations are raking in profits at historically unprecedented levels while the planet burns, they will no doubt argue that the 7th commandment would forbid any major public redirection of those funds. A close reading of the section of the Catechism which explicates that commandment reveals a much different set of moral imperatives.

"The seventh commandment enjoins respect for the integrity of creation ... Use of the mineral, vegetable, and animal resources of the universe cannot be divorced from respect for moral imperatives. Man's dominion over inanimate and other living beings granted by the Creator is not absolute; it is limited by concern for the quality of life of his neighbor, including generations to come; it requires a religious respect for the integrity of creation." Catechism 2415. The 7th commandment cuts in two directions. On the one hand, and the only hand considered by corporate interests, it protects legitimate property rights. On the other hand, it reveals larger moral imperatives than simply the protection of property. Actions which violate the integrity of creation to such a degree that the survival of those who depend on the damaged ecological balance is threatened summons another order of moral accounting.
According to this rule, those who are degrading the environment for the sake of private profit are violating the 7th commandment in a far more vicious way than those who would restore balance by expropriating their ill-gotten gains. They are stealing the life and property of millions who are alive today or will shortly be born along the coastlines of the major cities which will soon be inundated by the effects of global warming. This is stealing in a much deeper and more relevant sense than the legalistic interpretations which protect the right to destroy the "quality of life of his neighbor."

The right to pollute and degrade God’s creation cannot be bought and sold, nor can legislation make it moral. If you want proof, look at the next rainbow you see, and remember the words of Genesis, “This is the sign of the covenant I have established between me and all mortal creatures that are on earth.” Gen. 9: 9-10. Those who violate that covenant and inflict grave injustice on their neighbors make themselves unworthy of the property rights that they prize above creation itself.

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