22 September 2010

NATURE: Old-School / New-School


. . . .Among the Sierra Nevada - Albert Bierstadt, 1868. . .
.
.
.
     Ever since the publication of Machiavelli’s Prince in the sixteenth century, modern society has been predicated on a technological war against nature in order to increase man’s dominion and power. Nature was no longer a lady to be wooed (as she had been for the Greeks, Romans, and medieval Christians); she was now to be raped, beaten into submission through evermore impressive technological advances that would render mankind, in Freud’s chilling words , “a prosthetic god.”


While there were some strong reactions against this new attitude, the modern hostility to the God-given only expanded as time went on, growing from a war on nature to a war on human nature. Our current preoccupations with genetic engineering, sex “changes,” and same-sex “marriage”- all of which are attempts to redefine or reconfigure the natural – are examples of this ongoing escalation.

The environmental movement that began in the 1960’s has helped bring to light the wages of ruthlessly exploiting nature, and thus today we have a renewed appreciation for the virtues of responsible stewardship and for the marvels of God’s green but fragile earth. Yet this same movement, which has served in many ways as a healthy reawakening, is peppered with absurdities. Often the same activists who defend endangered tadpoles go on to champion the annihilation of unborn babies. Recently, after liberalizing their abortion laws, Spain’s socialist government introduced legislation to grant chimpanzees legal rights in order “to preserve the species from extinction” – this in a land with no native ape population.


Contemporary environmentalism is also sometimes pantheistic in its assumptions; the result being that for many it has become a religion unto itself. This new religion comes complete with its own priests (climatologists), its own gospels (sacrosanct data about rising temperatures and shrinking glaciers), its own prophets (Al Gore, who unfortunately remains welcome in his own country), and, most of all, its own apocalyticism, with the four horsemen of deforestation, global warming, ozone depletion, and fossil fuels all leading us to an ecological Doomsday more terrifying to the secular mind than the Four Last Things (Death, Judgement, Heaven, Hell).

. . . God Introducing Adam & Eve - Jean Fouquet, 1460. . .
My point is not to deny the validity of these anxieties, but to lament the neo-pagan framework into which they are more often than not put. Modern man is such a mess that when he finally recovers a love of nature, he does so in a most unnatural manner. Both the early modern antipathy to nature and the late modern idolatry of it stand in dire need of correction, a correction that the Church is well poised to provide. As Chesterton quipped, Christians can truly love nature because they will not worship her. The Church proclaims nature’s goodness because it was created by a good and loving God and because it sacramentally reflects the grandeur of God’s goodness and love.


- by Dr. Michael P. Foley, Assistant Professor of Patristics at Baylor University

No comments: