Thomas Kadmon, ICR
image from Dreamstime
Having looked at Laudato Si's Francis connection to enviromentalism, and then at the key issue of diversity in the planetary ecology, we turn now to the ecotheological thinking underlying a healthy versus an unhealthy approach to caring for our common home.
A "new story" has emerged in recent decades according to Professor Brian Swimme, which is basically a new paradigm of cosmogenesis, arising from the rapprochement of science and religion.
There is neither blurring of lines nor necessary conflict between science which tells us about 'the how' and religion which tells us about 'the why' of the universe. In order to understand the cosmos, we need to untether science from the Newtonian billiard ball worldview where only external force impels motion, to one where interior impulse and teleology exist alongside external factors. Passionist ecotheologian Thomas Berry says the 'new story' involves a "communion of subjects" rather than a collection of objects - such as one would find in a Newtonian universe. For Berry, life is essentially a set of ultimate relationships between all beings of the universe. This is what ecology is all about. The deists of the 18th century imagined God as a cosmic Clockmaker who wound the universe up and stood aside while it ran by itself - a great mechanism. Such a Creator would never intervene after setting up the original conditions - would never need to. But Mechanism alone cannot explain the universe: we need Organism.
Theology teaches us that God is both transcendent and immanent. He is both beyond the creation as its First Cause but He also intimately indwells the creation.
Deism captures transcendence, but misses immanence. Pantheism (where the Creator is indistinguishably fused with the creation; where God is Nature) captures immanence but misses transcendence. The correct frame is in between deism and pantheism. It may be called classical theism, if we wish to stress the distinction between the Creator and creation. It may also be referred to as
pan-en-theism, if we wish to stress their oneness: the intimate indwelling of Creator in creation. The theological truth about the universe is that it is incarnational and sacramental. This is a perfect match for the post-Cartesian, post-Newtonian scientific worldview which understands cosmos as organismic. The universe not outside God, but as the body of God. To incarnational and sacramental we might care to add 'eucharistic'.
If the universe is somehow the body of God, then divinity ensouls every structure from the quark to the galactic supercluster, rendering it sacred. There are no inanimate bits; every part is alive and deserving of reverence as a life form. Such theological thinking naturally leads to the maintenance of biodiversity. If ecology is the understanding of organisms in relation to their environment, what characterises the ecological stance under the revised paradigm - 'the new story' - is that each of us, as an organism, lives and breathes and functions within a larger organism.
Environment IS organism at a different level of being.
This applies to human beings as well as other life forms. For example, certain molecules have microscopic organelles as their environment. But these organelles, in turn, are entities situated in the environment of the cell. The cell, in turn, can have the environment of a multicellular organism. Following this line of logic, we must begin by not viewing ourselves as outside humanity or outside the planetary environment, operating on it. We are one with it. As this awareness deepens, we can deal with our individual circumstances and histories as clearinghouses and transformation points within the larger life. To borrow a term from biology, we may say that a multidimensional 'homeostasis' is at play. This is really the 'integral ecology' mentioned in the Laudato Si encyclical. It encompasses our human interactions, then extends beyond to take in the rest of life.