The new encyclical written by pope Francis may draw heavily upon science, but it is ultimately a moral call to environmental and social action. Moral and faith based advocacy of climate action is of immense benefit in reaching those who are not familiar with the merits of science. We have needed a new narrative for some time and now we are seeing the beginning of a positive narrative take shape.
In April a Vatican Conference called for a “moral awakening,” now Francis has issued an encyclical that makes the moral case for environmental action. A Papal Encyclical is a teaching document historically intended for Catholics, however recent encyclicals have been intended for a much broader audience. This top level teaching issued by the Pope calls us to reevaluate our understanding of the implications of faith.
As people of the book, Christians, Jews and Muslims are specifically called to correct misinterpretations of scripture regarding our relationship with nature. As explained in the encyclical:
“We are not God. The earth was here before us and it has been given to us. This allows us to respond to the charge that Judaeo-Christian thinking, on the basis of the Genesis account which grants man “dominion” over the earth (cf. Gen 1:28), has encouraged the unbridled exploitation of nature by painting him as domineering and destructive by nature. This is not a correct interpretation of the Bible as understood by the Church.”
“Although it is true that we Christians have at times incorrectly interpreted the Scriptures, nowadays we must forcefully reject the notion that our being created in God’s image and given dominion over the earth justifies absolute domination over other creatures. The biblical texts are to be read in their context, with an appropriate
hermeneutic, recognizing that they tell us to “till and keep” the garden
of the world (cf. Gen 2:15). “Tilling” refers to cultivating, ploughing
or working, while “keeping” means caring, protecting, overseeing and
preserving. This implies a relationship of mutual responsibility between
human beings and nature. “
“human life is grounded in three fundamental and closely intertwined relationships: with God, with our neighbor and with the Earth itself.”
The pope characterized environmental action as a moral priority, indeed a duty and an obligation. The extent of the required changes demand that we become moral stewards of the Earth.
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