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Our Proper Place on This Planet

Our Proper Place on This Planet

By Fr. Ray Sanchez

JPIC Australia

In her book, “Resisting Structural Evil: Love as Ecological-Economic Vocation,” Lutheran theologian, Cynthia Moe-Lobeda argues for a ‘tectonic shift in our understanding of ourselves, and human beings, and our place on this planet. She, along with other theologians, recognises that foundational to the ecological crisis we are unleashing on this planet is our understanding of who we are and what is our purpose within the Cosmos, and particularly within the community of life that makes up Planet Earth. 

As people of ‘The Book,’ our Christian/Jewish/Moslem heritage means that our concept of self and purpose are founded on the creation story of the book of Genesis where God’s injunction, on creating humanity, is that we “’be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth and mzl.iivpqucn.1024x1024-65conquer it. Be masters of the fish of the sea, the birds of heaven and all living animals on the earth.’ God said, ‘See, I give you all the seed-bearing plants that are upon the whole earth, and all the trees with seed-bearing fruit; this shall be your food.’” (Gen 1:28-29 New Jerusalem translation) 

The result of our interpretation of this injunction, as God’s gift and word to us, we have developed an assumption of who we are in relation to the Cosmos and the living community of this planet. As Post-Modern Western society we have assumed that we are the benevolent masters of Isaac Newton’s mechanised world ordained by God to have dominion over it. That all the resources, living or non-living, are ours for the taking with no responsibility entailed, on our part, for the damage we do to the biosphere. As climate change relentlessly moves towards us, it is clear that this ‘myth’ has proved deadly. 

Even the more recent story we have replaced this myth with – that we are the unique stewards of the Earth, placed into it as caretakers – is inadequate because it is saving-earth-human-hands-holding-imagebiologically false! The Earth, arguably, has no need of us. Indeed, far from being the creature upon whom Earth depends for care, human kind is utterly dependent upon Earth for our existence and survival. Not only are we dependent on the animals and plants for our food, we are dependent on the microbes cleaning our skin, the trees giving us breath, the plankton of the sea creating food, etc. 

The Earth is taking care of us! We are dependent on the sun and the Earth for everything. Without warmth, air, water, and fellow beings, we would quickly die. At the same time, we are co-creators of the Earth as we know it, shaping with our decisions the future of the places we inhabit, even as our relation to those places shapes us. In this way, we are members of a community of interdependent parts. 

I would suggest that the new paradigm we need to accept is that we are created to be in ‘relationship’ with all other. We are a creature of the Earth and we are made of the earth. In the words of St. Irenaeus of Lyons, we are ‘mud-creatures’ – in Hebrew, ha adam – crafted from adamah (‘dust of the very elements that existed with the big bang some 13.7 billion years ago and that comprise the soil). We are not above and outside of nature. We are of the animal kingdom, the phylum chordata, the genus homo, and the species homo sapiens. 

We are an integral and utterly dependent species in Earth’s tapestry of life. We share origins, body matter, and ultimate destiny with the Earth community. We need, in order to survive, the material goods that other humans and other-than-human parts of the planetary society also require and, thus, must in some way share those goods. 

In the words of The Blue River Declaration: An Ethic of the Earth: 

“Given that the Earth’s resources and resilience are finite, human flourishing depends on embracing a new ethic of self-restraint to replace a destructive ethos of excess. Greed is evolution-of-man-efnot a virtue; rather, the endless and pointless accumulation of wealth is a social pathology and a terrible mistake, with destructive social, spiritual, and ecological consequences. Limitless economic growth as a measure of human well­being is inconsistent with the continuity of life on Earth. It should be replaced by an economics of regeneration. Simple lifestyles that include thriftiness, beauty, community, and sharing are pathways to happiness. 

“Given that life on Earth is interconnected, are called to affirm that all flourishing is mutual and that damage to the part entails damage to the whole. Accordingly, our virtues are cooperation, respect, prudence, foresight, and justice. We have the responsibility to honor our obligations to future generations of all beings and to take their interests into account when we reflect on the consequences of our actions. To discount the future, to take all we need for our own well­being and leave nothing for others, is unthinkable. We should take only what the Earth offers, and leave as much and as good as we take. To live by a principle of reciprocity, giving as we receive, re­creates the richness of life, even as we partake of it. Then, our harvests are respectful and thoughtful. We learn to listen, which means that we learn to value congeniality, patience, fairness, and moral courage, which creates the possibility of heroism in the face of disagreement and discord. Moreover, the new ethic calls us to remedy destructive distributions of wealth and power. It is wrong when some are made to bear the risks of the recklessness of others, or assume the burden of others’ undo some of the damage we have done, this is the best work available to us.”