October 2, 2014

Christian Witness to the Environmental Movement

One more than one occasion I have been critical of the involvement of Orthodox Christians in the environmental movement.  Most recently wrote an essay critically of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew’s own opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal in which His All Holiness not only offered his support of international environmental regulations but also sought to justify theological his own involvement in the environmental movement.

Publicly and privately, many Orthodox Christians criticized me for my disagreement and assume (wrongly) that I oppose our involvement with the environmental movement.  While I see why they draw this conclusion, I would argue not that we withdraw but that that the Church involve herself more fully in the environmental movement.  I would publicly encourage and support the involvement of those Orthodox Christians who they believe God is calling them to do.

At the same time, however, I would also challenge my brothers and sisters in Christ to a more critical engagement of the environmental movement as a whole.  This would include not simply a careful examination of the science of climate change but also of the political, cultural economic and yes, environmental, consequences of the various national and international public policy initiatives being advance.

While all of these things are important, I think for the Church they are nevertheless secondary matters.  What is primary for us is the anthropological vision that informs at least some of those in the environmental movement.  Analogous to the Christolgical debates in the early Church, the contemporary environmental movement often assumes a vision of the human person that is not compatible with the Gospel.  Anne Applebaum in a Washington Post (Anti-climate change, anti-human) characterized the anthropological vision of the environmental moment as nihilistic.

Though an ”enthusiastically support renewable energy” who believes “strongly in the imposition of a carbon tax” and that “a worldwide shift away from fossil fuels would have hugely positive geopolitical consequences, even leaving aside the environmental benefits” Applebaum is “disturbed by the apocalyptic and the anti-human prejudices of the climate change movement .” She quotes what she describes as the “infamous words of a National Park Service ecologist” David M. Graber who says that humanity is “a plague upon ourselves and upon the Earth.”  For Graber there are only two options.  Either humanity decides “to rejoin nature,” or we live in “hope for the right virus to come along” to wipe out, or at least diminish, the human race.  Or, to take another example, there is the “former leader of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals once declared that ‘humans have grown like a cancer; we’re the biggest blight on the face of the earth.’”

While voices such as these are relatively easy to dismiss, more worrisome are the mainline voices in the environmental movement who don’t simply preach a false anthropology but who actively seek to engage others to act on anti-human sentiment.  Applebaum asks us to consider

the Optimum Population Trust, a mainstream organization whose patrons include the naturalist David Attenborough, the scientist Jane Goodall and professors at Cambridge and Stanford—and  that campaigns against, well, human beings. Calling for “fewer emitters, lower emissions,” the group offers members the chance to offset the pollution that they generate, merely by existing, through the purchase of family-planning devices in poor countries. Click on its PopOffsets calculator to see what I mean: It reckons that every $7 spent on family planning generates one ton fewer carbon emissions. Since the average American generates 20.6 tons of carbon annually, it will cost $144.20 — $576.80 for a family of four — to buy enough condoms to prevent the births of, say, 0.4 Kenyans.

Am I the only Orthodox Christian who recoils in horror at the suggestion that affluent, mostly white American and Western Europeans, assuage our environmental guilty by working to limit the number of births to people of color?  I think Applebaum is more than restrained when she says that:

The assumption behind this calculation is profoundly negative: that human beings are nothing more than machines for the production of carbon dioxide. And if we take that assumption seriously, a whole lot of other things look different, too. Weapons of mass destruction should perhaps be reconsidered, along with the flu virus: By reducing the population, they might also reduce emissions. Perhaps they should be encouraged?

As with the comments by Graber and the PETA spokesperson, it is easy to simply dismiss this as simply rhetorical excess or fanciful speculation on Applebaum’s part.  But is it really?

Unlike despair which cripples us, nihilism empowers.  It is a false dynamism to be sure and one that also cripples us spiritually, but unlike despair which tends to paralyze is, nihilism can—and often does—inspire us to a frenzy of destructive activity.  Just as despair brings a false sense of quiet and acceptance that parodies that peace which surpasses all understanding and  which is the fruit of our trust and obedience to God’s will, so too nihilism is a distortion of our creative powers.  “Nihilism,” writes Fr Seraphim (Rose) is “most profoundly, a spiritual disorder, and it can be overcome only by spiritual means; and there has been no attempt whatever in the contemporary world to apply such means.”

I would argue that at least part of the Christian witness within the environmental movement should take the form of a call to repentance.  Not in the moralistic sense that it has come to have, but in the full, Christian anthropological sense, of coming to see self and other in the Divine Light.  Such a call, I most add, is extraordinarily difficult.  The challenge is that, unlike other sins, contemporary nihilism often cloaks itself in the language of the Gospel.  Again to quote Fr Seraphim, contemporary nihilism is often described  in “contrary terms.”  What he means by this is that contemporary nihilists see “what they do as a reign of ‘love,’  ‘peace,’ and ‘brotherhood. ’”   And they are able to do so

because Satan is the ape of God and even in denial must acknowledge the source of that denial, and–more to the present point–because men have been so changed by the practice of the Nihilist “virtues,” and by acceptance of the Nihilist transformation of the world, that they actually begin to live in the Revolutionary Kingdom and to see everything as Satan sees it, as the contrary of what it is in the eyes of God.

Let me be clear, I am not saying that involvement in the environmental movement is Satanic.  It isn’t.  It is, or at least should be, the fruit of our stewardship of creation which has been our vocation from the beginning (see Gn 1-2).  At the same time we need to be mindful that our witness must overcome the strong nihilistic influence within the environmental movement itself.  We cannot, as some have, given in to apocalyptic and anti-human rhetoric.  Nor can we such let such language stand unchallenged.  Applebaum does a fine job of this in the penultimate paragraph of her essay.

For while it’s true that humans are often greedy, stupid and destructive, it’s also true that we got to where we are at least partly thanks to human creativity, ingenuity and talent. Electricity is a miracle, an invention that has brought light and life to millions. Modern communication and transportation systems are no less extraordinary, helping to create economic growth in places where poverty and misery were the norm for centuries.

Yes, she says,  the advances of the last several centuries “depend on fossil fuels, but they don’t have to: A profound change in the nature of human energy consumption is possible—thanks to the entrepreneurship that created the Internet, the compassion that lies behind the advances in modern medicine and the scientific reasoning that sent men into space. “  Unfortunately, the nihilism that has come to dominate our conversation rather than encouraging us to the compassionate, entrepreneurial exercise our creativity, ingenuity and talent, fosters in us a “hatred of humankind” and “teaches us nothing, except to give up.”

There is much for Christians, and indeed all people of good will, to admire in the contemporary environmental movement.  Chief among these things is the renewed impetus it has given to all humanity to see ourselves not simply as consumers but as the stewards and artisans of creation.

At the same time, however, there also are elements within this movement that are simply heretical.  Chief among these is its unbalanced, negative view of humanity.  For Christians to leave unchallenged this deficient view of the human is a betrayal of not only our own concern for creation but also the very men and women with whom we would make common cause.  More seriously (if unwittingly) this betrayal  open the doors to injustice committed against the poor and demonstrate our own lack of commitment to Christ and the Gospel.

It must not be this way among us.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Comments

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    Robert says:

    Father, bless.

    True enough. You speak, though, as if this false anthropology is to be found only in the environmental movement and is foreign to the reigning status quo of our society. However, Modernity is Nihilism. That was Fr. Seraphim’s point in the work you quoted from.

    The same anthropology on display in the environmental movement guided the technological/commercial movement that created the destruction the environmentalists are reacting against. And it underlies also the reaction provoked in those who resist the environmentalists lest their “standard of living” be affected. Your critique and warning are well-founded but they are not nearly wide enough.

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    Michael Bauman says:

    Robert, I agree. I don’t think it is too much of a stretch to say (echoing the words of Archmandrite Zacharias in his book “Enlargement of the Heart” that our array of technological ‘miracles’ is the fruit of akedia, i.e, the mass turning away from God and into ‘humanism’ that gave birth to modernity. There is not one untouched by the anti-human.

    IMO, all movements are ideological in their content and so blind us to the intimate, personal work of God Himself that is the message of the Gospel.

    I would go so far as to say that we have nothing in common with the environmental movement and must remain outside it in order for the true Gospel message to be heard.

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    I am grateful to both of you Robert and Michael for taking the time to respond to my overly long post. You both offer similar observations about modernity and its fruits that I think many Orthodox Christians would share. For better or worse, however, I do not.

    Wile I appreciate Fr Seraphim’s work, I would have to disagree with the assessment that modernity is nihilistic. Certainly there are strains of nihilism in contemporary culture. The passage that I cited refers to the nihilistic character in some forms of modern abstract art for example. But to assert without qualification that all of modernity and modern thought is nihilistic is simply wrong and is, I dare say, not really Rose’s view of the matter. In my own conversations with his spiritual children, including his god daughter I was introduced to a well educated and cultured man. Though he could be critical of the excesses he s saw around him–both outside the Church and within by the way–I think that the work on nihilism by the young Eugene Rose does not represent the more mature thought of Fr Seraphim. And if the mature Rose did espouse such a blanket rejection of modernity he was wrong to do so.

    In like fashion I have questions about the assertion ascribed to Fr Zacharias that our technological advances are the fruit of akedia. Granted there are some whose attachment to technology does reflect a turning from God. But to offer a blanket condemnation of technology is as wrong as the blanket rejection of modernity. I suppose could argue that, for example, the computer and internet are the bitter and poisonous fruit of apostasy but then the solution is to abstain from their use.

    Indeed in both cases the positions being advance require not simply a psychological and spiritual withdrawal from the world but a literal physical one as well. Whatever might have been Robert and Michael’s otherwise good intentions the logical conclusion of their arguments is a cultural isolation that is sectarianism that is contrary to the catholic nature of our faith.

    Michael’s concluding assertion is I think a good illustration of this final point. Are their areas of disagreement between the Orthodox Church and the environmental movement? To be sure there are and this is why I wrote what I did. But, disagreement is qualitative different then the assertion that we they have nothing in common. If nothing else, both the Church and the environmental movement are human societies. Yes the Church is more than a simply a human society.

    But if anything it is the theandric nature of the Church that makes it possible for us–in imitation of our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ–to have the courage and the clarity of vision need to see points of commonality between the Church and those who opposed her and even hate her and would persecute her mercilessly.

    Finally, and without reference to either Robert or Michael, I have had a number of conversations in the last week with priests who were raised in the Church. All of these men have independently and spontaneously share with me their concern about the growing sectarian sentiment in the Church. They have seen this especially, but not exclusively, among converts.

    One priest summarized the matter well. He said he’s noticed many converts who compare their lives before they became Orthodox with what they have found in the Church. What matters most for these individuals is whatever they see as unique to Orthodoxy. SO whatever the Orthodox Church has and their former community did is what is for them REALLY Orthodox. For example, what matters most about Orthodoxy are things like fasting and relics and long services and monks and beards. Why? Because these were absent in their pre-Orthodox life.

    It should not be this way with us my friends. We most see whatever small good there is before our eyes. Our failure to do so is a sin.

    In Christ,

    +FrG

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    Steve Robinson says:

    Fr. Gregory, You are a voice crying in the “convert wilderness”. Thank you.

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    Fr Gregory says:

    Steven,

    You are most kind. Thank you for not only your words of support but your own example to seek the good in whatever place it is to be found.

    In Christ,

    +FrG

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    Michael Bauman says:

    Fr. Gregory, I am not advocating a sectarian, withdrawn approach. I am advocating a prophetic approach based upon Holy Tradition and the life of the Church rather than a ideological and political one.

    Further, my own interpretation of Archmandrite Zacharias statement is not an anti-techological one but one of balance. Just because we can do something does not mean we should. I am not anti-technology, I am anti-mechanization of man. Technology developed within a mindset that devalues humanity by severing our communion with God comes to no good. Technology developed within a framework of proper anthropology is beneficial. It is a question of whom we really serve: God or mammon. Of course, there is the question of proper use, but in the Church and her members, informed by the monastic and ascetic ethos as she is, should really look far more closely at what we use as well as how we use it, otherwise we leave our hearts wide open to the world and its temporary ruler.

    Your reply suffers from the common fault these days that there is no other possible way of acquiring and using technology than the way we have, therefore we must work with it and the anti-human fundamentals behind its creation and use. Further you seem to assume that the only way of addressing our inter-relationship with the rest of creation is through the corrupt, nihilistic organizations that have taken up the cause.

    IMO such an approach means that the Church will be incapable of responding with all of our weapons, especially our most powerful one–the one you began with: repentance. Repentance is a personal act, probably the most intimate act imaginable–consciously removing one’s blindness of oneself and submitting to the love of Christ. It involes further personal acts to heal any hurts caused. It is impossible to repent without a trust in the love of God and His mercy.

    As I said, IMO, to be true to our calling, the Church must engage the world prophetically and not try to accomodate to the various competing ideologies of the world. We should not attempt to work with others, but call others to work with us in a Christian way, even if they are not believers at first. Nothing less than the prusuit of salvation will bring about the healing of the earth. That is the only path I see that will allow us to be in the world, but not of it. That was the substance of Archmandrite Zacharias comments on the root of the modern world–we have achieved our ‘successes’ primarily because we abandoned our focus on salvation. We looked to conform the world to our desires rather than our desires to the will of God. Comfort, knowlege, and power are the driving forces here.

    My brother was at a conference in Europe a few years ago that was led by Dr. Englehardt which brought together many distinguished ethicists, economists and others to address some of the same problems we are alluding to here. The high point of one of his presentations came when he unapologetically called all there to repent and be baptised as there was a priest present and a stream outside. No one took him up on his invitation, but the point surely is that nothing short of a complete metanoia will have any effect.

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      Michael,

      Thank you for your comments.

      Reading what what you wrote above (#6), I think we are in fundamental agreement. As part of their vocation, those Orthodox Christians involved not only in the environmental (the topic that I addressed here) but all areas of politician and professional involvement are called by Christ to offer a prophetic witness. What however is less clear (to me at least) is what you see as the content of that witness beyond a rather vague call to repentance. This is the point that Steve (#10) makes in his own response to you and I think his criticism is valid.

      I am not sure what to make of Englehardt’s call to conference participants to repent and be baptized on the spot as an example of the witness for which you do call. If he really did this then the best I can say for it is that it was inappropriate.

      While I agree with you that when you write

      Just because we can do something does not mean we should. I am not anti-technology, I am anti-mechanization of man. Technology developed within a mindset that devalues humanity by severing our communion with God comes to no good. Technology developed within a framework of proper anthropology is beneficial.

      All the same however this is not the argument you say Archmandrite Zacharias is presenting. If he argues, as you say he does, that “technological ‘miracles’ is the fruit of akedia, i.e, the mass turning away from God and into ‘humanism’ that gave birth to modernity. There is not one untouched by the anti-human” then it seems to me you (or he) is in fact arguing for sectarian withdrawal. There is so much wrong with this that I don’t even know where to begin. Let me simply ask, in what area of life are we exempt from akedia? Sinner that I am, what in me is “untouched by the anti-human”? Why it may not have been either your intent or Archmandrite Zacharias to do so, as presented is a simplistic rejection of technology as such.

      The sectarian bias in your argument becomes clear when you write

      Your reply suffers from the common fault these days that there is no other possible way of acquiring and using technology than the way we have, therefore we must work with it and the anti-human fundamentals behind its creation and use. Further you seem to assume that the only way of addressing our inter-relationship with the rest of creation is through the corrupt, nihilistic organizations that have taken up the cause.

      Again, is there any organization or individual not corrupted, at least in some degree, by nihilism? Reading what you write here and below (8, 9.1 and 10.1) I am reminded of Teddy Roosevelt’s response to his family members who criticized his decision (in their words) to go into the gutter of politics. He said (I’m paraphrasing) how else are gutters going to be cleaned unless good men roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty? You offer a great deal of criticism but nothing positive save an almost gnostic affirmation of the importance of incarnating our faith.

      Yes, that’s all well and good–but how? How are we to incarnate that faith? You evidently disagree with the argument I’ve made and that’s fine. But at least in my own mind, I am doing what you say needs to be done–I am living my faith and offering if not a prophetic witness, at least a moral witness that is faithful to the tradition of the Church and the specific conditions of the environmental movement.

      Stepping back a moment from the specifics, your argument is, I fear, one that is becoming increasingly common in some corners of the Orthodox Church. You argue passionately against a straw man to justify not engaging the modern world and instead withdrawing into a sectarian vision of the Christian life more compatible with the radical Anabaptist tradition then the Catholic tradition of the Church. For example you write

      No technolgy can solve what is a spiritual problem. No ideology is adequate to the task, no mass movement will heal. In fact, ideology, technology and mass effort as a substitute for God, a substitue for our own repentence will only make matters worse. (9.1)

      This is fine as far as it goes but neither I nor anyone here has suggested otherwise. I agree it only makes “matters worse” when we try to “substitute ideology, technology and mass effort for God . . . [and] our own repentance.” This is why I pointed out the false, anti-human bias in some parts of the environmental movement and asked those Orthodox Christians involved to challenge their fellow environmentalist (as Pope Benedict XVI did in his own recent message) on this matter.

      It seems to me that, and again this is becoming increasingly common in the Church, that you are arguing that we simply need to say our prayers and look after our own souls. If this is all that God has called you to do in your life, fine and I hope and pray that by God’s grace you bring this work to a good end. But while this may be your vocation, it isn’t mind and both our vocations together do not exhaust the catholic nature of the Church anymore than say, pacifism, exhausts the Church’s teaching on the question of war.

      I certainly agree with you “that the Church is [not] here to solve all the problems. In fact I believe the problems will persist until our Lord returns.” Again, no one here is arguing otherwise. Even those Orthodox Christians with whom I am in disagreement about environmentalism are not arguing this. I obviously I don’t know what is in your heart, but it seems to me that what you are (unintentionally?) arguing for here is for the passivity of the Church in the face of the challenges humanity faces.

      While this is true, that there will always be problems in life, it does not excuse (much less bless) the passivity it appears to me that you are arguing for in your comments. The testimony of Scripture is clear:

      What good is it to profess faith without practicing it? Such faith has no power to save one, has it? If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and no food for the day, and you say to them, `Goodbye and good luck! Keep warm and well fed,’ but do not meet their bodily needs, what good is that? So it is with the faith that does nothing in practice. It is thoroughly lifeless (James 2:14-16).

      In Christ,

      +FrG

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        Michael Bauman says:

        Fr Gregory, I am not arguing for passivity but simply for the Church to be the Church and not water down or negate what we have to offer by endorsing worldly ideological approaches. I am arguing just as you say that we members of the Church are to be involved as we can and as we are called in all types of enterprises without giving over our hearts and minds to the ideological mind.

        It is difficult and requires a warrior-like spirit rather than passivity. What I, unfortunately, see pervasive among Orthodox is a.)a general surrender to worldly ideology because is seems to fit what they feel is right; b.) sectarian withdrawal; or c.) simple apathy and non-engagement (most common).

        My father always taught me to think from the general to the specific. If we havn’t absorbed an Orthodox understanding of what it means to be human, how can we possibly act in an Orthodox manner?

        What I am questioning here is the fundamental assumptions of our thought and action. It does not seem to be the forum to present a detailed plan of action. Besides, I think it is far more effective to approach all of these issues from a personal level founded on Church teaching. The less we involve mass organizations, the better.

        God’s commandment to us to dress and keep the earth is a spiritual commandment that has physical consequences. Trying to solve the problems with merely physical, ideological or technical means is futile.

        Some further thoughts:

        1. We must acknowledge that all we have is from God, given to us for use, not ours to use in any manner we see fit, but ours to protect and maximize its productivity for ourselves and others. Maximize does NOT mean to exhaust or use up or destroy BTW. It means good husbandry and stewardship, increasing the value and life in things.

        2. Hierarchy is built into creation and human beings are at the center of the creation (thus the reason for and the authority for the command in the first place). Most environmentalists defacto deny that there is a creation and the centrality of man in it.

        3. We must care for each other in the same manner realizing the image and likeness in our fellow human beings. That means among other things that we work to support life in every way we are able both individual and familial. Thus our support of mothers to keep their childen rather than abort, support for the understanding of traditional marriage and the need to allow people to die naturally.

        4. Honesty and transparency in everything we do so that the temptation to greed and lust for power is diminished and controlled. We must expect even invite challenge in both our assumptions and our decisions.

        5. Egalitarian amd/or totalitarian ‘solutions’ like the EP is recommending will not work as they deny both our personhood and destroy community. Both are essential to fulfilling our responsibility

        6. We have to be doing the spiritual work ourselves.

        7. There is no such thing as ‘environment’ separate from the spiritual state of humanity. A corollary of #2

        8. Each person and family needs to find the manner to respond to God’s command within the context of their own lives and in response to the teaching of the Church. Some may enter politics, some may work with local and national environmental groups, some may join the military, some may go more deeply into the ascetic life (which might look like sectarian withdrawal BTW), some, like me, may bloviate on the internet. The responses are almost unlimited, why should the Church truncate the variety by issuing policy edicts on what is proper to do?

        9. Passivity is not an option.

        A closing comment: your statement that what Dr. Englehardt did was inappropriate is wildly incorrect given the overall context of his standing with the other participants, his personality and the unique nature of the gathering which at the point he made the call had identified several major problems that needed to be addressed philosophically, economically and politically (not all were atheist secularists either–a really judgmental remark IMO).

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    Fr. Johannes Jacobse says:

    This is a good conversation. First of all, I think your point Fr. Gregory about the misanthropic anthropology informing much of the environmental movement is right on the mark. I was disappointed to see Pope Benedict come out with what I consider an insufficiently nuanced endorsement of environmental care when he overlooked this point earlier this week. The Romans have well developed thinking on the sanctity of human life (much we Orthodox can draw from), but when it comes to economics and society their thinking is, well, a bit medieval. Their calls to consider the poor echo the progressive calls, but while the first is based on the gospel imperative and the later is used to morally justify statist expansion, this distinction is seldom clearly made so that the result is the apparent endorsement of more soul crushing socialism. Pope Benedict’s broad endorsement repeats this error.

    As for His All Holiness, his support of the Geneva Protocols, particularly his redefinition of sin in this social and political context, is irresponsible. It may be that harming the environment is a sin, but then we have to define precisely what we mean by the term. It is not true, which the exhortation implies, that care of the environment requires that the Orthodox support the Geneva Protocols or believe the global warming hypothesis underlying it.

    Perhaps the silence of the Greek Orthodox Press Office to the Patriarch’s latest endorsement that came after the revelation of corruption at the University of East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit shows that sobriety is returning to East 79th Street. If not, we can at least be grateful that the giddy glee that characterized so much of their writing during the Patriarch’s visit (did you know that Al Gore conferred the moniker “Green Patriarch”?), has stopped. Thank God for small favors.

    Regarding nihilism:

    My brother was at a conference in Europe a few years ago that was led by Dr. Englehardt which brought together many distinguished ethicists, economists and others to address some of the same problems we are alluding to here. The high point of one of his presentations came when he unapologetically called all there to repent and be baptised as there was a priest present and a stream outside. No one took him up on his invitation, but the point surely is that nothing short of a complete metanoia will have any effect.

    The intellectual and governing class are usually the last to embrace authentic moral reform. Don’t be so sure the call to repentance wasn’t heard. Sometimes is takes years for true words to change the heart.

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    Michael Bauman says:

    What the conversation comes down to for me is that we don’t have to do anything new or special to effective address the care of the earth. We don’t have to go panting after modern ideological precepts and we don’t have to join any mass movements. We have to preach the Gospel once delivered to the saints. I don’t mean an academic gospel heavy on academic obstruse theology or its obverse pietistic morality. I do mean finding in ourselves the love of God that compells us to genuine repentance and a living experience with God Incarnate. Real evangelism comes quite naturally from such an encounter, just as St. Paul’s did.

    Such encounters are not controlled by or limited by scandals, dysfunction or the rest, they occur despite our falleness and in the midst of darkness.

    From such an encounter we can and will proclaim with the Psalmists the glory of God’s handiwork AND display an authentic dominion through which we will be able to fulfill God’s command that we dress and keep the earth.

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    Fr. Johannes Jacobse says:

    Agreed. But theology is not ideology (if properly understood anyway), and with our increasing technological prowess as well as the propensity toward ideological thinking (a characteristic of our age), it seems to me that a reasoned theological apologetic is necessary. In fact, I see the starting point in your paragraph above: there is a relational dimension within and towards creation that is grounded in our relationship to God.

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      Michael Bauman says:

      Theology is essential. I try to make my own approach fundamentally theological. However, it needs to be a theology founded upon genuine experience not just a re-statement of the past. It needs to be an inclusive theology (as far as possible). Fortunately, we have folks doing that, we just need to do a better job of addressing the specifics and getting the word out. What is most public now is not adequate and even wrong.

      As to you comment, I would say that we have an inter-relationship with the rest of creation that mirrors (in some respects) and is empowered by the Incarnation. It is the inter-relationship with both God and the rest of creation that is a fundamental part of who we are as human beings and what we are called to do. As St. Paul point out in Romans, when we fell, all of creation fell. The disorder, disharmony, degradation, destruction and death that is our existential reality is the result of our original disobedience. No technolgy can solve what is a spiritual problem. No ideology is adequate to the task, no mass movement will heal. In fact, ideology, technology and mass effort as a substitute for God, a substitue for our own repentence will only make matters worse.

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    Steve Robinson says:

    Hi Michael, In all kindness and without an ounce of “snark” (really!), your words have the right “sound”, and they are true in general, the Gospel is a call to repentance etc. but apart from standing in front of a group of avowed secularists and atheists and offering baptism, you offer no concrete way to engage any of the stuff or methods you seem to be decrying. The offer of baptism was rejected, now what? Exactly how should the Church prophecy to the earth worshippers and godless environmentalists? We all agree getting in bed totally naked with them isn’t the answer. Getting in bed with them in gold robes? (He facetiously asked). The reality is, the cure for ALL the world’s problems is “repent and be baptized every one of you”, but it didn’t happen then and it won’t happen now. So how does the Church (or repentant Christians) appeal to Caesar (as St Paul did in Acts) and maintain its integrity? The nuances of that are lost in the high rhetoric of spiritual words and I’m sure his Holiness thinks he IS maintaining the Church’s integrity in what he is doing and how. I don’t think it is in the “Orthodox cards” for the Church to set up better environmental research, campaigns and organizations, so how do we engage this subculture with the reality of the cards we have been dealt or have dealt to ourselves? Realistically, withdrawal until we get our act together means we will never engage. Shame on us, but it is what it is, now what to we do?

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      Michael Bauman says:

      Steve, I don’t believe that the Church is here to solve all the problems. In fact I believe the problems will persist until our Lord returns.

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    Wesley J. Smith says:

    Fr. bless: It is not surprising that Jane Goodall would support such an anti-human “mainstream” environmental organization. Goodall enthusiastically supports the Great Ape Project, co-created by Peter Singer and an Italian animal rights advocate. The GAP seeks to declare a “community of equals” among human beings, gorillas, bonobos, chimpanzees, and orangutans. As such, it is profoundly misanthropic. Singer explicitly writes in an essay in his edited book The Great Ape Project, that it is a “speciesist” concept, but by creating moral equality between humans and apes, it will “break the species barrier,” thereby allowing other animals to, in essence, be declared persons.

    Goodall writes one of the first essays in that book in full support of this anti human project. Indeed, it seems to me that puts her at the heart of the nihilism.

    The GAP was started only in 1993 and already, it is the law of Spain.

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    Isa Almisry says:

    Break the species barrier? We have laws against that. Leviticus 18.

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    George Michalopulos says:

    Break the species barrier? Leviticus 18 is correct, but even without this passage, it’s not possible to break the species barrier naturally. Evolution still hasn’t proven how genetic information can increase in a spontaneous, random fashion.

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    Steve Robinson says:

    Michael, Thanks for pointing out my inexactitude. I should have said, “A group that included avowed secularists and atheists” which were (obviously?) his target audience. Anyway, the specific incident is not the issue but a metaphor for how we engage the culture and those in it. I appreciate you getting more specific in your last response. However, it seems the higher and more specific the discussion gets the more points are flying past each other. The agreements are many, some of the straw men are still standing IMO, the spiritual generalities of the spiritual life and repentance/transformation etc. are agreed upon, the dichotomies aren’t as stark as I think they are painted sometimes. I share Fr. Gregory’s concern that we converts tend toward a kind of gnostic apocalypticism when it comes to engaging “the world”. “In the world, but not of it” is a tough tightrope that cannot be institutionalized, I think you’d agree. How it is walked in an individual life and how we understand where even our own attitudes and concepts and philosophies come from and how they are synchretized with our pasts are things that are best not unravelled and worked out in public forums sometimes… though I do also believe there is benefit to irenic and lively debate. Thanks for not letting the discussion degenerate.

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    Michael Bauman says:

    Steve, could you clarify for me what you mean when you say “… the dichotomies aren’t as stark as I think they are painted sometimes.”

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    Steve Robinson says:

    Micheal, I think this statement is the kind of thing I’m thinking of:
    “God’s commandment to us to dress and keep the earth is a spiritual commandment that has physical consequences. Trying to solve the problems with merely physical, ideological or technical means is futile.” In my mind the fact of the matter is an atheistically concieved water treatment plant or energy plan etc. will pragmatically do the same thing as a “spiritually concieved one”. Both technologically accomplish the same end, albeit with different foundations and goals.

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    Michael Bauman says:

    Steve, the water treatment plant is a local project for a specific local need, however it does not solve the problem of pollution, water quality or the appropriate use of potable water and often creates problems for the neighborhood in which it is placed.

    There are many who would argue that the water treatement plant is a symptom of man’s misuse of the environment and even that it shows that we are a cancer.

    Each application of technology creates a need for further technology to fix the problems not yet addressed or the unintended consequences of the original ‘fix’. In the process, despite the constant need to find a new solution, we become fixated on the created thing.

    That does not mean we should not develop and use appropriate technology just that we need to agreesively promote and practice an approach that is grounded in our contingent createdness rather than the false idea of our individual autonomy. This I believe is also the approach the Archmandrite Zacharias was referring to.

    The over riding problem, IMO, is that we tend to think in false dicotomies that are then crystalized into ideologies of all stripes that separate us from one another. Environmentalism is a perfect example. Those who are currently in control of the environmtalist agenda keep pushing harder and harder for tyrannical, anti-human ‘solutions’. As much as I know we have a responsiblity to care for the rest of creation, I cannot join with them on anything.

    Here is a post that says far better than I part of what I’m attempting to communicate: http://fatherstephen.wordpress.com/2009/12/17/christmas-throughout-the-ages/

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    Steve Robinson says:

    Hi Michael, I seem to pick examples that are too easy to take too literally. You said, “That does not mean we should not develop and use appropriate technology just that we need to agreesively promote and practice an approach that is grounded in our contingent createdness rather than the false idea of our individual autonomy.” I agree 100%. All I was trying to say is a SPECIFIC technology CAN be concieved, developed and implemented by an atheist and fulfill all your expectations except it having a “spiritual father” as its progenitor. I think you already said, and I agreed that nothing, not even “spiritual solutions” will be perfect and solve all the worlds’ ills. On some things ideologies can come together on a pragmatic basis (IMO), of course what those things are will be a matter of individual concience. So at this point I believe we are in basic ideological agreement on what Orthodoxy is about for an individual’s salvation, but disagree on the ideological consequences when it comes to the pragmatics of engagement, cooperation and outcome of collaboration with “the world”. So at this point, I’ll bow out and watch from the sidelines. Fr. Gregory is far more articulate than I and so far he’s said better what I would have.

    BTW, I also did a podcast on “the earth god” a while back. HERE
    Thanks for the irenic discussion.

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    Christopher says:

    Fr. Jenson,

    I think Michael has the better half here. Perhaps it comes down to what you mean by the “environmental movement”. You believe there is something that a Christian can be allied with in it. I don’t think so. The authentic “environmental movement” is the one that is no longer necessary because it’s imperatives are recognized by almost all – the one that calls for clean air and water, sensible use of the commons (i.e. public lands), etc.

    The current “environmental movement” is about anti-human conceptions of creation and man’s place in it. Any Christian witness to it will appear “sectarian” because there is really nothing in it that a Christian can embrace.

    I do appreciate your clarity on technology however.

    Also, I really tire of statements like this:

    “I have had a number of conversations in the last week with priests who were raised in the Church. All of these men have independently and spontaneously share with me their concern about the growing sectarian sentiment in the Church. They have seen this especially, but not exclusively, among converts.”

    As a convert of about 14 years now, my experience is the exact opposite. The “sectarian” impulse I have found almost exclusively among the “cradle” orthodox. I keep looking for these “fundamentalist” and “zealous” converts but I can’t seem to find many of these creatures in the wild (with a few notable exceptions).

    I HAVE found a certain easy and old fashioned “liberalism” in theology and culture among “priests who were raised in the Church”. These are the sorts of men you might find tenured at a secular university. Perhaps you should consider with whom you are having these conversations with and their circumstances and instincts…

  20. Back to Recent Comments list  Back to top

    Correct me if I am wrong here, but having read through the various comments offered in response to my original post, I think everyone is in fundamental agreement with my original contention that there is in an anti-human, apocalyptic orientation among at least some members of the environmental movement. We are I think also in agreement that this apocalyptic anti-humanism must be opposed since it is incompatible with the truth of what it means to be human and (more importantly) contrary to the Gospel.

    Where there is disagreement, or again so it seems to me, is whether or not Orthodox Christians should be involved in the environmental movement. Granted, as Christopher has pointed out, what is meant by the “environmental movement” (both in my original post and in itself) is ill-defined. Frustrating though this may be, this lack of clarity is besides the point. At least since Socrates it has generally been acknowledge that we do not have the clarity of thought we think we do. What some see as (potentially) a reason for not doing so seems to me to be a reason for Orthodox participation. There is much to be said for an Orthodox witness that seeks to bring a relative clarity of vision and focus to a mass social movement that, absent such intellectual self-discipline, can do a great deal of harm.

    In like manner I think Michael’s observation about the self-defeating nature of technological solutions, while true, is not really the point. There is a sense in which even the most basic of human actions are all self-defeating; this is the burden of our fallen condition. If we reject technology for this reason then we must reject, or so it seems to me, ANY and ALL human actions.

    Take for example the act of eating. Even in moderation, eating brings me neither good health nor physical life. Strictly speaking even the best of diets simply postpones fractionally the inevitability of my death. Examined liturgically, we would be on firm ground to argue that eating even the most nutritious of food is my personal participation in death; eating is a symbol or revelation of my dying. Apart from Christ, bread and wine are sacraments of sin; in Christ and by the Holy Spirit, however, they are the sacrament of Eternal Life.

    Where I must strongly disagree, however, is with those who argue that Orthodox Christians ought not to participate in the environmental movement. Certainly there are risks in such participation, but what in life is without risk?

    More substantially though, it is simply inappropriate and unacceptable for anyone to say that Orthodox Christians ought not to participate in the environmental movement. As I said earlier (#6.1) such participation is a matter of the personal vocation of the particular Orthodox Christians involved. Again as I said above, Christ has not call me to be His witness to those in the environmental movement. But it does seem that He has called others to this witness and as a priest I am obligated by Christ and my ordination to support and sustain them to the best of my ability in their work.

    Publicly, I have been critical of how this witness has been expressed but this is a different matter than saying, for example, His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew ought not to bear this witness. Yes, I don’t think it is a good use of HAH’s time or the resources of the Ecumenical Throne. And in all candor I don’t think that there will be much good fruit from his work in this area. But unless HAH is preaching heresy, it isn’t my place to tell him–or any one else–what it is that Christ has called him to do for His sake and the sake of the Kingdom. And this brings me to my last point.

    I stand by what I said, there is a growing tendency among some Orthodox Christians–mostly but by no means exclusively converts–to pass judgment on what is, and more to the point is not, an appropriate venue for an Orthodox Christian witness. Such comments are inappropriate and fly in the face of the Gospel and the witness of Our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ.

    In the Gospels, we see Jesus criticized for His willingness to talk with those who are rejected by the religious authorities of His time. Worse in the eyes of these authorities, He not only talks with sinners, He eats with them and, in so doing, identifies Himself with them and with the joys and hopes, their fears and struggles, sinners though they be.

    The willingness of some to limit the witness of the Church to some and to exclude others is sectarianism pure and simple. Worse, it is the sin of pride and reflects a corrupt and corrupting view of the Church and the Gospel.

    Again, I have my criticisms of the EP’s participation in the environmental movement as well as Orthodox participation in the ecumenical movement, especially the WCC and NCC. I don’t always agree with how the witness is offered but it isn’t my place to say that my brothers and sisters in Christ should not make the effort to bear witness to Christ in these, and other, arenas. That we come to a place where some see it as their place to do so is a sad reflection on our lack of charity.

    In Christ,

    +FrG

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      Chrys says:

      Father, a very helpful answer – on many points – to issues raised both here and in other posts. I take particular note of your comment about the EP and his vocation: “it isn’t my place to tell him–or any one else–what it is that Christ has called him to do for His sake and the sake of the Kingdom.” This posture is essential if we are to see the presence of God in myriad forms of prophetic witness. This is why so many – from the Old Testament prophets to Fools for Christ – were spurned by those around them who were able to make little sense of their behavior or activities.
      More directly, the comment mirrors Christ’s own response to Peter in reference to the Beloved Disciple (John 21:22): If He wants another to serve Him in this manner, what is that to us? We must follow Him in that to which we are called.
      This is St. Paul’s point as well: to serve Christ where we are, as we can. Too often we “slot” people into pre-set callings. This may make it “easier” for us to deal with our lives, but it may also allows to avoid truly listening to God to hear and see what He is doing – in us or in those around us. We are called to be a light on whatever bushel basket we find ourselves. And wherever we are we can be a vessel for His Spirit and His grace for the blessing and conversion of others. (Except in the Democratic Party. :lol: )

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    Michael Bauman says:

    Father, it seems to me you are conflating pastoral and personal care for specific people with participation in organizations that are demonstrably anti-Christian, i.e, environmentalist organizations. I personally would anticipate martyrdom to be the form of witness for any who are called to such participation, e.g. the Roman army prior to Constantine.

    It would see that we would be much better off to witness to such organizations rather than with them. I am sure we could find many other Christians who would join such an effort. Jesus did not join the Pharisees or the Sanhedrin to witness to them. As much as I long for a sensible approach to our use of creation, NOTHING in the popular environmental movement offers a decent alternative and in fact would make most situations worse. I see nothing to be gained by working with them except in a case by case local situation with specific, concrete goals.

    You also take this distrubingly binary approach to work in the environment. It is either with the prevailing organizations or it isn’t witness. That’s just wrong.

    Your objection to my comments on the self-defeating nature of technology is denigrating with little thought and a progressively ad hominum approach–or so it seems. I am simply saying that we should evaluate all technology and its use in the light of Holy Tradition and not be mesmerized by its largely false promises. Actual asceticism by voluntarily giving up certain forms of technology is a good thing to consider. However, the emphasis should be on personal efforts for real people, real projects that effect the local area (not the greater good of all).

    The impression I am left with is that if I disagree with you, I’m sectarian or inappropriately judgemental of my brothers. I’m sure you do not mean that, but it is the impression I am left with.

    You further state that unless HAH or others are preaching heresy, it is not our business or words to that effect. Well, I am not alone in suspecting that HAH’s infatuation with Rome and the liberal, anti-Christian environmentalists at best leads to a diminuataion of the teaching of the Church and could lead to all sorts of dualistic heresies.

    I also fail to see anything ‘disturbing’ in our conversation to this point until your final two posts. They disturb me.

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    Christopher says:

    Fr. Jenson,

    No offense personaly but yes you are wrong on at least two points IMO:

    1) You seem to conflate “active participation” which in fact means furthering the anti human and anti Christian goals of the movement in question with “witness”. If a person spends their time and efforts furthering totalitarian movements such as Copenhagen (as the EP in fact does) and claims this is “witness” then the term “witness” has a meaning that is beyond my understanding. Christ did eat with Judas, but He did not participate in Judas’ sin.

    I simply do not see the “sectarianism” you are seeing when we point this out. Perhaps I am wrong, but I don’t see anyone on this thread arguing for a sectarian response in theory. Instead, I see arguments for a practical witness – one that does not actively promote the anti-human goals of the environmental movement in question. Sometimes a proper witness can only be from the outside. One can not “witness” the porn industry by producing porn.

    I think the main disagreement here is practical as you describe better the anti human basis/philosophy of the current environmental movement better than most. However, you seem to find more humanity and correct impulse in it than I can see. You evidently know and counsel some people who actively participate in it. Well, if they are furthering the anti-human goals with their work (even if at the same time they are trying to temper or change the philosophy that leads to this anti-human work) then I don’t see how you can justify that. I saw no one here say you should not be their priest.

    You quote Applebaum who on the one hand seems to see the anti-human aspect of the current environmental movement, and yet seems to agree with the core issue – that the burning of fossil fuels is an inherent evil. What is one to make of such a movement if one holds that the fossil fuels are a blessing and we should burn and burn and burn them until we truly do run out – and by doing so help the planet get back to more normal CO2 levels which (on a geological time scale) are still frighteningly low?

    If after the above explanation you still think this is “sectarian” position then your simply calling people (who disagree with you) names at this point.

    2)as to:

    I stand by what I said, there is a growing tendency among some Orthodox Christians–mostly but by no means exclusively converts–to pass judgment on what is, and more to the point is not, an appropriate venue for an Orthodox Christian witness. Such comments are inappropriate and fly in the face of the Gospel and the witness of Our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ.

    I completely disagree. I remember Fr. Hopko saying almost the exact same thing in the mid 1990’s in response to criticism of Orthodox participation in the NCC and WCC. Such an outlook twists the term “witness” beyond all understanding. Apparently almost anything can be done in the name of “witness” – no institution is too corrupt, and all methods of witness are beyond criticism.

    Such an outlook has a narrow view of what it means to be part of an institution, ideology, or “movement”. When you participate in such movements by becoming a member you purchase their methods and core presuppositions. One can not actively participate, sign the documents, campaign for the goals of such organizations and then come back to the parishes and regular Orthodox believer and claim “I don’t really buy into all that ballyhoo, I am simply following the example of our Lord and “witnessing”” –AND, on top of that, cry “sectarian” to anyone who points out the essential contradiction.

    I think that there is a certain tendency among eastern, culturally and instinctively liberal (and often these folks are professors, seminary professionals, celebrity speakers on the Orthodox lecture circuit, etc.) “cradle” (and convert) Orthodox to label converts “sectarian”, “zealot”, and who endlessly look for the protestant in the converted Orthodox

    Apparently you are a proud member of this group – who of course imputes pride unto those who dare question your purported “witness”…

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    Nick Katich says:

    I have thus far stayed on the sidlines watching with great interest the unfolding of this vital discussion. While I share with Father Jensen many conerns regarding a drift into sectarianism, I must pause and remind that the Lord said: ” For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.” [John 18:37]. It is not sectarian if, to uphold the truth, one does not engage within a movement. Michael has it correct when he says: “It would seem that we would be much better off to witness to such organizations rather than with them. I am sure we could find many other Christians who would join such an effort. Jesus did not join the Pharisees or the Sanhedrin to witness to them. As much as I long for a sensible approach to our use of creation, NOTHING in the popular environmental movement offers a decent alternative and in fact would make most situations worse. I see nothing to be gained by working with them except in a case by case local situation with specific, concrete goals.”

    Several things bother me about the environmental movement.

    On the rational level, it is difficult to subscribe or take seriously any such movement when there is no open or frank discussion or critical analysis of the data. It is not serious science to reason from the top down, to create an idiology and seek or manufacture data to conform to the idiology and/or ignore or suppress data that does not so conform.

    On the anthropological level, it sees humanity in an inconsistent way. At the same time that it pictures humanity as the depraved predator destroying nature it also sees some of humanity (namely themselves) as the know-it-all saviors of nature. It becomes a strange blend of pure Calvinism and pure neo-paganism/humanism. When I ponder on witnessing with or within them, in contradistinction to them, I draw back and remember His words: “Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.” (Matthew 16:23). I don’t think that I could have accused HIM, had I lived in that time and place, of sectarianism. Ultimately catholicity and truth are inseperable.

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    John Couretas says:

    For those of you who couldn’t get to Copenhagen:

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    Several years ago, a group of parishioners–all Greek, all well off, complained to my then Chancellor that (and yes, this is a quote), “Fr Gregory attracts too many young married couples with small children and no money.” I also at the time attracted street kids, people with mental illness and struggles with substance abuse and the odd felon on probation. To make a long story short, I was eventually pushed out of the parish because I spent time with the wrong people.

    The arguments advanced here in opposition to the Church’s involvement with the environmental movement strike me as a variation of the arguments made against my own pastorate by disgruntled parishioners who wanted a nice, middle class parish and were upset that I was attracting the wrong kind of people. But Jesus reminds us that it is the sick and not the healthy who need a physician. Taking our Lord and Savior at His word it would seem that those who, for whatever reason, hate the gift of their own humanity are the ones most in need of the Divine Physician and the ministry of the Church.

    At this point no doubt, you will respond, “Yes, this is all true. But this is why we must witness to these people. But we ought not to witness with them.” I confess I am at a lost to understand how I can do the former without the latter.

    Pastoral challenge aside, however, it seems to me that such willingness to stand apart from those to whom we are ministering flies in the face of the Gospel. Jesus is not simply God ministering to, but He is God With us; He is Emmanuel. Yes Jesus chastises Judas–as He chastises at one point or another all the apostles–but this chastisement is not from outside but arise out of His communion with us, out of His communion with Judas.

    As I have said several times before, I am not involved in the environmental movement and what little I have written on it has been critical of both the science and the ethics I’ve seen in evidence by many of its proponents.

    Looking at the Church’s involvement, I have publicly criticized the Ecumenical Patriarch for what I saw as his rather confused argument in favor of proposed international agreements (which I argued were bad policy). And in the post that has started this thread, I have criticized the anti-human anthropology much in evidence at the Copenhagen meeting (and thanks to John for adding the video link above).
    Whatever else I am, I am not a proponent of the environmental movement.

    But the arguments made against Orthodox participation in the environmental movement are instances of special pleadings. Yes, as I pointed out in the original essay, many people in the environmental movement hold to a deficient anthropology. But so what? If the fact that some, many, espouse error is a reason to withdraw then we must likewise call for Orthodox Christians to withdraw their signature from the Manhattan Declaration since this too is an example of a common witness with those who hold all manner of explicit dogmatic error. Let us be consistent.

    If the presence of those who espouse theological error is a reason to withdraw from common witness with those on the political and cultural Left then it is a sufficient reason to withdraw from a common witness from those on the political and cultural Right as well.

    This is what I know. I am a political and social conservative and that’s why I write for AOI and others. While I hope that my politics are compatible with the Gospel, I work hard not to confuse the two. I must also accept the fact that there are times when my politics are contrary to the Gospel and when this happens I must lay aside my politics.

    AOI has been criticized by some as being nothing more than the voice of the religious right. I don’t think this is true but I see where the discussion my post has inspired would leave people with this view that AOI is some sort of Eastern-rite of the Religious Right.

    Finally let me say again, I’m not involved in the environmental movement, I am in fact a critic of it. My criticism is apologetically as a political conservative. All that to one side however, I am an Orthodox Christian first and foremost and the Church not only the through Ecumenical Throne but also the Moscow Patriarchate’s “Bases of the Social Concept of the Russian Orthodox Church” has blessed and encourage my brother and sister Orthodox to participation in the environmental movement. For example, from the bishop of Russia:

    The Orthodox Church appreciates the efforts for overcoming the ecological crisis and calls people to intensive co-operation in actions aimed to protect God’s creation. At the same time, she notes that these efforts will be more fruitful if the basis on which man’s relations with nature are built will be not purely humanistic but also Christian. One of the main principles of the Church’s stand on ecological issues is the unity and integrity of the world created by God. Orthodoxy does not view nature around us as an isolated and self-closed structure. The plant, animal and human worlds are interconnected. From the Christian point of view, nature is not a repository of resources intended for egoistic and irresponsible consumption, but a house in which man is not the master, but the housekeeper, and a temple in which he is the priest serving not nature, but the one Creator. The conception of nature as temple is based on the idea of theocentrism: God Who gives to all «life, and breath, and all things» (Acts 17:25) is the Source of being. Therefore, life itself in its various manifestations is sacred, being a gift of God. Any encroachment on it is a challenge not only to God’s creation, but also to the Lord Himself. (XIII. 4.)

    We are to be involved in the environmental movement. Our witness is to be a Christian witness to be sure, but it is also to be a witness of active participation. I do not believe I am called to personally involved (though I am always available to speak!), but it is a legitimate area of social witness for Orthodox Christians. And while yes, not everything that comes under the banner of the environmental movement is acceptable to the Church, the Church nevertheless blesses those who are involved to be involved.

    In Christ,

    +FrG

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      Michael Bauman says:

      Father, your words and actions show a priest with a gift for pastoral care. May God continue to bless your labors and multiply the fruit of those labors.

      My brother’s parish in Indianapolis,IN has a similar profile as the one you describe and it is a wonderful place in which to worship.

      It is precisely my contention that a pastoral approach to the care for the earth is what is required in contra-distinction to the mass ideology that typifies the current environmental movement and is so obvious in the EPs remarks on the subject.

      Such an approach will be small, quiet, seemingly ineffective, but it will be the actual leaven that is needed. I think you are involved in the real work of caring for creation that God commands. Missonary work pure and simple. Sacramental acts powered by participation in the Holy Mysteries.

      The personal, the small, the intimate, the voluntary offering of self in genuine asceticism is trampled by the environmental movement as it is currently structured. Said movement is a utopian nightmare fueled by the same dualism and the myth of positivist progress that informs the anti-human, anti-community ethos that is typical of industrialisation (despite the movements stated opposition to advanced industrial states).

      To me the most powerful statement of environmentalism is Psalm 103/104 that leads off Vespers (at least in the Antiochian Archdiocease) and indeed, regular, heartfelt particaption in Vespers itself that reaches the climax in the Divine Litury when the priest chants: “Thine own of thine own we offer unto thee on behalf of all and for all.”

      Of course there are other acts that must be taken in order to incarnate, so to speak, the vision and the experience of Vespers and Liturgy.

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    George Michalopulos says:

    Fr, I hear you and see where you’re coming from. I applaud your efforts and encourage you to continue speaking on this and other fronts. You are one of the few Orthodox priests I know who is actively engaged in taking on cultural issues. I also applaud you for your pastoral sensitivity to the young families and other marginal people that were part of your previous parish. Shame on those elitists who took you to task for that. They have their reward.

    If I may speak for myself, my fear is that as in so many other avenues of Orthodox witness, we come away co-opted or at the very least, accepting the premises and/or language of those supposedly well-intentioned people in (fill-in-the-blank) movement.

    If you would permit me, I remember a few years ago a “dialogue” between pro-life women and pro-“choice” women who wanted to come together and try to tone down the level of rhetoric and ultimately find some common ground where the end-result would be the overall diminution of abortions (which was their stated position). I can’t remember the name of this group but I do remember that there were some high profile Orthodox women in it (if memory serves). Besides minimizing abortion, its other goal was for these opposing camps to get together and see each other as human beings and not as frothing, rabid, blood-enemies. Anyway, I don’t know whatever became of it because nothing has been heard from. My suspicion is that it was just a ruse to get pro-lifers to stop calling pro-abortion women “pro-abortion.”

    Having said that, I do think there’s a valid place at the table for Orthodox Christians as far as environmentalism is concerned. I just hope that we don’t sacrifice our principles just because we’re bought a first-class plane ticket to Copenhagen or wherever. What scares me (and I think others on this blog) is that the EP has totally bought into the premises of the globalists/materialists/environmentalists/etc. As you pointed out, you have courageously pointed out where you thought the EP (our “pope in effect”) was wrong.

    I stress again, there is a vital and viable place for us. I just want us to be able to know first of all, what our theology is and secondly, what our anthropology is as well. Plus, it would be good for our hierarchy and their clergy spokesmen (I’m thinking Chryssavgis here) to be more calibrated and rational in formulating their positions. As I’ve said on many an occasion, the illogic and historical ignorance that proceeds from their mouths is embarrassing (I’m thinking Arey here). And their lack of scientific knowledge is also appaling (pretty much every press release put out by the GOA press office).

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    Christopher says:

    The arguments advanced here in opposition to the Church’s involvement with the environmental movement strike me as a variation of the arguments made against my own pastorate by disgruntled parishioners who wanted a nice, middle class parish and were upset that I was attracting the wrong kind of people.

    Now your just being stubborn. Go back and re-read what Michael wrote again. Also, this is just a wee bit arrogant – in the face of rational criticism your claiming that your actions is just what Jesus did and would have done in this situation.

    At this point no doubt, you will respond, “Yes, this is all true. But this is why we must witness to these people. But we ought not to witness with them.” I confess I am at a lost to understand how I can do the former without the latter.

    Really, you can not see how this is done? You “stand apart” in the sense you don’t join the movement(s), don’t campaign for their anti-human and anti-Christ ways. Are you saying I have to work in a Planned Parenthood abortion mill in order to to witness to those who abort babies? Give us a break – your REALLY out on a limb here.

    I don’t think this is true but I see where the discussion my post has inspired would leave people with this view that AOI is some sort of Eastern-rite of the Religious Right.

    Baloney. Anyone who would read this discussion and come to that conclusion is already predisposed (due to certain ideological commitments) and would find almost any post and discussion here “right wing”. This discussion has real substance to it – the only exception perhaps being your strange insistence that one has to actually become a part of and actively work for these anti-human organizations in order to witness and speak to them about the Gospel or anything else.

    We are to be involved in the environmental movement. Our witness is to be a Christian witness to be sure, but it is also to be a witness of active participation. I do not believe I am called to personally involved (though I am always available to speak!), but it is a legitimate area of social witness for Orthodox Christians.

    To re-re-iterate, it all depends on what you mean by “involvement” and “environmental movement”. Yes we are all called to a moral relationship with the created order – but that does NOT mean Orthodox Christians need to be inside and a part of the organizations of the “environmental movement”. We are in society with people in many other forms and ways and it is not “sectarian” to refuse to join Greenpeace, Copenhagen, etc….

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      Fr Gregory says:

      Christopher,

      I am clearly not understanding the argument you are making. So it would help me if you could please in what areas do you think the Church can establish a common witness with non-Orthodox groups(religious or secular)? It would also help me if you could explain why you think we can (or can’t) work collaboratively with these groups. Fro example, do you think I was wrong for signing the Manhattan Declaration?

      As for the other comments, with the recent, unexpected death of Archbishop Job and my different speaking and writing obligations, I have not had time (or energy) to compose responses. God willing after the coming Feast of Nativity, I will be able to answer folks.

      Thank you all for you indulgence.

      In Christ,

      +FrG

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        Christopher says:

        The Manhattan Declaration is a good example of “collaborative” work. The NCC/WCC is a negative example. The “environmental movement”, by which you really mean almost all modern non-profit organizations and movements (e.g. Sierra Club, Environmental Defense Fund, most government involvement such as Copenhagen, etc.) are the Planned Parenthoods of this ideology – A Christian (who is conscious – and thus voluntarily sinning) simply can not active work for or with these organizations because they actively promote a non-human and non-Christian outlines of the “problem” and solutions of said problems.

        Even if you don’t agree that this particular movement is anti-human and anti-Christian I would think you would agree that Christian “witness” does not by theological necessity mean that we need to be an active in all ideologies and sub-societies to carry out said “witness”. Such an assertion falls on it’s own absurdity rather quickly – such as one would have to be an active pornographer to “witness” to those in the porn industry, or one would have to be a thief to “witness” to the criminal underground. If not being a thief makes one a “sectarian” then yes, I am a sectarian.

        As far as “collaborative” work in general, I do not think that it is an accident those of a certain reflexive/instinctive “progressive” bent are the very persons who seem very heavily invested (on both an emotional and professional basis) in such alliances. In general, too much is made of them. Not enough is made old fashioned “preaching”. It also appears to be a generational infatuation as well, peaking with the baby boomers (which, again no accident, are most reflexively “liberal” in politics, religion, and culture)…

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    Fr Gregory says:

    Forgive me for not coming back to this discussion sooner. What with Christmas and other obligations, I have found myself rather distracted of late.

    I think George Michalopulos (#27) is on to something when he writes

    my fear is that as in so many other avenues of Orthodox witness, we come away co-opted or at the very least, accepting the premises and/or language of those supposedly well-intentioned people in (fill-in-the-blank) movement.

    The Church being co-opted always something we must guard against. At the same time and as recent history has shown, one need not travel outside the Church to find those who would co-opt the Church for their own ends. This certainly has been part of what has plagued the OCA for the last several years.

    If I may speak for myself, I’m concerned that our participation in the environmental movement represents a real risk for the Church. If we are not careful–more careful than we’ve been by the way–I think that the Church will find itself being exploited for ends contrary to the Gospel. This is why I am critical of the public statements by the EP.

    It seems to me though that the risk that George points to–and his example of pro-choice/pro-life cooperation is another good example of this–is inherent in the evangelical mission of the Church. We always risk being misunderstood or misrepresented or co-opted by others. As I suspect most priests know, this is also the risk that is run when I hear confessions and grant absolution. It is always possible that the penitent will take Christ’s words of forgiveness as words of approval for his sin.

    But in every area of life misunderstanding and even betrayal are always possible. The only way I can avoided this is to refuse to love. Unfortunately when I do this I commit the greatest act of betrayal there is.

    One can certainly argue that in a world of limited resources the EP’s time could be better spent other ways than in speaking about the environment. One could even argue that–given the risks involved–the return for his investment is so small as to not be justified.

    Of course one could argue that I am likewise wasting my time in this conversation though I would respectful disagree. ;)

    I think a good argument can be made on prudential grounds that Orthodox Christian involvement in the environmental movement is ill-advised. Though I an sympathetic with those who argue that our participation is imprudent in terms of content, I’m not sure our involvement is imprudent in and of itself (though I am open to being convinced).

    But even if Orthodox involvement in the environmental movement is imprudent in and of itself, this is a practical disagreement not a dogmatic one.

    This is where I think the arguments against Orthodox participation in the environmental movement (or the ecumenical movement, or the reception of the Evangelical Orthodox Church, or the former members of Christ the Savior Brotherhood or any other number of intra-Orthodox disagreements) varies toward the sectarian. Too frequently Orthodox Christians (from both the left and the right) try to dogmatize their position on practical matters.

    If we don’t stop doing this we will rip the Church from within and do the devil’s work for him.

    If I have misunderstood anyone, that is to say if I have wrongly assumed that someone has made a dogmatic argument when he was actually making a prudential argument, then please accept my apology and I ask forgiveness for my error.

    In Christ,

    +FrG

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    Christopher says:

    At what point do “practical” and “prudential” disagreements become theological, anthropological, and dogmatic?

    Honest question. For example, if I faithfully adhere to Orthodox dogma as such can I at the same time be an abortionist. I don’t mean unconsciously, but consciously in that I defend the aborting of children as not only allowed but a virtue within Orthodox Christianity? Would such a position be limited to a “prudential” decision or would it be a dogmatic one as well? Is there any such thing within Christianity as a mere prudential decision/stance and a mere dogmatic one?

    A secondary question to the above would be this: If a fellow Orthodox Christian disagrees with my honest and sincere belief that being an abortionist is in no way a conflict with being a Christian, is he a “sectarian” if he disagrees (cites it as a “dogmatic” issue) and thus refuses to be in communion with me?

    Again, these are honest questions.

    I have heard this argument before (indeed even before becoming Orthodox) that there is an ominous surge of “dogmatizing on practical disagreements” within orthodoxy. I don’t buy it for a second. Here is why:

    1) The only people I have heard advancing this argument are those who are doing quite controversial things. Those who on the one hand come up with several theological reasons why it is not only prudent but theologically necessary to be involved in the WCC/NCC for example. Then, when someone comes along who disagrees with them they quickly cry “sectarian” even when those who disagree with them answer on their own theological terms. How can folks who put forth detailed arguements as to why dogma supports what they are doing “practically”, then on the other hand say those who disagree with them are “dogmatizing practical disagreements”?!? At best it’s intellectually lazy, at worse it’s simply calling people names and using rhetoric in attempt to deflect from the substantial disagreements.

    2)Unless someone can show that there is a clear (and thus un-organic) demarcation between dogma and the practical, the Truth and the mere prudential, then obviously one can’t point to someones position and say “They, but not I, are being dogmatic” or “They, and not I, are being practical”. It goes back to what I was saying above – it’s being lazy and dishonest with those who disagree with you (assuming their disagreement is substantial).

    3)Who gets to decide what falls under “dogma” and what falls under “prudential”? Clearly it is the bishops in the main. Yet, why is it then not the bishops who are most often alarmed by the alleged “sectarians” but the liberal/progressive orthodox intellectuals and the seminary professionals (along with EP “bishops” of lands with no Christians in them) who literally make a living by attending WCC/NCC, going to Copenhagen, etc.

    Fr. Gregory, unless you provide some substance (i.e. a sound moral and theological argument) as to HOW it is “sectarian” to refuse to actively participate in the modern anti-human and anti-Christian “environmental movement” and in particular point out someone who has actually broken communion with the EP or any other Orthodox Christian who supporting said movement, then you are simply crying wolf. You remember what happened to the little boy who cryed wolf don’t you?

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      Fr Gregory says:

      Christopher,

      Thank you for your questions. Reading them it seems to me that you have more questions than I can effectively answer within the limits of a comment box. I would encourage you to read the Moscow Patriarchate’s “Bases of the Social Concept of the Russian Orthodox Church that I quoted above. This offers a good introduction to the question of the Church’s social witness.

      God willing, I will post later a more extensive treatment of the foundational questions inherent in the Church’s social teaching and witness and the limits that prudence imposes upon the participation of Orthodox Christians in non-Orthodox organizations and movements. Until then, if you wish, we can continue this conversation privately.

      In Christ,

      +FrG

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    Eliot Ryan says:

    If one succeeds to prove that it is “sectarian” to refuse to actively participate in the “– movement”, the next step would be to ‘prove’ that the Desert Fathers (http://www.balamandmonastery.org.lb/fathers/indexsayings2.htm) were sectarians. I suggest the use of some sort of generalization method: they left the world to live in the deserts…

Trackbacks

  1. [...] My post on an Orthodox Christian witness to the environmental movement has generated an interesting (if at times disturbing)  conversation in the comment section on AOI. I’d encourage people to go over to take a look and maybe,if so moved, to offer their own thoughts on the matters under discussion.  You can read my post and the comments here. [...]

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