V. Implications for the Faith, Witness, and Life of the Churches
Chapter V, Section headings:
to Chapter 6
|Place and role of human beings in the whole of creation||Hope in a period of survival|
|Development in the context of life to the full||The role of the churches|
A reorientation of the present economic system with far-reaching consequences for all spheres of life is required. The changes proposed here challenge every institution and have particular ramifications for the life of the churches and for their witness in society. Reflecting on implications of the new approach for the faith, witness and of Christians' life, the consultation has sought to identify areas which the churches need to address. Areas that call for urgent reflection and action in the churches' self-understanding and pastoral ministry, include the challenge to:
The following illustrate but a few of these challenges:
Place and role of human beings in the whole of creation: Recognition that the economic system has to be understood as a sub-system of the eco-system raises the question of the relationship of human beings to the whole of creation. On the one hand, there is the biblical affirmation that men and women have been created in the image of God; on the other, there is recognition that human beings are part of the whole creation, one species in the community of the living. How are these two affirmations related to one another?
There has been a long-standing tendency to over-emphasize the unique role of human beings within creation. Their relationship to the rest of creation was often described in dualistic and anthropocentric terms. Their role was understood as that of having dominion over the earth, too often with arrogance and a neglect of responsibility. Today, however, the need to overcome such misunderstandings of the Genesis command "to subdue the earth" is generally recognized in Christian theology.
Revisiting key strands in the biblical heritage has helped Christians to rethink the theological categories in which they discuss the inter-relationship between God, human beings, and the wider creation. This new emphasis leaves open the question of how the role of human beings within the community of the living is to be understood. What is their uniqueness? How is their responsibility to be described?
Equally urgent is the question: what does respect for God's creation mean in concrete terms? In the light of the ecological crisis, we have come to recognize that human beings have trespassed their limits and caused destruction and death. There is agreement on the need for a new respect for life (Ehrfurcht vor dem Leben), a recognition of the dignity and intrinsic value of all creation. But what does this mean? Are there criteria which allow going beyond the general principle to assess the "value" of creation? In what sense can we speak about rights of animals and even the rights of nature?
Development in the context of life to the full (John 10:10): The shift of emphasis from concentrating on material growth toward qualitative development raises the question of the moral values underlying human society. Such reorientation has spiritual implications and requires a deeper understanding of the true "quality of life." In fact, this shift corresponds to the deepest convictions of Christian faith. Fulfilment of life can finally be found only in developing all God's gifts, in creating space where a communion of life and solidarity can flourish, and in developing harmonious relationships with the rest of creation. Jesus adamantly rejects the human desire to accumulate more and more material goods. He denounces as idolatry the commitment to material acquisition as an end in itself. Therefore, from the point of view of the Christian faith, a culture defined primarily or exclusively in economic terms is in danger of losing its true human quality.
The Christian tradition does not despise material goods. It affirms the excellence of God's creation and rejoices in God's gifts, at the same time emphasizing the need for an inner freedom which liberates from the desire to acquire and to dominate. At its best, the ascetic tradition in Christianity sought to foster this inner freedom. Facing the challenge of progress and expansion in modern times, there is a tendency to minimize the importance of this tradition.
How can it be recovered in a meaningful way?
Hope in a period of survival: The ecological crisis represents a threat to human survival on the planet. The question is on the minds and in the hearts of many: is it still possible to counteract the destructive forces? Will there be the wisdom and will to achieve the changes which are necessary to secure the way into the future?
What is Christian hope in this time? How can we recognize the mortal danger in which we live and yet avoid falling into disillusionment and fatalism? Where are the resources for hope to be found? Hope cannot be obtained by minimizing or even denying the danger. Christians are realists. On the other hand, without hope many of the insights needed to discern the true shape of the present danger are lost. We will forfeit the capacity to repent and to accept the inevitable changes in our personal and collective behaviour which are necessary to protect life and to create a sustainable society. Neither faith nor love can survive without hope.
Ultimately, Christian hope does not depend on human history. It is grounded in God's kingdom which transcends history. Whatever the course of history, even should it lead to the destruction of human life, no force in heaven or on earth can separate us from God's love. But this ultimate assurance does not permit neglect of our responsibility in history. On the contrary, ultimate hope inspires us to struggle against everything that buttresses the destructive forces in society. It leads us to share in the suffering which stems from the ecological crisis and the inevitable pain in any attempt to address it.
The ecological crisis forces a re-examination of the values and the temptations of utopian thinking. In light of what has happened in central and eastern Europe in this century, one must ask if the failures of building on utopian thought in one place and time preclude reformulating models of the future that might help clarify our present tasks. Of course, the assumption that all people in any given society could agree on a single vision of the good life carries a ponderous burden of proof. Do these failures condemn us to approach the future pragmatically, which can so easily end in disillusionment or fatalism? The main flaw in the failed attempt was that in unswerving commitment to a future of unprecedented possibility, it justified the use of coercive power and denied basic freedoms to vast numbers of people. The same oppressive violence which victimized millions of human beings also led to widespread environmental degradation. The obsession with bringing about the perfect future through the use of force blinded political leaders to the appalling destruction of life and hope in the present.
A similar pattern can be discerned in capitalistic countries, especially in the Third World, where people are forced, through both internal and external economic mechanisms and coercive powers, to forego their basic needs today with the promise of creating an abundant future for their children.
While trying to avoid the foregoing false conceptions of the future, it must be asked if Christian attempts to scan the eschatological horizon can discern patterns that might help shape a more just, participatory and ecologically stable society? How are such spiritual and ethical visions to be related to the insights of the scientist, the philosopher, the politician, the businessman, and other thinkers and planners, in a pluralistic world?
The role of the Churches: What can the churches contribute to the process of reorienting society? How does a new understanding of the role of human beings as participants in the wholeness and diversity of creation challenge historic models of church life?