By Mel Jasmin
The Christian tradition has taken one aspect of the Genesis account of creation and distorted it in such a fashion as to have contributed to a cosmology that supports the exploitation of the environment. By focusing on the twin themes of our being made in the image of God and having been given the responsibility of subduing the earth and all creatures, our tradition has sustained an image of humanity having an unlimited sovereignty and dominion over creation. Even what would appear to be a counter-balance, namely the concept of stewardship, contributes to the problem. This is because the purpose of stewarding God's creation in the end is to provide for the good of humanity. Is it any wonder then that it was the Christian West, which was the cradle of an industrial revolution, that uncritically began an assault on the environment?
In an address to a 1997 convention on the environment and health, Pope John Paul II noted humanity's "inconsiderate exploitation of creation that is a result of human insensitivity." He called for a review of lifestyles based on "firm points of reference and inspiration: a clear knowledge of creation as a work of God's provident wisdom and the awareness of human dignity and responsibility in the plan of creation." Nearly five years later, he spoke in a general address of an "ecological conversion which in the last few decades has made humanity more sensitive to the catastrophies we are moving toward." John Paul II added that such conversion must go beyond protecting the physical environment and aim at creating a "human ecology which makes the existence of every creature more dignified, protecting the radical good of life in all its manifestations and preparing for future generations an environment closer to that which God planned. . . . Men and women will once again walk in the garden of creation, working to ensure that the goods of the earth are available to all, and not just to a privileged few."