Living in God’s creation, 3

Thoughts on reading Elizabeth Theokritoff, Living in God’s Creation: Orthodox Perspectives on Ecology (Crestwood, NY: SVS Press, 2009).

After having talked in my last post about some of the problems I see in the introduction to this book, I had promised to look at some of the positive things I find. I’ll do so in this post.

In the first place, I am very encouraged to see an Orthodox writer bringing the wisdom of the Fathers to bear on a contemporary issue. As a student of the Fathers myself, I appreciate not only the great treasures available in the patristic tradition, but also the difficulty one has in translating their wisdom into a contemporary milieu and bringing it to bear on a new context which the Fathers themselves never addressed directly. To be sure, issues of Christian life, theosis, and morality don’t change, and patristic teaching on these issues is easily fungible across the centuries. But issues like environmentalism, which the Fathers never addressed directly, are not so easy. I think Theokritoff gets major kudos for undertaking her study and a contributing something Orthodox to the discussion.

Secondly, she frankly acknowledges this difficulty and speaks to the limits of theology. She says,

It is vital to come to a deeper theological understanding of God’s creation and our own place in it; but this on its own will not show us how to address specific social and environmental problems. It is not the task of theology to come up with such solutions, and there will sometimes be genuine differences among Christians about the practicalities of remedying various ills. (pp. 29-30)

Thirdly, I was happy to see her make a simple but helpful distinction between the “environment” and the “creation” (p. 26). As she points out, the “environment” means something around us, and is defined in relation and in contradistinction to humans, whereas “creation” is defined in contradistinction to the Creator alone. I think it helpful to distinguish humans vis-à-vis the environment who are nevertheless creatures in creation vis-à-vis their Creator.


Posted on September 2, 2010, in Environmentalism and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. I appreciate the distinction of environment-humans-Creator rather than creation-humans-Creator. Thanks for highlighting this point.

  2. Michael Bauman

    The term ‘environment’ and the ideology stemming from it is false construct. It tends to assume that human beings are living on top of, and are therefore not really part of, the environment. Even in the best sense, our environment changes frequently through out the day as the term can only properly be used to describe the immediate surroundings that impact us directly. An environment is small and local and dynamic. It is more proper, even without considering our connection to God, to talk of eco-systems. Each of us and every other living creature and inanimate object on this planet exists within several inter-locking eco-systems. Within these systems the normal creaturely activities we all share are part of the dynamic balance and easily accounted for. However, when we sentient creatures act from our own will and volition, there is no possible way for us to be sure what the effect of our actions will be as each action is amplified throughout the inter-connecting eco-systems of the planet. Eventually, even if not measureable, each of our actions affects every other person and thing on the planet. Put in theological terms, we are in communion with each other and the rest of creation.

    If we act in harmony with our nature and the will of God, there will be no problem, in fact, we will be following God’s command and purpose for us to ‘dress and keep’ the earth. If we act in disharmony with our nature and the will of God (sinfully), the rest of creation suffers (see Romans 1). One of the fascinating parts of Romans 1 is that the fall and suffering of creation at our hands is inextricably linked to idolatry by St. Paul. The antidote for idolatry is true worship, prayer, fasting, almsgiving, repentance and forgiveness.

    When considering public policy it must be noted that any attempt at large scale solutions as a fix are bound to fail because of the unintended consequences of our acts on the thousands of dynamic and interlocking eco-systems. Massive political and social change (the solutions one hears of the most) will only make matters worse if only because of the inherent temptations to lust of power, greed, and pride they entail. Further, any solution that is not founded upon an correct notion of the nature of humanity and our place in creation will also fail because a false premise always leads to a false result.

    Much of the philosophy that forms the basis of the current environmental movement either ignores or is antagonistic to the traditional understanding of humanity revealed in the Orthodox Church. We must be quite careful in endorsing any of their ideas for that reason and that reason alone because their solutions will only increase the suffering of creation, not reduce it.

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