The Catholic Bishops in Europe are promoting an eco-pilgrimage to promote environmental awareness and deepen on the teachings of Pope Benedict XVI on the environment. Below an itinerary of the trip taken from the official website.
“The itinerary will bring us to the waters of the Danube (by boat from Esztergom to Bratislava), along the roads of Slovakia and Austria (by coach from Bratislava to St. Pölten), before continuing by train (from St. Pölten to Lake “Erlaufsee”) and doing the last 10 km of the pilgrimage to Mariazell on foot. Making use of what we will see on the way in the different places, we will introduce into the programme opportunities for exchange and reflection on different themes: water, energy (there will be a visit to one of the largest biodiesel refineries in Europe, at Komárom, in Hungary) and the relationship between development, peace and custody of creation.”
Seems like a great idea. Perhaps this could be replicated in North America and other continents too…
CS Lewis has some pointed remarks that challenge the Romantic view, still very prevalent today, that wisdom and knowledge can be found in nature. I gave an example of this, with some cynicism it is true, in the post on ‘Faith in nature and psychic crocodiles’. Lewis says something quite different about what people find in nature:
“If you take nature as a teacher she will teach you exactly the lessons you had already decided to learn; this is only another way of saying that nature does not teach. The tendency to take her as a teacher is obviously very easily grafted on to the experience we call ‘love of nature.’ But it is only a graft. While we are actually subjected to them, the ‘moods’ and ‘spirits’ of nature point no morals. Overwhelming gaiety, insupportable grandeur, somber desolation are flung at you. Make what you can of them, if you must make at all. The only imperative that nature utters is, ‘Look. Listen. Attend’.” (CS Lewis, The four loves).
Then Lewis goes on and makes a specific comment on the Romantics and their love of nature…
“Nature ‘dies’ on those who try to live for a love of nature. Coleridge ended by being insensible to her; Wordsworth, by lamenting that the glory had passed away.”
Lewis is not saying that nature is evil, or bad in any sense, but the problem arises when we expect of her more than she can give. Nature will frustrate those who make of her a god (or goddess). I have made a similar observation in the paper ‘How the Puritans Killed Chris McCandless” to be published soon. In the experiences of McCandless, Muir and Abbey we see this sense of subtle frustration with nature and its teachings. For us, living in a culture still infused with Romantic values, this warning is still very pertinent.
In an excellent article, The Mystery of human Origins: Which theories are compatible with Catholic faith?, Mark Brumley quotes some central passages from Pope John Paul II and Benedict XVI on the issue:
“Rightly comprehended, faith in creation or a correctly understood teaching of evolution does not create obstacles: evolution in fact presupposes creation; creation situates itself in the light of evolution as an event which extends itself through time – as a continual creation – in which God becomes visible to the eyes of the believers as ‘Creator of heaven and earth'” (JP II, 1985 Sympsoium on Evolution).
“the theory of natural evolution, understood in a sense that does not preclude divine causality, is not in pricnicple opposed to the truth of the visible world, as presented in the book of Genesis (General Audience, Jan 28 1986)
“It therefore can be said that , from the viewpoint of the doctrine of faith, there are no difficulties in explaining the origin of man in regard to the body, by means of the theory of evolution. But it must be added that this hypothesis proposes only a probability, not a scientific certainty. However, the doctrine of faith invariably affirms that man’s spiritual soul is created directly by God…” (General Audience, April 16 1986).
While writing on faith and nature I have come upon some unexpected and disturbing things. Now human beings are turning to a crocodile to predict election outcomes. I wrote about Paul the Octopus before, but somehow it didn’t seem this bad. First of all, octopuses are considered to be somewhat intelligent creatures and Paul was predicting a somewhat trivial matter – soccer. (As a wise priest once said, soccer is the most important thing of things that are not important). But to have a crocodile, as dumb as they are and look, predict poll outcomes is disturbing! You need to watch the video of how this divining method is undertaken. What if Paul predicts if he will be eaten by a crocodile or not. Then we should hang two octopuses for Dirty Harry to choose from, one of which is Paul. In this way we can discover which is the most psychic of them all.
More seriously, this seeking for wisdom in nature is an intriguing phenomenon. Emerson thought of it a long time ago, but I never thought it would become so popular in such unusual ways. In a book called Faith in Nature, Thomas Dunlap comments on this idea expressed by Emerson and embraced by environmentalists ever since:
“With compelling metaphors and striking aphorisms, he [Emerson] described nature as refuge, instructor, and source of wisdom… Our ties to nature were more than personal or physical – they were metaphysical. [Quoting Emerson directly] “there is a radical correspondence between visible things and human thoughts…. Every natural fact is a symbol for some spiritual fact… The whole of nature is a metaphor of the human mind. The laws of moral nature answer to those of matter as face to face in a glass” (p. 47)
I hope I am seeing things here and that there is no connection between Dirty Harry (the croc), Paul (the octopus) and Emerson (one of the most influential Romantic thinkers). Surely Emerson did not envision this sort of crudely ‘direct’ wisdom from nature. What is scary is that we may…
I returned yesterday from a visit to Brazil. The highlight of my experience was a visit to the largest Marian Shrine and third largest Catholic Church in the world, Aparecida. Dedicated to the National Patron Saint, Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, Aparecida meaning “appeared”, the shrine celebrates the miraculous apparition in 1717 of a statue of Mary to poor fisherman in the Paraiba river which passes by the town. Today, the Sanctuary receives from 8 to 10 million pilgrims a year (Lourdes receives 4 million) and the original image can be seen in the Basilica. The Sanctuaries magazine has the widest circulation in Brazil second only to Veja (the Brazilian equivalent of Time Magazine). The building is massive, the numbers impressive, the reach extensive. A profound witness to the Catholic identity of Brazil. The images below speak for themselves.
Why I think this is relevant? In a recent informal lecture one of my professors said something about the proposal I made of reconciliation environmentalism as “OK, interesting, made sense but why did I have to include the God thing there?” It was a sincere question, in the lines of whether it was really necessary to include God since it made my point so much harder to accept. After having been for 2 months in the Peruvian high Andes, the “Peru profundo” sleeping on the floor, talking to locals in broken Spanish and Quechua, walking up remote valleys and participating in everyday culture, the reality of God became so obvious to me: I was caught by surprise. As I casually proposed my complete belief in God I was as shocked to hear the complete disbelief. As the environmental debate tries to embrace global perspectives, I think the secular mindset will find itself increasingly challenged by the presence of God as a reality in the vast majority of Third World countries’ life and culture.
Here is a concise 30 minute video, an analysis of the situation of climate change and how the future looks. It’s the work of CU Boulder Professor Roger Pielke Jr. I was part of the graduate student project he mentions; which doesn’t mean I fully support this view, but it is a very careful, rational analysis of the situation. The diagnostic of the problem is pretty lucid.
Go to this link to see the video .