THE GARDENER’S CHILDREN

This is a beautiful analogy and reflection of André Houssney about biblical stories based on the planet care.

In these days close to Christmas Day we must remember that God comes to the world to teach us more about the love for everything that surround us.

 

Sin título“Give a man an acre and he will create a garden, rent a man an acre, and he will create a desert.“ Owners feels responsibility for, and the desire to improve and invest in a property, a renter, or hired hand, feels no such responsibility and, in fact, expects others to keep up the property.

For some reason, many Christians have chosen the word “stewardship” to refer to their relationship with creation. While better than the thief, the steward, or hired manager, is not the model that the Bible promotes for us. The Christian model of human’s engagement with creation ought to be that of heirs.

Heirs of Creation

In the book of Genesis, God has gave to human beings the responsibility of ownership and even heirship over the earth. The book of Genesis tells us that God created the earth and it’s creatures, He blessed the animals he had made, the birds, sea animals, livestock, microbes, and wildlife. He called these things “good”. Adam and Eve, and by extension ourselves, are to be seen as the ‘owners’ or ‘rulers’ of the earth and it’s animal and plant communities. Just as the owner of a house cares for and invests in his or her property, we are to care for and invest in that which God has himself loved, invested in and has given to us.

 Jacob and Esau

Esau was a hunter, his younger brother Jacob was a herdsman. A hunter lives by subtracting from the wild herds that form the base of his living, a hunter neither owns nor looks after the animals on which he relies. The hunter lives by taking, not by building.

A herdsman, by contrast, multiplies the base of his living. He cares for and looks after each animal, of the females he keeps all those that have acceptable qualities and raises them to the best of his ability so that they will become productive mothers. The hunter is a thief,  a herdsman is a builder.

Our human society has become an Esau society. We have despised our beautiful birthright and traded it for a quick meal. In a Christ-like way Jacob runs to the well and rolls the stone away. He waters the three flocks of sheep. Even though these animals do not belong to him, he acts as if they do (and eventually some of these flocks do become his).  Jacob is a good-shepherd, he knows how to care for animals and to bring an increase. He has observed nature, watching the seasons and the growth patterns and life of the animals and plants in his area, he has discovered what makes them succeed, he applies his observations tirelessly and over the long-run. He perseveres, observes and improves his flock and that of his father-in-law and he improves the land as well. The Jacob is the one who brings an increase by diligence and obedience.

Cain and Abel

Lord said to Cain “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground. And now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened it’s mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. When you work the ground, it will no longer yield to you it’s strength. We find that Man’s sin had resulted in the suffering of the earth and that degradation in turn impacts human communities. Yet in Cain’s cry we hear an anguished sorrow “Cain said to the Lord, “My punishment is more than I can bear. Today you are driving me from the land, and I will be hidden from your presence.” The loss of his inheritance through his own sin is at the root of his anguish.

Restoration and Regeneration

We are heirs of the earth, it is our inheritance, yet we behave less like owners and more like thieves. Rather than seeing the environment as a resource to beexploited, what would happen if we saw the environment as an investment to be nurtured? What kind of an investor would buy a building and begin stripping out all the wiring, nails, wood and stones to sell as building materials? Isn’t the sum more valuable than the parts?

The problem in the way we interact with nature is that we take too little ownership, not too much. We must become good shepherds of creation, In John 10:12-13 Jesus spoke about the value of ownership “The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.” It’s time for us to recognize our position as children of God and owners and heirs of the earth.

As we take up the work of being the rightful owners of a damaged property we must recognize that we are not alone in this project. John 1:3 reminds us that all things were made through Christ. If we look to his creation as a model we can become restorative managers of creation. Jesus, who is able to absorb the sins of the world, has provided, in nature, the principles of restorative agriculture which we can apply to begin to heal the things that have been broken.

The techniques and principles of restorative agriculture are derived from a recognition of the high value, complexity and design of natural systems and an attempt to mimic them in a human agriculture system.

Psalm 96:10-13:

“The Lord reigns….     Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad;     let the sea resound, and all that is in it. Let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them;     let all the trees of the forest sing for joy. Let all creation rejoice before the Lord, for he comes,     he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness     and the peoples in his faithfulness.

The Pope and the Economy

Pope Francis’ recent apostolic exhortation has received plenty of attention around the world. Now the man is Time’s “Person of the Year”. But perhaps the most controversial aspect, at least in the USA, has been the economic issue. His words on this subject drew critiques, such as this one  from Samuel Gregg here who said some of his positions are “rather questionable”, Rush Limbaugh, and others like this. 

This is an extract of what Francis said in Evangelii gaudium:

54. In this context, some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system. Meanwhile, the excluded are still waiting. To sustain a lifestyle which excludes others, or to sustain enthusiasm for that selfish ideal, a globalization of indifference has developed. Almost without being aware of it, we end up being incapable of feeling compassion at the outcry of the poor, weeping for other people’s pain, and feeling a need to help them, as though all this were someone else’s responsibility and not our own. The culture of prosperity deadens us; we are thrilled if the market offers us something new to purchase. In the meantime all those lives stunted for lack of opportunity seem a mere spectacle; they fail to move us.

No to the new idolatry of money

55. One cause of this situation is found in our relationship with money, since we calmly accept its dominion over ourselves and our societies. The current financial crisis can make us overlook the fact that it originated in a profound human crisis: the denial of the primacy of the human person! We have created new idols. The worship of the ancient golden calf (cf. Ex 32:1-35) has returned in a new and ruthless guise in the idolatry of money and the dictatorship of an impersonal economy lacking a truly human purpose. The worldwide crisis affecting finance and the economy lays bare their imbalances and, above all, their lack of real concern for human beings; man is reduced to one of his needs alone: consumption.

Gregg’s critique reminds me of some responses to very similar comments by Benedict XVI in Caritas in Veritate about the economy. One famous critique to the Pope came from George Weigel, here. Weigel’s article was considered by several commentators as a rather desperate attempt to defend his economic ideology, such as this one. Below what Benedict XVI said:

In fact, if the market is governed solely by the principle of the equivalence in value of exchanged goods, it cannot produce the social cohesion that it requires in order to function well. Without internal forms of solidarity and mutual trust, the market cannot completely fulfil its proper economic function[r1] . And today it is this trust which has ceased to exist, and the loss of trust is a grave loss. It was timely when Paul VI in Populorum Progressio insisted that the economic system itself would benefit from the wide-ranging practice of justice, inasmuch as the first to gain from the development of poor countries would be rich ones.90 According to the Pope, it was not just a matter of correcting dysfunctions through assistance. The poor are not to be considered a “burden”,91 but a resource, even from the purely economic point of view. It is nevertheless erroneous to hold that the market economy has an inbuilt need for a quota of poverty and underdevelopment in order to function at its best. It is in the interests of the market to promote emancipation, but in order to do so effectively, it canno[r2] t rely only on itself, because it is not able to produce by itself something that lies outside its competence. It must draw its moral energies from other subjects that are capable of generating them.

36. Economic activity cannot solve all social problems through the simple application of commercial logic. This needs to be directed towards the pursuit of the common good, for which the political community in particular must also take responsibility. Therefore, it must be borne in mind that grave imbalances are produced when economic action, conceived merely as an engine for wealth creation, is detached from political action, conceived as a means for pursuing justice through redistribution.

The Church has always held that economic action is not to be regarded as something opposed to society. In and of itself, the market is not, and must not become, the place where the strong subdue the weak. Society does not have to protect itself from the market, as if the development of the latter were ipso facto to entail the death of authentically human relations. Admittedly, the market can be a negative force, not because it is so by nature, but because a certain ideology can make it so.

There have been several attempts to defend Pope Francis too. The best one in my opinion, reacting to the accusation that Francis is a Marxist, is this one in The Antlantic on the economics of Francis. Heather Horn claims that Francis wasn’t critiquing the free market per se, nor following Marx, only that his vision matches Polanyi’s vision of economics:

Polanyi’s Big Idea: The Economy Has to Serve Society, Not the Other Way Around

Economic activity, Polanyi says, started off as just one of many outgrowths of human activity. And so, economics originally served human needs. But over time, people (particularly, policy-making people) got the idea that markets regulated themselves if laws and regulations got out of their way. The free market converts told people that “only such policies and measures are in order which help to ensure the self-regulation of the market by creating the conditions which make the market the only organizing power in the economic sphere.” Gradually, as free market-based thinking was extended throughout society, humans and nature came to be seen as commodities called “labor” and “land.” The “market economy” had turned human society into a “market society.”
In short (as social sciences professors prepare to slam their heads into their tables at my reductionism), instead of the market existing to help humans live better lives, humans were ordering their lives to fit into the economy.
The Pope was quick to respond as well. Today, he answered the specific question on criticisms coming from the USA in an interview by Andrea Tornielli. He explains his language wasn’t technical, but defends the idea he was trying to communicate:
Some of the passages in the “Evangelii Gaudium” attracted the criticism of ultraconservatives in the USA. As a Pope, what does it feel like to be called a “Marxist”?“The Marxist ideology is wrong. But I have met many Marxists in my life who are good people, so I don’t feel offended.” 

The most striking part of the Exhortation was where it refers to an economy that “kills”…

“There is nothing in the Exhortation that cannot be found in the social Doctrine of the Church. I wasn’t speaking from a technical point of view, what I was trying to do was to give a picture of what is going on. The only specific quote I used was the one regarding the “trickle-down theories” which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and social inclusiveness in the world. The promise was that when the glass was full, it would overflow, benefitting the poor. But what happens instead, is that when the glass is full, it magically gets bigger nothing ever comes out for the poor. This was the only reference to a specific theory. I was not, I repeat, speaking from a technical point of view but according to the Church’s social doctrine. This does not mean being a Marxist.”  

Once again, this is nothing new as explicitly said by Francis, and reminds me of Benedict’s words in a homily about the family, and how economic theories can affect families:
In modern economic theories, there is often a utilitarian concept of work, production and the market. Yet God’s plan, as well as experience, show that the one-sided logic of sheer utility and maximum profit are not conducive to harmonious development, to the good of the family or to building a just society, because it brings in its wake ferocious competition, strong inequalities, degradation of the environment, the race for consumer goods, family tensions. Indeed, the utilitarian mentality tends to take its toll on personal and family relationships, reducing them to a fragile convergence of individual interests and undermining the solidity of the social fabric.

2013 Climate Change Review

Roger Pielke Jr. has an excellent summary on the “state of climate change”, (view the article), given in his testimony to the House last week. The full testimony is posted here, with some of the highlights below. Also, there is an interesting confrontation item by item on the mistakes of the last IPCC assessment for anyone who is looking for more detail. Bottom line, there is no evidence for an increase in weather disasters. Bellow, the highlights:

Take-Home Points

  •   There exists exceedingly little scientific support for claims found in the media and political debate that hurricanes, tornadoes, floods and drought have increased in frequency or intensity on climate timescales either in the United States or globally.1
  •   Similarly, on climate timescales it is incorrect to link the increasing costs of disasters with the emission of greenhouse gases.
  •   These conclusions are supported by a broad scientific consensus, including that recently reported by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in its fifth assessment report (2013) as well as in its recent special report on extreme events (2012).

To avoid any confusion

Because the climate issue is so deeply politicized, it is necessary to include several statements beyond those reported above.

  •   Humans influence the climate system in profound ways, including through the emission of carbon dioxide via the combustion of fossil fuels.4
  •   Researchers have detected and (in some cases) attributed a human influence in other measures of climate extremes beyond those discussed in this testimony, including surface temperatures (heat waves) and in some measures of precipitation.5
  •   The inability to detect and attribute increasing trends in the incidence of hurricanes, floods, tornadoes and drought does not mean that human-caused climate change is not real or of concern.
  •   It does mean however that some activists, politicians, journalists, corporate and government agency representatives and even scientists who should know better have made claims that are unsupportable based on evidence and research.
  •   Such claims could undermine the credibility of arguments for action on climate change, and to the extent that such false claims confuse those who make decisions related to extreme events, they could lead to poor decision making.
  •   A considerable body of research projects that various extremes may become more frequent and/or intense in the future as a direct consequence of the human emission of carbon dioxide.6
  •   Our research, and that of others, suggests that assuming that these projections are accurate, it will be many decades, perhaps longer, before the signal of human-caused climate change can be detected in the statistics of hurricanes (and to the extent that statistical properties are similar, in floods, tornadoes, drought).7

    The remainder of this written testimony provides data and references to support the claims made in the “take-home points” above. The “take-home points” are broadly supported by peer-reviewed research, US governmental assessments of climate science and the recent reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, specifically its Special Report on Extreme Events (IPCC SREX 2012) and its recently-released Working Group I report of its fifth assessment.8