A Sacramental Ecology for the Anthropocene: EDITORIAL (Mother Pelican)

Ecology is the study of interactions among organisms and their environment. Human ecology is the study of human relations, among humans and between humans and the human habitat. There is a sacramental dimension of human ecology. In the biblical tradition, the entire creation is like a sacrament, i.e., a sign of the sacred. Sacramental ecology is the study of the entire community of creation as an icon of the Creator.

Humans are unique as rational animals composed of body and soul, but there is an original unity between humans, other animals, and the entire cosmos. The first human being was made from dust (Genesis 2:7). Subsequent sexual differentiation, required to overcome the solitude of the first "man," does not cancel the original unity of man and woman. Likewise, the emergence of a rational soul does not cancel the fundamental continuity and mutuality between Homo sapiens and nature. After millennia of paying too much attention to the differences, and not enough attention to unity, humanity now seems headed toward an ecological crisis of potentially biblical proportions:


"Unsustainable consumption coupled with a record human population and the uses of inappropriate technologies are causally linked with the destruction of the world’s sustainability and resilience. Widening inequalities of wealth and income, the world-wide disruption of the physical climate system and the loss of millions of species that sustain life are the grossest manifestations of unsustainability. The continued extraction of coal, oil and gas following the “business-as-usual mode” will soon create grave existential risks for the poorest three billion, and for generations yet unborn. Climate change resulting largely from unsustainable consumption by about 15% of the world’s population has become a dominant moral and ethical issue for society. There is still time to mitigate unmanageable climate changes and repair ecosystem damages, provided we reorient our attitude toward nature and, thereby, toward ourselves. Climate change is a global problem whose solution will depend on our stepping beyond national affiliations and coming together for the common good. Such transformational changes in attitudes would help foster the necessary institutional reforms and technological innovations for providing the energy sources that have negligible effect on global climate, atmospheric pollution and eco-systems, thus protecting generations yet to be born. Religious institutions can and should take the lead in bringing about that change in attitude towards Creation." Protect the Earth, Dignify Humanity: The Moral Dimensions of Climate Change and Sustainable Humanity, Pontifical Academy of Sciences, Vatican Workshop, 28 April 2015 


Given the impossibility of infinite material growth in a finite planet, it is imperative to foster a sense of ecological solidarity between humans and nature. If humans have the authority to "dominate" nature (Genesis 1:28), they also have the responsibility to "take care of it" (Genesis 2:15). This requires solidarity between humans and, most fundamentally, between the two halves of humanity, male and female. There can be no integral human development, and no integral human ecology, as long as the patriarchal mindset of domination by brute force prevails as a norm of human behavior. The 2015 Millennium Development Goals are falling short of resolving the ecological crisis, and the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals will fall short, unless the patriarchal paradigm is replaced by gender solidarity. Such a paradigm shift may not be sufficient, but it is absolutely necessary.

In this regard, it must be noted that many religious institutions, by excluding women from roles of religious authority, fail to be icons of the Creator and contribute to perpetuate the patriarchal paradigm of power struggles and ecological abuse. This includes some of the Christian churches, especially the so-called "liturgical" churches where sacramental power is vested exclusively on baptized males. At a time when some progress in gender equality is being made in the secular arena, it is a disgrace that some religious institutions, such as the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches, continue to hide behind absurd doctrinal rationalizations about human nature and divine revelation in order to evade facing the music. Without gender equality, there can be no peace, no social justice, and no ecological sustainability. Thankfully, whether we like it or not, patriarchy is passing away. Patriarchy, requiescat in pace.

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