In my post Ask the Beasts yesterday, I mentioned that however well-meaning the idea of humans as “stewards” of creation, it’s a fundamentally problematic notion. Stewardship inevitably implies a level of superiority and “dominion” over the rest of nature. It also implies that we humans know what we’re doing – which we don’t. We’re not the solution to the mass extinction that’s taking place; we’re the problem.
Today, nonetheless, Pope Francis embraced the stewardship notion, calling upon Christians to become “custodians of creation,” and warning us to “safeguard creation, because if we destroy Creation, Creation will destroy us! Never forget this!”
Certainly, anything that helps stem the mass destruction of the natural world is something we should get behind. And the Pope is passionate about the urgency of the situation.
“Creation is not a property that we can rule over at will; or, even less, the property of only a few: Creation is a gift, it is a wonderful gift that God has given us, so that we care for it and we use it for the benefit of all, always with great respect and gratitude.
“… But when we exploit Creation we destroy the sign of God’s love for us, in destroying Creation we are saying to God: ‘I don’t like it! This is not good!’ ‘So what do you like?’ ‘I like myself!’ – Here, this is sin! Do you see?”
All true. And again, we don’t want to pour cold water over anything that can make a difference, however small, to all the animals who are facing extinction.
The greatest arrogance of all is the idea that we humans are the pinnacle of creation.
The trouble is that as long as we humans continue to see ourselves as a species apart, superior and exceptional and the solution to all problems, we’re simply keeping intact the underlying cause of what’s wrong. The great march of human “progress” will just go on – until it collapses.
The Pope’s comments came at the end of a five-day summit on sustainability convened at the Vatican and entitled Sustainable Humanity, Sustainable Nature: Our Responsibility. The conference had brought together biologists, economists, philosophers, legal scholars and other experts to discuss how the Catholic Church can relate to the problems confronting the planet in the face of climate change.
The Pope himself is reportedly working on a major publication – possibly a papal encyclical – about the planet and its ecology, which would be the first-ever encyclical that’s all about the environment.
For sure, anything is better than nothing. And Pope Francis, of all people, understands the virtues of humility. But the greatest arrogance of all is the idea that we humans are the pinnacle of creation. It’s a belief that’s rooted not in any sense of true superiority, but in the deep anxiety we feel about our own mortality, about the fact that we are animals like all the other animals, and our neurotic quest to rise above nature and conquer death itself.