The ecological problem in the light of the relationship of Christian ethics and modern ecological philosophy

  1. Lemma
  2. Το οικολογικό πρόβλημα υπό το πρίσμα των σχέσεων της χριστιανικής ηθικής και της σύγχρονης οικολογικής φιλοσοφίας
  3. Greek, Modern (1453-)
  4. Katsiampoura, Gianna
  5. Ecology and the environment
  6. 10-11-2017
  7. Γεωργιάδης, Μάριος [Author]. The ecological problem in the light of the relationship of Christian ethics and modern ecological philosophy
  8. The ecological problem in the light of the relationship of Christian ethics and modern ecological philosophy
  9. ecological crisis - religion and ecology
    1. <p>Georgiadis, Marios, Το οικολογικό πρόβλημα υπό το πρίσμα των σχέσεων της χριστιανικής ηθικής και της σύγχρονης οικολογικής φιλοσοφίας (The ecological problem in the light of the relationship of Christian ethics and modern ecological philosophy), National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, Athens 1916</p>
    1. In this PhD thesis, Marios Georgiadis examines the relationship of the ecological problem with Christian ethics and modern ecological philosophy. In his opinion, philosophical thinking was anthropocentric in an unusual way. In addition, philosophy was the foundation upon which the spiritual and technical civilisation, known as rationalistic, was built and which applies in science and assumes the unique and dominant position of man against animal and material existence and natural phenomena. In Plato's work, there is an evaluative priority of spirit against matter which, however, did not inspire the limitless disdain or exploitation of material creation. For Aristotle, prime matter is not something merely existing but existing materially, that is, the ability of existence through movement which is the essence of beings. Medieval and modern Western European philosophy deviated unilaterally towards the unrestrained anthropocentric rationalistic monism due to the interference of a mistaken Christian spiritualistic worldview. Neither romanticism nor scientific materialism were able to restore the right relationship between spirit and matter. One of the reasons behind the ecological crisis is the role played by religion, Christianity in particular.


      Misinterpretations and different beliefs created a confusion regarding Christianity and nature, mainly in the way it was perceived by the western way of thinking. Lynn White, Professor of History in the University of California, mentions in the conclusion of his research that the Jewish-Christian religion brought about the destruction of the planet by placing man in the center of all things. About ten years after White, John Passmore concluded that there is a dominant line of thought in the Holy Scripture which regards man as a Despot who subjugates nature, treating it however he likes. Next to it, there are also two lesser lines of thought: the first one shows man as nature's collaborator, trying to perfect it, and the other contends that man comes to this world in order to become a good administrator of the divine presence, a kind of housekeeper. Lastly, Palmer claims that nowhere in the Bible is the term "supervision" used in connection with nature. Palmer insists that the use of the term "administration" in everyday speech can result in an ethical term which would mean anything to anyone, which would give an absolution certificate to those who use it and would justify the usual aggressive attitude towards nature.


      For the Christian religion, it is a prerequisite that the world was created "ex nihilo" in the absolute meaning of the word, a doctrine which distinguishes Christianity from the idolatrous religions and philosophies. The fact that nowadays the science of physics does not consider inconceivable the fact that the world was created ex nihilo may be a positive factor for theology so that it can commence a constructive conversation with physicists. However, even if scientists disagree with this doctrine, Christian theologists, taking this for granted, should remain consistent with it. It is essential that this consistency is obvious when trying to answer the question: how did God view the possibility of the world's salvation when He created it ex nihilo? It would be contradictory to presume that God blessed this world with a natural ability for salvation because such a prerequisite would imply that there is a natural "blood relation" (as ancient Greeks would call it) between God and the world. Any natural resemblance between God and His creation would essentially turn these two realities into one. That's exactly why the Fathers rejected not only the neoplatonic emanationism as well as Plato's and Horigenes' theory of the eternity of souls but also the aristotelian idea of eternity of matter. It is a matter of logical consequence for Christians to seek the salvation of creation in ways different from these. However, should the prerequisite that the world has some factors which ensure its salvation and eternity be excluded, and, still, we continue to insist on the eternal salvation of the world, there is but one solution: to find a way to connect the world with God, the only eternal, immortal being, leaving out any "natural blood relation". A link should be found between God and the world, which could ensure the communication of life between them, without destroying the natural dissimilarity between God and creation. Can such a link be found? Would there be a meaning in such a connection?


      The Christian doctrine's solution to this problem lies in man's position in creation. Man is the one responsible for the missing link between God and the world, and this is exactly what holds man responsible, indeed, the only one responsible for the fate of creation. The Christian faith sees the ecological crisis as a crisis of civilization which resulted from the loss of the sanctity of nature in our civilization. This crisis can be overcome in two ways. The first one is idolatry. Idolaters regard the world as holy because they see it imbued with divine presence. Consequently, they respect it and they do not destroy it. At the same time, however, they are not concerned about its fate, since they believe in its eternity. In addition, they do not see the need for transforming nature or exceeding its limits: the world is good as it is, and naturally possesses the means for its survival. The second way is the one described as the Christian stance. Christians respect the world as holy, not because it naturally involves God's presence, but because it is in a dialectical relationship with God. Thus, they respect the world but consider man the only possible missing link between God and creation, who can either bring material nature in communion with God and in this way sanctify it or turn it against man - or against nature itself - and doom it to become "something", an "object", whose meaning and purpose are used in satisfying man. Of the two ways, it is the Christian one which holds man immensely responsible for the fate of creation. The first one, the idolatrous, considers man part of this world; the second one, by considering man a link between God and the world, sees man as the sole person in creation, which means the only one who deeply respects the impersonal world, not only in order to "preserve" it but also in order to integrate it in forms of civilization which will elevate it to his level, to eternal survival and salvation. It is true that the influence of ancient greek philosophy is obvious in the formulation of ethical theories concerning nature in byzantine philosophy and patristic literature. Galen characterizes physicians as servants of nature. This has to do with the the byzantine concept that man is the supervisor and caretaker of nature. In addition, the idea that nature teaches living beings, rational human beings in particular, the actions necessary for its survival mechanisms as well as the idea that man has to use nature's advantages and provisions appropriately using his experience and logic illustrate almost identically the nature of supervision which supposedly leads to the study of the knowledge of principles and laws which govern creation. In Timaeus, Plato proved that it is possible for man to hold a favorable attitude towards the environment, to accept the metaphysical concept of the Form of the Good (Agathon), but, at the same time believes that pulchritude is inherent in nature and be interested in it. Τhe main ethical problem of the ecological crisis has to do with the fact that man has subverted the hierarchy of the power of his soul and the values, ways and forms of life which agree with it, thus deviating from the path leading to the true mental well-being, that is, to live according to righteousness. There should be a priority of moral life in the civil society in order to overcome the ecological crisis. This idea is in accordance with the byzantine philosophy which blames the estrangement from God for the ecological crisis. Apostle Paul's teaching is yet another teaching which has left its mark in Christian theology, according to which the whole of God's creation, both spiritual and material, was created by the Word of God with the sole purpose to partake of His glory: "All creatures are from Him, through Him and to Him". All creatures are in harmony because the reason for their existence and presence lies in the eternal Word of God. Everything comes from Him, is intended for Him and is brought to life. The meaning and purpose of creation cannot be defined without the Word of God. Thus, not only man but also the rest of God's creation is rational. After all, man's superiority over the often called "non-rational" creation is justified neither by the logicality of his making nor by his created logic, but by his special relationship with the archetypal uncreated Word of God Which he depicts. Man's relationship with the rest of the creation is certified by his very physiology. Man is a dual being, biological and spiritual at the same time. According to Genesis, God formed man of dust by breathing spirit into his face, thus making him a live, spiritual and corporeal being. Apostle Paul also refers to man's corporeality and earthiness. Earth is his main construction material, that is, his natural and biological elements. From this aspect, man is part of the natural creation and he is a biological being whose structure and function are not much different from the rest of the natural beings. Although his corporeality is superior in form and quality to that of plants and animals, it is a basic, inalienable element of his existence, so that man cannot be perceived without his natural and biological being. All levels of being from different forms of the created world are found in man; that's the reason why his physiology interests and is directly related to the orthodox cosmology.

      According to the Christian stance, the ecological problem is put through the prism of modern ecological philosophy.The primary goal of ecological ethics should and can be the survival and prosperity of life on our planet. It would be pointless, ineffective and detrimental to surcharge ecological ethics with the duties and obligations which belong to a wider frame of contemplation. Keeping this goal in mind, the only thing left is to find a way to achieve it. The only way to do so is to formulate a structure able to save and conserve the environment. For such a structure to be adequate, it should be compact and have a wide application. Lastly, if an ethical system wishes to be compact and comprehensive, it needs to be inferential, stable, guiding but, in no way, contradictory. Ethics needs to be inferential not so much in the direction of its contemplation as in its methodology. Each step should be followed by the next using a logical sequence, not with big leaps but at a slow pace leading from simple to more compex matters, so that the main goal and principles remain clear. The essence of ethics is the ability and the duty of guidance. Should ecological ethics desire to achieve this, it has to recognise absolute value to the surrounding world and everything it is composed of, inanimate matter, conscious and unconscious human life and, lastly, human existence.