III. The crisis and effects of modern anthropocentrism [115 – 121 ]

I have begun to publish sections and segments of the Popes letter on OUR network of blogs as well as on Linkedin & Quora & Newsvine and will add my comments over time. Pappa francescos 180 page letter is much less about religion than it is about nature and the planet earth. He proposes some fairly radical yet simple and understandable solutions for humankind. It is way past time to start paying attention to what we are all doing or allowing others to do.

115. Modern anthropocentrism has paradoxically
ended up prizing technical thought over reality,
since “the technological mind sees nature as an
insensate order, as a cold body of facts, as a mere
‘given’, as an object of utility, as raw material to be
hammered into useful shape; it views the cosmos
similarly as a mere ‘space’ into which objects can
be thrown with complete indifference”.92 The intrinsic
dignity of the world is thus compromised.
When human beings fail to find their true place
in this world, they misunderstand themselves and
end up acting against themselves: “Not only has
God given the earth to man, who must use it with
respect for the original good purpose for which
it was given, but, man too is God’s gift to man.
He must therefore respect the natural and moral
structure with which he has been endowed”.93

92 Romano Guardini, Das Ende der Neuzeit, 63 (The End of
the Modern World, 55).
93 John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Centesimus Annus
(1 May 1991), 38: AAS 83 (1991), 841.

116. Modernity has been marked by an excessive
anthropocentrism which today, under another
guise, continues to stand in the way of shared
understanding and of any effort to strengthen
social bonds. The time has come to pay renewed
attention to reality and the limits it imposes; this
in turn is the condition for a more sound and
fruitful development of individuals and society.
An inadequate presentation of Christian anthropology
gave rise to a wrong understanding of
the relationship between human beings and the
world. Often, what was handed on was a Promethean
vision of mastery over the world, which
gave the impression that the protection of nature
was something that only the faint-hearted
cared about. Instead, our “dominion” over the
universe should be understood more properly in
the sense of responsible stewardship.94

117. Neglecting to monitor the harm done to
nature and the environmental impact of our decisions
is only the most striking sign of a disregard
for the message contained in the structures
of nature itself. When we fail to acknowledge as
part of reality the worth of a poor person, a human
embryo, a person with disabilities – to offer
just a few examples – it becomes difficult to hear
the cry of nature itself; everything is connected.
Once the human being declares independence

94 Cf. Love for Creation. An Asian Response to the Ecological
Crisis, Declaration of the Colloquium sponsored by the Federation
of Asian Bishops’ Conferences (Tagatay, 31 January-5
February 1993), 3.3.2.

from reality and behaves with absolute dominion,
the very foundations of our life begin to crumble,
for “instead of carrying out his role as a cooperator
with God in the work of creation, man sets
himself up in place of God and thus ends up provoking
a rebellion on the part of nature”.95

118. This situation has led to a constant schizophrenia,
wherein a technocracy which sees no
intrinsic value in lesser beings coexists with the
other extreme, which sees no special value in
human beings. But one cannot prescind from
humanity. There can be no renewal of our relationship
with nature without a renewal of humanity
itself. There can be no ecology without
an adequate anthropology. When the human
person is considered as simply one being among
others, the product of chance or physical determinism,
then “our overall sense of responsibility
wanes”.96 A misguided anthropocentrism need
not necessarily yield to “biocentrism”, for that
would entail adding yet another imbalance, failing
to solve present problems and adding new
ones. Human beings cannot be expected to feel
responsibility for the world unless, at the same
time, their unique capacities of knowledge, will,
freedom and responsibility are recognized and
valued.

95 John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Centesimus Annus
(1 May 1991), 37: AAS 83 (1991), 840.
96 Benedict XVI, Message for the 2010 World Day of Peace,
2: AAS 102 (2010), 41.

119. Nor must the critique of a misguided anthropocentrism
underestimate the importance
of interpersonal relations. If the present ecological
crisis is one small sign of the ethical, cultural
and spiritual crisis of modernity, we cannot presume
to heal our relationship with nature and
the environment without healing all fundamental
human relationships. Christian thought sees
human beings as possessing a particular dignity
above other creatures; it thus inculcates esteem
for each person and respect for others. Our
openness to others, each of whom is a “thou”
capable of knowing, loving and entering into
dialogue, remains the source of our nobility as
human persons. A correct relationship with the
created world demands that we not weaken this
social dimension of openness to others, much
less the transcendent dimension of our openness
to the “Thou” of God. Our relationship with the
environment can never be isolated from our relationship
with others and with God. Otherwise,
it would be nothing more than romantic individualism
dressed up in ecological garb, locking us
into a stifling immanence.
120. Since everything is interrelated, concern
for the protection of nature is also incompatible
with the justification of abortion. How can we
genuinely teach the importance of concern for
other vulnerable beings, however troublesome or
inconvenient they may be, if we fail to protect
a human embryo, even when its presence is un
comfortable and creates difficulties? “If personal
and social sensitivity towards the acceptance
of the new life is lost, then other forms of acceptance
that are valuable for society also wither
away”.97

121. We need to develop a new synthesis capable
of overcoming the false arguments of recent
centuries. Christianity, in fidelity to its own
identity and the rich deposit of truth which it has
received from Jesus Christ, continues to reflect
on these issues in fruitful dialogue with changing
historical situations. In doing so, it reveals its
eternal newness.98

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