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The morals of life

In the face of those who continue to differ from his position on the ecological question, almost as if it were a concession to the values of "cultural progressivism", the Pope once again reminds us that the care of nature involves what he calls "integral ecology", which includes both the care of the environment and, above all, that of the human being.

Emilio Chuvieco-March 10, 2022-Reading time: 5 minutes
ecology life

Testo originale in inglese qui

A few years ago, Pope Benedict XVI reflected on the different attitudes that contemporary society has towards the moral positions of the Church. On the one hand, there are issues in which there is a total convergence with what we might call "current sensibility", as would be the case of the care of the most vulnerable people, the search for justice and peace, or respect for the environment; on the other hand, there is a fairly widespread reflection of issues concerning sexual morality or the beginning and end of life.

A few years ago, after Pope Francis' speech in the European Parliament, the now leader of Podemos, who was present, attributed several "mi piace" to the Pope's words on some issues (i.e. his criticism of the current economic model), showing his rejection of others (the defense of the life of the unborn).

Now, if those of the opposite political persuasion were to respond honestly, they would certainly have had the same divergence (in the opposite direction, obviously), even if they would not have dared to criticize the Pope openly on those social issues where the "suspicion of progressism" could be at the root.

This duplicitous attitude towards morality is very widespread. In my opinion it is due to confusion about the anthropological vision of the Church, and therefore of the Gospel, which considers morality as a consequence of the way in which we human beings - but also other creatures - are created by God. And this implies that in moral judgment we take into consideration the dimensions that make up the human person, i.e. the biological, the social and the rational-spiritual. On the other hand, these dimensions are not exclusive of the believer, since they have been shared by many other moral philosophers throughout history, from Aristotle to Cicero, who, without considering it of divine origin, have also accepted natural law as the basis of moral judgment,

The concept of integral ecology

These ideas come to mind when I read Pope Francis' latest book ("Sogniamo insieme. La via per un mondo migliore futuro", 2020). In the face of those who continue to differ from his position on the ecological question, as if it were a concession to the values of "cultural progressivism", the Pope once again reminds us that the care of nature (i.e., in Christian terms, for the Creator) carries with him what he calls "integral ecology", which includes both the care of the environment and, above all, the care of human beings.

For Pope Francis, this vision presupposes "much more than caring for nature, because it is caring for one another as creatures of a God who loves us," with all that this implies. If one thinks that abortion, euthanasia and the death penalty are acceptable, it will be difficult for his heart to worry about the pollution of the rivers and the destruction of the forests. And the opposite is also true. Therefore, even if some continue to argue strongly that these are problems of a different moral order, and insist that abortion is justifiable but that desertification is not, or that euthanasia is unacceptable, but that the lack of a comprehensive vision that has brought us to where we are today will continue to block us from the same lack of an integrated vision.

I think that Covid-19 is showing it to those who have eyes to see. This is the moment to be coherent, to overcome the selective morality of ideology and to understand what it means to be God's children. For this reason I believe that the regeneration of humanity must begin with integral ecology, an ecology that takes seriously the cultural and ethical deterioration that goes hand in hand with our ecological crisis. "L'individualismo ha delle conseguenze" (p. 37).

I think that there is no better way to say that both dimensions of natural morality go hand in hand, that taking care of nature and taking care of people are not two different paths, but rather they are two sides of the same coin, both because as human beings we are also part of nature, and also because nature is our home and we need it to be clean in order to continue to live.

Some Catholics who continue to see the dichotomies in this integral concept of moralityare convinced that it makes no sense to have an ecological concern, while at the same time defending the elimination of human beings in gestation.

Su quest'ultimo punto sono d'accordo. But there is no sense, as Francis indicates, in defending human life and disregarding that of the rest of creatures. Everything is part of the same whole, and as long as we do not know how to integrate everything into a common morality, that is, what we can call "morality of life", it will be difficult for us to save ourselves from the dysfunction to which I have first agreed. A morality of life that adheres to the natural law (both in the classical sense and in the more recent sense of nature), and that allows us to extend it to all types of people, believers or not.

An idea that is not just a novelty

This idea of Pope Francis is not new. It was already clearly indicated in his previous writings (beginning with the encyclical Laudato si), and by referring to the Magisterium of the pontiffs who preceded him.

Suffice it to point out some significant paragraphs of St. John Paul II. For example, at the end of his message for the 1990 World Day of Peace, he said: "Respect for the life and dignity of the human person also includes respect and care for creation, which is called to unite with man to glorify God (cf. Ps 148 and 96)".

In the same way, he indicated in the encyclical "Centesimus Annus": "Not only is the earth given to man by God, who must use it respecting the original intention which is a good, according to which it was given to him; man is also a gift of God and must therefore respect the natural and moral structure with which he has been endowed" (n. 38).

Benedict XVI has also dedicated a substantial part of his teaching to address the environmental issue. In "Caritas in Veritate", he taught us that "it is contradictory to ask the new generations to respect the natural environment when education and laws do not help people to respect themselves. The book of nature is one and indivisible, whether in terms of life, sexuality, marriage, family, social relations, in a word, integral human development" (n. 51).

To underline the consistency between these two ways of dealing with ecology, in his message for the World Day of Peace 2007, Pope Benedict affirmed: "If humanity is truly interested in peace, it must always bear in mind the interrelationship between human ecology and natural ecology, that is, respect for nature. Experience shows that any disrespectful attitude towards the environment causes damage to human coexistence, and vice versa" (n. 8).

In short, if we want to be truly consistent with the morality that flows from natural law (and ultimately, for a Christian, from God's creative design), we must take care of both human nature and the environment.

There is no doubt that bioethics and environmental ethics must be based on a set of common principles, which are valid both to challenge the indiscriminate manipulation of a human embryo and that of a plant or animal species. Stabilizing confrontations between them is artificial and pernicious for both.

For this reason, as Francesco indicated in Laudato Si, the solution to social and environmental problems "requires a global approach to combat poverty, to restore dignity to the excluded and, at the same time, to take care of nature" (n. 139). It is not a matter of choosing between poverty and respect for the environment, but of promoting a global development that takes into account the good of people and of the environment in which they live, for their own well-being and that of other living beings who accompany us in this wonderful gift that we have received from God the Creator.

The authorEmilio Chuvieco

Professor of Geography at the University of Alcalá.

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