The Catholic Thing
Totalitarian Ecology Print E-mail
By James V. Schall, S. J.   
Tuesday, 20 March 2012

On November 28, Benedict XVI gave a short talk to an environmental education group called Fondazione Sorella Natura. Obviously, this phrase “Sister Nature” comes from St. Francis of Assisi, who is, as the pope pointed out, patron both of Italy and of ecology.

The pope is a German. He likes to see things well taken care of. He cites St. Francis who told his monks that when they planted a vegetable garden, they were to plant in it also many flowers. As I have often said, we need beauty more than we need bread. The earth should be filled with parks and gardens.

In his Angelus for December 4, the Holy Father urged that we have a “moderate life-style.” In the pope’s earlier talk, we find much about the beauty of nature, of the heavens and the earth. In every created being, “we see the impression of the great heavenly Artist.”

But Benedict may suspect a major problem here: “While the Church admires the most important scientific research and discoveries, she has never ceased to remember that in respecting the Creator’s impression on the whole of creation, we understand better our true and deep human identity.”

He then hints at Genesis. The world is not made for the world but for man within the world. Ecology, in its deepest ideological roots, is really an effort to reverse this priority of man to nature for political purposes. Environment thus is not for man, but man is for environment. He is subject to it.

This reversal, ever so slight at first sight, is the foundation of “totalitarian ecology.” The purpose of the world is not man, who is an accident. Rather, it is to keep itself going for as long as possible with numbers that, on supposedly “scientific” grounds, are “sustainable.”

Modern ideologies have generally been derived from a theoretic effort to make the world better, perfect. In their development, they identify some “cause” of evil – some class, race, nation, religion, or group. If we eliminate this “cause,” everything will be fine. This elimination thus appears as logical and reasonable.

Today, and this is new, what are targeted for elimination are human beings themselves, at least many of them. Here is the dark side of ecology that is seldom addressed for what it maintains.

Benedict deals gently with this issue: “Today, more than ever, it appears clear to us that respect for environment cannot fail to recognize the value and inviolability of the human person in every phase of life and in every condition.” Environment is not to be given as a reason to control human beings: “Respect for the human being and respect for nature are one and the same, but they will both be able to develop and to reach their full dimension if we respect the Creator and his creature in the human being and in nature.”

            Whether nanny or Nanny State: you take your medicine

The satirical publication The Onion “reported” that a conference in Washington on January 26, 2012, reached the following “scientific” conclusion: “Representing multiple fields of study, including ecology, agriculture, biology, and economics, the researchers told reporters that facts are facts: Humanity has far exceeded its sustainable population size, so either one in three humans can chose how they want to die themselves, or there can be some sort of government mandated liquidation program.” And this elimination has to happen “soon.”

That conference was a fictional spoof, of course, but not that far from what would have to happen in reality to achieve what the totalitarian ecologists would like. And how easily the medicine goes down, as the satirists noted, with just a spoonful of “scientific” sugar.

Such theses, of course, are warmed over “population bomb” scares from the 1970s when we were assured that the world would run out of resources – several decades ago. The effect of such analysis is that it undermines human efforts to innovate, to take steps to care for their kind, to use their brains – the only real wealth in existence – to deal with their human priorities.

In other words, the real battle in the world is with those ideologies, including scientific ones, that close off efforts to develop our kind and its needs. They have turned away from the civilizational attitude and theology that make human enterprise possible.

But what strikes me as remarkable is that, in the name of “science,” we calmly propose reducing human numbers as the way to keep the world going down the ages as itself the only real good of humanity. We used to be horrified with ideologies that wanted to eliminate bourgeois, Jews, blacks, or what have you, to cure our problems. Now it is a part of humanity in general that must go, either voluntarily or with force.

And it is blandly called a “fact.” What it is, in fact, is a totalitarian ideology that seeks control of the state to carry out precisely this necessary “elimination,” as it is piously called.

James V. Schall, S.J., a professor at Georgetown University, is one of the most prolific Catholic writers in America. His most recent book is The Mind That Is Catholic.

The Catholic Thing is a forum for intelligent Catholic commentary. Opinions expressed by writers are solely their own.

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written by Grump, March 20, 2012
Keats put it so succinctly:

'Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.'
written by Manfred, March 20, 2012
Excellent article, Father, but please don't leave out the Catholic(?) contribution to this present situation. After all it was Fr. "Ted" Hesburgh, then president of Notre Dame Univ., who arranged for John D. Rockefeller to meet Paul VI to discuss changing the Church's teaching on contraception. It was also N.D. who invited Gov. Mario Cuomo to speak in 1984 on the subject of the "Catholic" position on abortion "I am personally opposed, but...". We are learning once again with the HHS brouhaha that the Church really, really, really does oppose contraception, a subject which quietly died decades ago. If the Lefebvrites didn't exist we would have to create them. Thank you, Father, for your scholarship.
written by George Wunderlick OCDS, March 20, 2012
Believe that a good case could be made for the fact that the more people we have on earth, the better the average is.
written by Dave, March 20, 2012
I hear a lot about sustainability in my line of work, and whenever I research the topic I find myself chilled. Right now we have the HHS mandate, from which the Administration has no plans of backing down. Next step is restriction of medical care to the elderly, on the grounds of no reasonable expectation of quality of life and of costs savings obtained by eliminating care for the incurables (with euthanasia, even presumedly desired, not far after that). After that the trajectory points to limits in the number of children, through the removal of exemptions for children above a certain number, fines, mandated usage of birth control devices, poisons and technologies etc.

The only political hope is, I think, a long-shot: control of the Legislature and the White House by elected officials who will stop the clock on Obamacare. I don't know what the likelihood of that scenario is and I think we all need to refrain from wishful thinking: such a change would come about only through a lot of prayer, hard work, sacrifice -- and good luck. Even were it to come about, the dictatorship of relativism would consider the loss a temporary set-back and begin rebuilding the coalitions to re-win the majorities and try it again. The dictatorship of relativism does not rest, and the younger generations seem ever firmer in its grips, it appears to me (I would welcome the news that this perception is wrong).

And so I think this puts us back to Ratzinger's famous words of 1969, where he envisioned a much smaller Church. We may be driven underground. We may see two Churches, one that is aligned with secular realities and takes its cues from E. J. Dionne, tenured professors at erstwhile Catholic universities and their like, and one that is faithful to the Holy Father and to the bishops in communion with him. Benson's The Lord of the World, a sobering book if ever there was one, comes immediately to mind.

How we need to rediscover beauty, goodness and truth! How we need to rediscover the present power of God to save us in the actual circumstances of our lives, to grant us newness of life and strength of hope for whatever comes our way. How we need reminders to expect the unexpected, and that as long as there is life, there is hope; and there is eternal hope where there is eternal life.

God is looking for men and women who want to be saints. St. Josemaria Escriva, the Founder of Opus Dei, wrote that world crises are crises of saints -- and by that he meant, too few of them. So I think at the end of the day the best thing we can do for achieving the changes in the world that we seek and for preserving hope and the certain expectation of life everlasting is to double down on our commitments to live sanctity come what may: no truck with sin, no truck with compromise. A small band of twelve has led two millenia later to a Church with a billion members. A small band here in the United States may lead to the rebirth of a youthful, vigorous Church capable of transmitting life, holiness, salvation and peace.

May we be equal to the tasks before us.
written by Tony Esolen, March 20, 2012
It is high time for the return of the virtues of modesty and continence, so as to allow other creatures to dwell with us in this world. We needn't treat animals as if they were human; but we should treat them with the respect they deserve as animals. That would imply a revolution in our farming and eating.
written by Dave, March 20, 2012
Hear, hear, Dr. Esolen. The Omnivore's Dilemma speaks to this point most forcefully: what is the justification for feeding livestock foodstuffs they weren't created to ingest, in feedlots that are just about concentration camps, stuffing them with antibiotics, growth hormones, and who knows what else to "turn them around to market" as quickly as possible? There is a second point to be made here, and that is that everything about sustainability isn't bad (though I have written that what I read chills me, and it does). Think back to the origins of feminism: women were right about male chauvinist pigs, but they had the wrong wrong wrong solution. A more diversified farm closer to where the food is consumed is a good start; and more respect for the animals is right. Man as lord of the earth is its steward, and the earth and its goods -- living and otherwise -- are not his chattel property.
written by Sue, March 20, 2012
"The earth is reeling from the combined effects of nearly 8 billion" - no, the earth is reeling from the combined effects of totalitarians (plutocrats, communists, islamists). Who are misdirecting our gaze to population, all the while denying the obvious starvation and genocidal effects of their own ideologies. The rising tide of free markets, combined with a special safeguarding of the natural family, would lift all boats. The family is the unit of sustainability which needs to be valued.

Not feminism, familism.

Not collectivism, or individualism, but familism.

An ideology we can support.

And yes, farming on a smaller scale. Grow your own vegetables, grown your own kids. Work with them, together, in the garden so they'll learn and farm better than you as adults. Let Granny help there, too (she grew a victory garden!) Farm families, farm familism.

Kin in der garden. Better than kindergarten.
written by Stanley, March 21, 2012
I find the "Sustainability" movement not all that interesting. Yes, big farms were created, possibly due to concerns for the "population bomb". Yes, we have some excess, some of it is used to send to Africa and North Korea - even Russia during 1989-90 (Bush Chicken Legs).

Ever been to H-Mart Korean/Asian grocery? There is lots of excess...There are a few billion Chinese.

So now the trend is to scale down, smaller but more farms. I see some benefit to it...but I hope it can sustain the world's population and not just fancy, one-syllable, restaurants.
written by TtT Engine, March 22, 2012
Hello calling all Catholics-Totalitarian Ecology is the result of you Judas "Catholics" tolerating/supporting environmental paganism. God gave us dominion over the fruits of the earth. OF COURSE, God's gift of common sense tells us that means responsible dominion[stewards if it makes you "feel" better] over the earth. The lock down of our American natural oil and gas reserves caused by the environmental pagans is bankrupting America and is a mortal sin. You Kennedy "Catholics" better sober up before we are locked up like our natural resources. Think logically where this is going. That treasonous catholic Joe Biden telling the Chinese he is not second guessing their mandatory abortion policy. This is our V.P. speaking. Can you believe this ? You get one more chance in Nov.2012 including you scribes and pharises aka the Conference of Catholic Bishops. Christi Fidelis.
written by Leonard, March 24, 2012
I'm suddenly surprised - I don't really have any religion myself - but I am surprised by this feeling. Schall is saying, "Yes, the Earth is worth saving, but not if it means that we exchange the things that make us human." I can't get this through to any of my secular minded friends - I frankly don't want to save the world if it means that I am a servant to other men. I sound like a crank to them but I think it is true.
written by Brian A. Cook, March 27, 2012
I read many environmental stories on liberal websites. Not one has promoted enslaving humans for Gaia. Not one. Rather, they speak of preserving and conserving the planet for future generations. Furthermore, the Church has been accused of saying throughout history that humanism must go.

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