ACU (Australian Catholic University)

Insight

Issue 2, Spring 2011

Love thy nature

Love thy nature

When life is entirely dependent on our planet's environment, why do humans frequently put its health at risk? Caitlin Ganter spoke to Associate Professor Mary Coloe to find out.

Oil spills, nuclear meltdowns, flooding – when it comes to environmental disasters, science is the first place we look to for answers. However, a team of ACU theologians is looking for solutions elsewhere.

Associate Professor Mary Coloe and her team are re-examining key biblical texts in order to change religious attitudes towards the environment.

"As religion is sometimes claimed to be a cause of the misuse of the environment, then it is important that religion is part of any solution," she said.

"Genesis 1 appears to suggest that humans are central to the universe and therefore able to dominate all other life. This perception has helped shape an attitude that natural resources are there to be used and exploited without considering the environmental consequences."

The research, conducted by Associate Professor Coloe, Dr Antoinette Collins, Professor Anthony Kelly, Dr Laurie Woods, Dr Dermot Nestor and Professor Denis Edwards (Flinders University), aims to establish a firm theological foundation for developing a change of attitude and a new ethic based on eco-justice that will promote the growth of all planetary life and a just global community.

"The first step is to more accurately read the Scriptures and to look at the passages that do speak of the beauty and bounty of nature and our responsibility to care for it."

Associate Professor Coloe said research into the original languages and how particular words were used can reveal nuances of the language not previously known.

"Changing a phrase such as 'having dominion over' to 'being stewards of' can greatly change the way something is interpreted."

The research project is designed to work within the New Cosmological Paradigm of an expanding and evolving universe, and to consider the way Christians interpret the entire created world instead of only human life.

Over the past 50 years, the New Cosmological Paradigm has challenged the belief of some fundamentalists that the universe is only 6,000 years old. Theologians now work with an understanding that the universe is more than 13 billion years old.

"Many scientists are deeply religious and spiritual people, just as many theologians have a rich fascination and interest in the sciences – we are all seeking truth about life and our relationships to the social and physical world around us.

"Ever since Darwin, Hubble and Einstein, many people have realised the biblical creation accounts cannot be taken literally, but need to be read for the theological and symbolic truth they have always tried to express.

"Having human consciousness brings with it the responsibility to make choices that are ethical – that lead to a better quality of life, not only for ourselves but also for the natural world around us.

"We owe it to future generations to pass on a world that has not been degraded and despoiled."

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