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Creation Spirituality and the New Story

Saturday, July 24, 2004
Creation Spirituality and the New Story
"Some people think they have to adopt Creation Theology or a new cosmology to be theologically correct on ecological issues.... Nothing could be farther from the truth."

U.S. Catholic Bishops

"One cannot dissociate the plan of Creation from the plan of Redemption. The latter plan touches the very concrete situations of injustice to be combated and of justice to be restored."

Pope Paul VI (1975)

Commentary by Bill Jacobs, Director of the Catholic Conservation Center

Some people today promote "Creation spirituality," "Creation theology," or a "new cosmology" of the Universe, parts of which are variously called the "new story," "Earth story," or "Universe story." Generally speaking, today's Creation theology movement seeks to integrate the wisdom of Western and Eastern religions and the traditions of global indigenous cultures with the emerging scientific understanding of the Universe.

Yet, according to the U.S. Catholic Bishops, "Some people think they have to adopt Creation Theology or a new cosmology to be theologically correct on ecological issues.... Nothing could be farther from the truth. Environmental justice is now thoroughly embedded in the Church's social teaching, and it has been a repeated theme of Pope John Paul II's social teaching."

Is the "New Story" New?
Unfortunately, in the interests of promoting a more Earth-centered view of life, some expressions of today's Creation theology have cancelled out the need for the Redemption of the planet through Jesus Christ, and have rolled back the clock on our understanding of the relation between God, humankind, and the world.

Some elements of the "new story of the Universe" are valid as a scientific account of Creation. This "new" cosmology begins with the story of the Universe from its beginning fourteen billion years ago, through the evolution of Earth life, to human life as we exist today. Sadly, while rightly recognizing the wonders and beauty of the cosmos, the "new" cosmology leaves us empty by failing to lead us to the Creator and Redeemer of the Universe. In addition, the Universe story lacks a coherent plan of social action, in marked contrast to the Church's highly developed system of modern social teaching.

The "Universe story" is often used to supplant the Christian story with a scientific mysticism. Yet, the truth is that science and Christianity are complimentary; both speak of a harmonious universe, of a cosmos endowed with its own integrity, its own internal, dynamic balance. Efforts to supplant the Christian story with a scientific mysticism demonstrate a serious lack of understanding of the deep meaning of Christianity. The Christian story is forever new. Science, on the other hand, quickly grows old.

At times, Creation theology involves the worship of Creation more than, or in place of, the worship of the Triune God. The Most Holy Trinity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is often ignored or denied by the proponents of the "new story." This contributes to a grave (and old) anthropological error that is widespread today: Instead of carrying out humankind's role as cooperator and co-creator with the Triune God in the work of Creation and Redemption, people set themselves up in place of God, thereby provoking a kind of rebellion on the part of nature. In some expressions of Creation theology today, Creation and/or humankind become gods.

There is nothing new about the worship of nature! Thankfully, God's work to redeem and sanctify the Universe is always new!

False Prophets
The leading proponents of neo-paganism include Thomas Berry, Matthew Fox, and Rosemary Radford Ruether. While they raise some legitimate concerns, as a rule their teachings differ radically from the Bible and Tradition of the Church.

For example, dissident Catholic priest Thomas Berry claims that the Christian story is no longer the story of the Earth or the integral story of humankind.3 Berry has said we should "put the Bible on the shelf"1 and "the only effective program available as our primary guide toward a viable human mode of being is the program offered by the Earth itself"2. Berry's beliefs stray far from the Church, for example: "We must rethink our ideas about God; we should place less emphasis on Christ as a person and redeemer.".4 Berry insists that we quit our "obsessive concern" with Jesus Christ.5 In his own words, "the world is being called to a new post-denominational, even post Christian, belief system that sees the earth as a living being - mythologically, as Gaia, Mother Earth - with mankind as her consciousness."6 Berry's views are connected more to the views of animistic or shamanistic faiths than to Christian tradition.

According to Rosemary Radford Ruether, usually identified as a Christian and Catholic theologian, "Our consciousness did not fall from a heaven outside the earth and will not escape outside of it into an eternal life. Our destiny and calling is of and for this earth. Immortality lies not in the preservation of our individual consciousness as a separate substance but in the miracle and mystery of endlessly recycled matter-energy." She adds, "The real salvation that is available to us is of much more modest dimensions" than the salvation of Christ.7 Just as with the common errors of the past, Ruether leads her followers to worship the Earth and ego, usually limited to their feminine natures, as opposed to the worship of the Triune God of Creation and Redemption. While being a self-professed "eco-feminist," Ruether endorses abortion, despite the gory contradiction that about half of aborted babies are female. Abortion exemplifies a grave LACK OF RESPECT for the feminine natures of God, humanity, and Creation. It is this very same LACK OF RESPECT FOR LIFE that is the underlying cause of most violence and ecological destruction. Ruether reveals in U.S. Catholic magazine (April 2002), "Frankly, if I hadn't been born into the Catholic Church I doubt I would have joined it."

In marked contrast to these expressions of Creation theology, the Bible and Tradition of the Church correctly teach that Creation finds its meaning and its summit in the New Creation in Christ, the splendor of which surpasses that of the first Creation. "Creation is permeated with a redemptive sanctification, even a divinization. It comes as if drawn to the sphere of the divinity and of the intimate life of God," said Pope John Paul II.

Indeed, the world is full of false environmental prophets, declaring, "Follow my 'new story' and we will save the Earth," or "Follow my 'new spirituality' and we will save the Earth," or "Follow my new 'Earth charter' and we will save the Earth." Thankfully, most Christians know better.

Jesus Christ is our Savior
It may come as a surprise to Thomas Berry and some others, but the Bible has a great deal to say about social justice and environmental conservation. "Reflection on the biblical foundations of care for the created world can clarify the obligation to promote a sound and healthy environment," said Pope John Paul II.

The Holy Father has said, "Christians believe that the death and resurrection of Christ accomplished the work of reconciling humanity to the Father, who 'was pleased ... through (Christ) to reconcile to himself ALL THINGS, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross'. Creation was thus made new. Once subjected to the bondage of sin and decay, it has now received new life while 'we wait for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells'."

Some of today's expressions of Creation theology are not only misguided theology, they are misguided approaches to ecology and environmental justice. Thomas Berry tells us that "traditional religions in themselves and out of their existing resources cannot deal with the problems that we have to deal with" (Befriending the Earth). In fact, the opposite is true. There is nothing stronger than Christ and His Church to address the root causes of environmental destruction, particularly the sins of arrogance, greed for power and possessions, and lack of respect for life.

The essential solutions to our environmental problems are made known to us in the Bible, living Tradition of the Church, book of Nature, and the voice of conscience enlightened by God’s law authentically interpreted. All four are needed to solve the environmental crisis!

Many of today's Creation theologians or "geologians" focus excessively on the message of Nature and the voice of the ego, or a conscience unenlightened by God's law, thereby leading their followers away from the one most important solution to our environmental crisis: the Redemption of humankind and the whole of Creation through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In the end, they leave us with only a "deep ecology" when what we truly need is "Deep Christianity"!

The vision of God given us by Christ is not merely that of the Creator: it is of the Triune God who loves the world so much that he sends his only Son. "The Universe springs forth from ... the reciprocal Love of the Father and Son, from the Most Holy Trinity," said John Paul II.

The Trinity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is a Divine Family of Love. Christ has chosen the Blessed Virgin Mary to be His Mother - the Mother of the Creator and Redeemer - and hence the Mother of the New Creation in Christ. Christ has given us His Mother to be our own Mother. Full of the grace of the Holy Spirit, Mary participates in the redemptive mission of her Son in a very special way. Sadly, Mary is often ignored or denied by this "new" paganism. Yet, according to God's will, Mary is vital to the Redemption of humanity and the whole of Creation.

We're going to need a lot more than a "new" mysticism or neo-paganism to get us out of this mess. We're going to need God and His Church. Jesus Christ is our Savior. The Triune God is the Creator of the universe. God maintains its existence through an ongoing creative will. The presence of the Holy Spirit in Creation generates order, harmony, and interdependence in all that exists. In a mysterious way, Christ's redemptive mission extends to all of Creation. For believers, we can only save the Earth as cooperators and co-creators with the Triune God.

"If anyone confesses the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and praises the Creation, but calls the Incarnation merely an appearance, and is ashamed of the Passion, such a one has denied the faith."

--St. Ignatius of Antioch (c. 107 A.D.)

Deep Christianity

by Stratford Caldecott

FOR ANY DEEPLY Catholic or Orthodox mind, the Church is a person, typified in the Virgin Mary.... Her actual boundaries extend far beyond her formal membership, into the realm of nature itself. It is in her that the flowers bloom and the rivers flow. Through his telescope the atheist scientist gazes at the stars. One can in fact only exclude oneself from her by a conscious act of rejection. The responsibility for the loss of this poetic or mystical sense of the Church as a cosmic, supernaturally organic community lies with the same dualist mindset that has pervaded Western society since the 17th century, and which is associated with the rise of industry and of the merchant classes....

The answer to that industrial mindset, however, is not Deep Ecology, it is Deep Christianity. In one way Lynn White was right. Christians helped to get us into this mess. They became shallow. And if Christians got us into it, Christians might bear a special responsibility for getting us out.

From within the Catholic tradition, it is perfectly possible – and indeed increasingly urgent – to recover relatedness, community, and transcendence. This can be done without capitulating to the excesses of modern Romanticism, for indeed the key to all three lies not in any alternative to Christian belief, but in the deeper understanding and implications of Incarnation and Trinity. What modern Catholicism terms the "universal call to holiness" is ultimately a call to unity with God in the life of the Blessed Trinity. That unity is achieved through man (humanity), but it ultimately enfolds and transforms the entire cosmos. It answers the need of the human heart for the supernatural, but at the same time it incorporates the community of natural creatures.

"God delays causing the confusion and destruction of the whole world...because of the seed of the Christians, who know that they are the cause of preservation in nature." --St. Justin (c. 100-165 A.D.)

Read the "Magnificat of Mary" - the most revolutionary document ever written!

Pope John Paul I

A Matter of Old Gnosis

"'New theology?'. And welcome! At times, however, it's not a matter of a new theology, but of old Gnosis. The presumptuous mentality of the old gnostics often re-surfaces: 'We give explanations at the highest level of science; we eat up the poor, obsolete and bygone explanations of the Magisterium!'. The method of Gnosis is also coming back, that of taking the arguments and terms of the Catholic faith, but only partially, usurping the right to sift them and select them, to understand them in one's own way, to mix them with extraneous ideologies and to base adherence to the faith no longer on divine authority but on human motives; on this or that philosophical opinion, for example, on the match between a particular argument and determined political choices adopted earlier."

--Homily on Christ the Liberator, Venice, March 7, 1973


Neo-Pagan: a wide variety of Earth-based, nature-based, New Age, and goddess beliefs, as opposed to Judeo-Christian religion.

Secularism: indifference or rejection or exclusion of religion and religious considerations.

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