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Limitless Development and Ecological Crisis in Asia A Theological Reflection

아밀라아제

 

Fr. Michael Amaladoss, S.J.

Director of Institute of Dialogue with Cultures and Religions in India (IDCR)

Limitless development, in so far as it leads to a limitless quest for natural resources like minerals, water, land, etc., leads to the displacement of indigenous people who often live in unexploited territories. Their rights to liberty and land, to employment and to the resources in their own land are not respected. Limitless development also leads to the wanton exploitation and destruction of natural resources to such an extent that, if we continue at this rate, there will be nothing left to exploit by the end of the 21st century.  In addition, our life and health will be affected by the dislocation of the atmospheric balance and of the seasons. Summer and winter and the seasonal rains seem to follow already now unusual patterns which upset the traditional agricultural cycle. People speak of global warming, acid rains, harmful rays.  Our question today is what has Christian theology to say about this.  Though our focus is Christian, nothing stops us from learning from Taoist harmony, Buddhist interdependence, Jain non-violence, Hindu advaita or aduality and Islamic stewardship of creation for the benefit of everyone. The best way to understand what is wrong with limitless development is to realize what true development is or should be.  That is the route I am going to take in this short essay.

Human Development

The humans are ‘spirits-in-bodies’.  Proper human development is integral development that attends to every dimension of the human.  Humans are not bodies alone. They have intelligence and emotions.  They are social beings dependent on others in various known and unknown ways.  They are also dependent on the earth.  The earth will still survive if all the humans disappear by some accident.  But the humans cannot survive without the earth even for a moment.  Their life depends on light, heat, air, water and food.  One sided development of any of these elements that make up the human being will lead, not merely to imbalance, but eventual destruction of everything.  The development of scientific reason alone will make the humans into machines.  The exaggerated welfare of the human body saturated by all sorts of consumer comforts will bring out the animal in the human.  Lack of emotional growth and balance will lead to constant tension and unhappiness.  An exclusive focus on the selfish individual will result in isolation and alienation.  Unbalanced development of any one human dimension will lead to dehumanization.  When we speak of limitless development we refer to the inordinate growth of the material dimensions of life and of instrumental reason. Besides dehumanizing the individual, it also destroys creation.

No one can be against a balanced, integral development of the humans.  Scientific progress has increased health-care and communications.  Food production and distribution have become better.  People are empowered to develop themselves.  Various resources are available for community building.  The whole world can become one global community. The indigenous people too should benefit by such balanced development.  But globalization has led to increasing inequality and the exploitation of the weak by the strong.  The machines have become the masters of the humans.  The earth itself may slowly become uninhabitable.  In this situation we have to attend to two areas.  On the one hand, the humans are not gods.  They should realize their dependence on others and on creation (and on God too).  Certain types of human development, especially in the material area, have limits. On the other hand, the humans are meant to develop and grow.  Most of us believe in the phenomenon of evolution.  We have no reason to think that the process of evolution is over with the emergence of the contemporary human beings.  Over the centuries new types of human beings may emerge.  We must be open to this possibility. We are contributing to it, perhaps unknown to ourselves.  But we are not contributing to such an evolution by destroying ourselves and our universe.  Perhaps we may be contributing to the emergence of monsters. A balanced, integrated development of the humans, however, can lead to the emergence of a superior type of humans. In this sense, the future of our race is in our hands. In this context, the limitless development that we are criticizing is the one-sided development of the material and instrumental dimensions of the human.

Development for All

The humans are social beings.  They are mutually interdependent.  If each one of us just thinks about oneself, we can become aware of this interdependence.  I come into this world because of my parents.  I grow up with brothers, sisters, cousins, uncles and aunties, and grandparents, who influence me in various ways. Then there are teachers and friends and later co-workers.  As I sit down to eat, the food that I eat is grown by some people, marketed by others, cooked by still others and served by another group. Similarly, if we look at our work, our travels and so on we become aware of the many people on whom our living depends.  We are not meant to be individualists, living on our own. Still individualism seems part of modern culture and way of life where competition is everywhere.  The other is seen as the enemy to be dominated and exploited. Even a democracy becomes an interplay of power groups.  But if we become aware of our social nature then we would realize that we cannot develop alone.  The development of one involves the development of all.  So we should learn to think in terms, not of ‘I’ and ‘you’ and ‘they’, but of ‘we’.  Any development of the community as a whole will avoid the limitless development of one or of some.

All religions agree that the universe is God’s gift to all humans. We are the stewards of the earth and of creation, not their owners.  We are supposed to share the goods of the earth, not monopolize them.  It is not enough to refrain from taking the lives of other people. We are called to promote them.  The kind of development that we witness to today exploits the earth for the benefit of a few who are powerful. They exploit even other humans, their talents and their labour.  When that development is limitless, the earth is not only exploited, but destroyed.  It has already started to affect the quality of life of our contemporaries.  Life will become worse for future generations and, at some stage, it may become impossible, driving the humans to colonize other planets in their search for survival, if they can escape collective suicide.

In the globalizing world of today, limitless development is creating great inequalities.  It is development for some at the expense of others, since the resources of the earth are limited.  If we think that we humans are destined to live as a community, it is possible only if we can share our goods.  Otherwise there will be only conflict and mutual annihilation.  Community development, therefore, should promote equality and justice.  In the actual situation where there is inequality and injustice, anyone who wants to promote community will have to be with the poor, empower them and struggle with them for the emergence of a just society.  Our defense of the poor will extend also to the defense of the earth that is unjustly exploited. The earth is not simply an object out there to be used and exploited and even destroyed. It is an extension of our bodies which participate in it and depend on it for survival.

Our Scriptures

What do our scriptures say about the way we relate to creation?  People who refer to the story of creation in the Bible usually limit themselves to the first story where God tells the humans to ‘subdue’ the earth. (cf. Gen 1:28) But the second story says that God put the first man in the garden of Eden and told him “to till it and keep it.” (Gen 2:15) Here there is no talk about control, but care. God’s covenant after the flood in which Noah and his family are saved covers not only the humans but also creation. God says: “Never again will I destroy all living beings. As long as the world exists, there will be a time for planting and a time for the harvest. There will always be cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night.” (Gen 8:21-22) Reading this promise of God one wonders whether the humans are interfering with it. Through their intervention the humans have succeeded in changing the seasons and monsoons.  The earth is warming up. Are the humans playing God then?

In the New Testament, Jesus uses the birds and the flowers to teach lessons to the humans about God’s provident care and their abandonment into God’s hands. (cf. Mt 6:25-30) But human interference seems to be destroying some of the fauna and flora.  Jesus initiates a sacramental economy where natural elements like water, oil, wind, fire and food are used to indicate the gift of God’s life.  Paul’s vision for the future is the gathering of all things, including creation. (cf. Eph 1:3-10; Col 1:15-20; 1 Cor 15:28) In his letter to the Romans Paul carefully includes creation as longing to share in the freedom of the children of God. (cf. Rom 8:22)

Christian Tradition

We believe in the resurrection of the body. Can we think of bodies without the earth? We see how creation is appreciated by Saints like Francis of Assisi, who sings of brother sun and sister moon in his Canticle of Creatures. St. Ignatius of Loyola spoke of God working in creation in view of nourishing the humans out of God’s love for them. Teilhard de Chardin , following Paul, foresaw the unification of all things with Christ as the head.  Raimond Panikkar speaks of cosmotheandric communion as the eschatological goal, bringing together the cosmos, God (theos) and the humans (anthropos).  Jesus is the model of this communion since he is a God-man with a body, linking him to creation.  The cosmos becomes sacred since it is the body of Christ. We can compare here the Hindu idea of seeing the world as the body of God. We are rooted in the earth through our bodies.  We participate in the life of God through Jesus Christ in the Spirit.  If the ultimate goal of creation is the fullness of Christ (cf. Col 1:15-20), then the whole of creation participates in him through his body.

The Asian Tradition

Traditionally Western Christianity sought to ‘save souls’ leaving the body to be resurrected on the last day.  It has also sought to develop rational instrumental consciousness that objectifies and instrumentalizes the body and creation.   The Asian tradition, on the contrary, is more holistic.  As a matter of fact, the practices of Yoga and Zen seek to silence the rational consciousness, in order to liberate the energy filed through breathing and postures of the body which involves both the body and the spirit, leading to an integration with the cosmos as God’s self-manifestation.  This will be true of the Tibetan Buddhism of the Dalai Lama, Thai Buddhism of Bhikku Buddhadasa and Vietnamese Buddhism of Thich Nhat Hanh.

What to Avoid

There is a tendency in the West to divinize the earth as a sort of mother goddess – Gaia.  In a Trinitarian context, such a hypothesis is not necessary.  God includes, but is beyond such sexual differentiation.  Sometimes the Spirit of God is considered feminine.  We consider the Trinity as a mystery. We experience God in creation and in our own lives.  We encounter Jesus in the gospels, in the Church, in the sacraments and also in personal prayer. We feel the Spirit animating us in various ways.  We do not experience or know the internal being of the one God in three persons.  The tendency has been to hierarchize the Trinity, giving importance to the Father as the source of everything.  In trying to understand the process of creation, we avoid emanationism, because it can lead to pantheism and insist on creationism where cause and effect are distinct.  The problem is that creationism projects creation outside God and makes it an object that can be dominated and exploited.  Theologians like St. Bonaventure propose a modified emanationism, in which God is in the world and the world in God, but in a manner in which the world is totally dependent on God.  The Indian notion of ‘aduality’ and Taoism  propose something similar. Maybe we should rethink our theology of creation that makes the world a sacred entity with dignity and respect, without divinizing it. This would be true of the humans too. We too will have fellowship with creation.  Anyway we should stop looking at the world as a material object out there that can be dominated and exploited without any effect on ourselves.

Conclusion

We are against limitless development, while we are for the integral development of the humans and of the universe too.  This will also apply to the indigenous people. We do not wish them to remain ‘primitive’ and undeveloped.  They have every right to enjoy the benefits of scientific and technological discoveries. The have a right to education and intellectual development.  Sometimes I have the impression that those who defend the way of life of indigenous people have a nostalgia for a simple, primitive way of life and would like to keep them in islands of primitiveness.  We should certainly help them to keep a way life that is in harmony with creation and a community that assures equality and justice for all.  They can certainly learn from our own mistakes. What we are opposed to is limitless development which is onesidedly focused on matter. Mental and spiritual development has no limits. After all, the sages that we honour in Hinduism, Taoism and Buddhism or even the prophets and the wise people of the Old Testament were more humanly developed than some of our modern scientists and technocrats who are specialized in very narrow areas. We cannot expect the indigenous people to remain primitive, while we claim to protect them using the latest instruments in the media of communication: mobile phones, still and video cameras, computers, means of rapid transport, etc.

We also need to focus on the social dimensions of development.  Individualism may be more of an evil than technological development.  The indigenous people may tend to be ‘collectively individualist’ in terms of their ethnic identity, language, culture, etc.  Their own internal social organization may have shortcomings that are inevitable in any human project. We need to address such issues and promote community that is born out of mutual love, shown in service, sharing and self-gift, countering egoism (domination) and selfish desires (consumerism).  So our focus should be the overall human and social development of the indigenous people to which the current limitless development of one particular dimension of the human is detrimental.

<Peace on Asia>, Seoul : WTI 2013