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A bit of etymology goes a long way in relating to nature
HONG KONG (SE): In appreciating the value of the environment we live in, a little bit of etymology can go a long way, the prefect of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Peter Cardinal Turkson, says in an article published on May 13 in OSV Newsweekly.
He points out that the word environment comes from the French, virer, to turn or veer, and environ, meaning around, from which we get the English word, surroundings.
Ecology starts with the three letters, eco, from the Greek oikos, which means home or household, and then adds logos, discourse, which carries the implication of making sense. So ecology becomes a meaningful talk about our home, the earth.
Cardinal Turkson says that the modern usage of the word ecology was introduced by a biologist, Ernest Häckel, in 1869. He described it as being the scientific study of living beings in relationship with their surroundings.
Pope Benedict XVI writes in his encyclical, Charity in Truth, “The environment contains a grammar which sets forth ends and criteria for its wise use, not its reckless exploitation.”
Cardinal Turkson explains that for this we need to add two more words, economy, which means rule or law, and ecumenical, which is a word that builds on oikos and adds nomos, rule or law, and ecumenical builds on oikos to become oikoumene ge, or, “The whole inhabited world.”
He says that these words suggest the need for people to develop a spirituality around ecology as we need to embrace God’s gift of nature. The Ghanaian cardinal adds that environment calls for awareness; ecology enjoins responsibility; economy requires justice; and ecumenical harkens unity, not only global, but intergenerational.
The pope says that the word nature also embraces our human family, which is neither beyond our reach nor a subject for our abuse. While it is not more important than the human, the human must not presume to have a monopoly on the design of nature.
“When nature, including the human being, is viewed as the result of mere chance or evolutionary determinism, our sense of responsibility wanes,” the pope writes.
Cardinal Turkson says that obvious examples of irresponsibility are chronic social injustices that force the poor into agricultural practices that result in vast deforestation, erosion of the soil or warmongering that leave vast tracts of land devastated.
The pope connects nature with culture and says that if we neglect one, both will begin to erode. “Just as human values are interrelated… the ecosystem is based on respect for a plan that affects the health of society and its good relationship with nature… Our duties towards the environment are likened to our duties towards the human person.”
However, Cardinal Turkson says that the big challenge is defining the boundaries in order to avoid extremes.
He quotes Pope John Paul II as saying, “In addition to the irrational destruction of the natural environment, we must also mention the more serious destruction of the human environment… too little effort is made to safeguard the moral conditions for an authentic human ecology.”
Pope Benedict adds to this, “Experience shows that disregard for the environment of human ecology always harms human coexistence and vice versa… to protect mankind from self-destruction… if there is a lack of respect for the right to life and to natural death, if human conception, gestation and birth are made artificial, if human embryos are sacrificed to research, the conscience of society ends up losing the concept of human ecology and, along with it, that of the environmental ecology.”
Cardinal Turkson says that the pope then describes our mission as viewing the threatening catastrophe and recognising that we must make moral decisions.
“But how can the great moral will, which everybody affirms and everyone invokes, become a personal decision?” he asks, adding that unless this happens, politics remain impotent.
Pope Benedict points to the important role the Church has to play here as it is close to human consciences, adding that this connects the matter closely with the importance of prayer.
He then quotes from the great prayer, Hymn to Matter, by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin SJ, which reads, “Blessed are you, reality ever new-born; you who, by constantly shattering our mental categories, force us to go ever further in our pursuit of the truth; triple abyss of stars and atoms and generations; you who, by overflowing and dissolving our narrow standards of measurement, reveal to us the dimensions of God.”
‘Experience shows that disregard for the environment of human ecology always harms human coexistence and vice versa’
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