The National Catholic Review

Having grown up in central New York State, not far from the Adirondack Park, I have always had a special place in my heart for the beauty of deciduous forests. The green trees and shrubs, the rolling hills and glacial valleys, the clear blue lakes and streams illustrate for me the truth of Gerard Manley Hopkins’s poetic vision, inspired as it was by the Franciscan John Duns Scotus, that “the world is charged with the grandeur of God.”

That a Franciscan friar is writing a column about creation may seem like a bad joke or a tired cliché. What’s next? My headshot replaced with a portrait in a birdbath?

But despite the apparent predictability of a Franciscan’s sentimental attachment to creation, there is something that touches me more deeply than the immediately recognizable beauty of the earth. When I am awestruck at the sunset over an Adirondack lake or turn the corner on a road that reveals a landscape that takes my breath away, I reflect on the place that we humans have in this world. This is in part because the landscape of upstate New York has shaped my theological imagination as much as it has informed my aesthetic preferences.

For a long time now theologians, pastoral ministers and environmental activists alike have decried the ways we have treated and continue to treat the earth. We are well aware of the effects of our hubris, like global climate change and pollution. We know that we have a responsibility to the earth and the rest of the created order, and this has developed beyond older interpretations of Scripture that justified a “dominion” approach to creation that advocated human sovereignty over land and animal. We have come to recognize that we are not “lords of the earth” but “stewards of creation.” But I have long wondered if this “stewardship” response is sufficient or even if it is correct.

I am not alone in my doubt about the popular “stewardship” tropes used, admittedly with good intentions, to talk about our relationship to the earth and the rest of its inhabitants. One well-known critic of this paradigm is the theologian Elizabeth Johnson, C.S.J. In Professor Johnson’s new book, Ask the Beasts: Darwin and the God of Love, she calls for a renewed look at the biblical, theological and scientific traditions that inform our understanding of ourselves and the rest of creation. She, like the theologians Ilia Delio, O.S.F., and John Haught, reads the work of Charles Darwin not as a threat to Christianity but as a resource for theology and for our effort to engage in faith seeking understanding. The result is a call for humanity to remember what has too often been forgotten: we are part of creation, not over and against it, not above or radically distant from it, as earlier conceptions of an anthropocentric universe suggested.

It is this insight that unsettles the standard stewardship approaches to creation. Rather than think about the whole of nonhuman creation as being entrusted to us, which makes us cosmic landlords or property managers for God, we should consider our inherent kinship with the rest of creation. In addition to the account of creation in the second chapter of the Book of Genesis, which reminds human beings that we are ha-adamah (“from the earth”), we also have extensive physiological evidence that supports Carl Sagan’s assertion that “we are made of starstuff.” We share the same building blocks as the rest of creation.

Yes, we are called to care for creation, but that care does not arise from some extrinsic obligation. Rather, this care should be grounded in our piety. The Latin pietas means duty or care for one’s family, which stems from a deep relational connection. The care we have for our children, parents and siblings should model how we think about and “care for creation.” In this sense, St. Francis of Assisi had it correct from the start. Each aspect of creation is our brother and sister; we are part of the same family, the same community of creation. In this sense, those who don’t live up to their creational family obligation are not very pious at all.

When I hike through the Adirondacks and find myself overwhelmed by the beauty of God’s creation, I am grateful to be a part of this community. The rest of creation cares for you and me; it is our duty to care for it as well. And that’s not just some romantic birdbath talk; it is what it means to be part of this extended family.

Daniel P. Horan, O.F.M., is the author of several books including The Last Words of Jesus: A Meditation on Love and Suffering (2013). Follow him @DanHoranOFM.


Bruce Snowden | 7/16/2014 - 5:50pm

Mr. Fang, Mr. Savage, Respectfully, using the slime of the politics of personal destruction demonizing the opposition reminds me of what the writer Trilussa once wrote, “The little snail of VAINGLORY who had crawled up an obelisk looked at its slimy trail and said, “I see I’ll leave my mark on History!” That applies to me too! Maybe you’re entirely right, maybe I’m entirely wrong, or the other way around Time will tell.

Richard Savage | 7/16/2014 - 6:06pm

I haven't demonized anyone, Mr. Snowden. Climate change/global warming is a scientific question, in my field of expertise (meteorology, radiative transfer). Before I see the Church, the Bishops, and the Pope lend their authority to a matter of science which has no substantiating evidence, I'd like to see some thoughtful consideration - especially since the welfare of millions of very poor people is at stake.
As Mr. Fang seems unknowing or unwilling to accept, we've had 17 years of no warming, while CO2 is increasing rapidly and will continue to increase. Time will tell?
TIME (10 June, 2013) HAS TOLD. (Sorry, I just cannot resist a pun/play on words.)

Bruce Snowden | 7/17/2014 - 8:17am

Thank you Mr. Savage for moderating your rhetoric. Of course everyone with eyes to see realizes , there is some type of climate change happening, but not everyone agrees precisely on cause, or causes, including many highly educated as are you. Difficulties arise when individuals with your convictions close-down conversation with the other side, reducing other educated convictions, any conversation, to the unimportant, saying in effect, "My way, or the highway!" No one knows all the answers and all can benefit by respectfully listening, contributing and even disagreeing understandably on either side. Bombast is not helpful!

About Fr. Horan. I do not know this Franciscan priest, although I do have spiritual kinship through membership in the Secular Franciscan Order, and must say his shabby treatment by you and Mr. Fang was upsetting! He is a respected member of the Catholic clergy and son of Francis of Assisi, patron saint of ecology and also an esteemed contributor of articles to AMERICA Magazine. He is also an educated man, perhaps not a scientist as you are, but certainly knowledgeable on the topics he writes about, including Global Warming. He deserves respect and when disagreement is warranted, decency at least, not to mention fundamental Christian charity wh requires restraint. Objective scholarly refutation can be offered in a gentlemanly way. In my opinion Fr. Horan deserves an apology from both you and Mr. Fang. He is not some high school kid, big mouthing other kids trying impress peers sophomorically. Thank you for accepting this.

Richard Savage | 7/17/2014 - 10:47am

You're welcome, Mr. Snowden. I fail to see that I have "...close[d] down conversation with the other side." I initiated the conversation on Fr. Horan's knowledge of "pollution" and "climate change" because he demonstrates no such knowledge in the article. It is therefore misleading for Catholics who believe this faulty - indeed, fraudulent - "science" imposes a moral imperative to follow the Obama administration's efforts to minimize emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2). The same can be said of such efforts by the Bishops and the Pope.
Fr. Horan ties "climate change" with "pollution" at the beginning of his article, in which he eulogizes the beauty of the plants and trees he sees in the Adirondacks. I agree with him about such beauty; does he not realize (and don't you?) that plant life lives on CO2? CO2, the food of plants, is essential for all life on this planet; plants produce food and oxygen for us animals.
Does he (and you) not realize that we are carbon-based life forms? Every atom of carbon in our bodies came from a molecule of CO2 in the air, ingested by a plant and transformed into food. Yet the EPA considers CO2 a pollutant and claims it will be healthful to minimize it. They even claim CO2 is responsible for heart attacks and asthma. I'm sorry to see Fr. Horan associate himself - with his authority as a priest - with such nonsense. The same can be said of statements from the USCCB and the Popes; the failure to distinguish CO2 from "pollution" aids the EPA in its efforts to cripple the economy further.
I think, Mr. Snowden, you object to my daring to point out the fallacies of Fr. Horan's article. This is an intellectual forum, in which ideas that have consequences for the poor ought to be debated.
No, I certainly don't owe Fr. Horan an apology, nor do I "accept this." Fr. Horan has done a serious disservice to Catholics who read his article and accept it as guidance for a well-formed conscience.

Bruce Snowden | 7/17/2014 - 12:55pm

Hi Mr. Savage, "Rome has spoken, the case is closed," no, I mean Science has spoken the case is closed, no additional discussion much less "findings" are acceptable. Scientific infallibility has proclaim its dogma of Global Warming. and that's all there is to it. Even Papal Scientific Advisors, some of the best on earth, are wrong. O.K. nothing more for me to say. Thanks!.

Douglas Fang | 7/16/2014 - 3:42pm

“ Get some scientific knowledge, Friar; until then, sit down and be quiet.”

Oh man! Who should sit down and be quiet here? What kind of “scientific knowledge” can you claim? What scientific articles did you produce? Who are your peer reviewers? Otherwise, it is just egotistic nonsense. Anyone can claim anything…

Richard Savage | 7/16/2014 - 5:57pm

I note the response from Mr. Fang is entirely ad hominem. I offered specific reasons that a Christian ought not to presume to dictate the conditions of another person's life (such as poverty and early death) on the pretense of knowing that that person's lack of access to the electricity we depend on is necessary for the "greater good" - saving all people from a serious crisis of climate change.

Unlike Fr. Horan or Mr. Fang, I have a Ph.D. in Meteorology, with a graduate minor in electrical engineering, University of Wisconsin-Madison, granted in 1976. Title: The transfer of thermal microwaves through hydrometeors; you can easily look it up online. Based on that research, I wrote the specifications for a sensor that flew for many years on the Defense Meteorological Satellites and is used to analyze oceanic ice cover (which is dramatically increasing).
The lack of global warming, in contradiction to the computer climate models of the IPCC (which have cost billions of dollars to produce), was acknowledged in the June 10th, 2013 issue of the New York Times, by Justin Gillis, a member of the GW cult. He prefers to call it a "pause", but it's a flat stasis. The new US Climate Reference Network (USCRN), which has been in operation for 10 years now, shows no warming and a slight decrease of temperature. I presume Mr. Fang remembers the Winter of 2013-2014? Much of the US is today experiencing a "poor man's polar vortex" according to the press; the real PV will be back again next December. Then we will have about 60 gigaWatts (GW) LESS electricity from coal-fired generators to stave it off. Upstate New York will be pretty chilly; I hope the Friar enjoys it.
The real issue here is what is to be gained by denying electricity to sub-Saharan Africans. Even if one were illogical enough to believe CO2 causes warming when there is no evidence for it, China is now burning more coal than the rest of the world combined. India is following along. These countries are NOT going to push their people back into poverty; CO2 in the atmosphere will increase - and it will have no effect on climate.
As far as popes as scientific authorities are concerned, one of the recent ones (PStJP2?) issued an apology to Galileo for a little misunderstanding over astronomy. I'd hesitate to quote popes as scientific authorities. Unlike Mr. Fang, I'm trying to persuade our Church and our bishops to look carefully into the science offered by people who are paid by Barack Obama's government. We've been hornswoggled once by this guy over HealthCare. Why any Catholic would believe BHO and his claims that "science is all settled" mystifies me.
A greenhouse gas, such as CO2 or water vapor (much more important) acts like the insulation in the roof of your house - it slows the escape of heat into space. It's good to have, it makes the furnace more efficient, and it won't set the house on fire. Like insulation, each increment of greenhouse gas has less effect, i.e., a logarithmic response.
Yes, I still recommend the good Franciscan Friar sit down and stop doing harm to the poor of the US and the world.

Douglas Fang | 7/16/2014 - 3:25pm

“ It's you, Horan, and other ignorant anti-scientific fanatics in the cult of global warming, who deny these poor people the electricity they need” - this seems to be the kind of language of someone who is put into a corner, desperate and exhausted of all rational reasoning. By the way, you can include the pope(s) in the list.

“There hasn't been any global warming for more than 17 years” – Repetition of this blatant lie does not make it true.

Richard Savage | 7/16/2014 - 11:19am

Billions of people live in abject poverty, dying at an early age from disease - especially pulmonary disease, caused by in-house fires of wood and dung. Their suffering could be tremendously relieved by the exploitation of fossil fuels for electricity, to refrigerate and cook their food, do their work, light their homes, and bring them information and education about the world. Ignorant simpletons like Moran and Snowden, who preach about "climate change", are killing these people.
Mr. Snowden reproaches me that " does not have to use one's tongue as a killing instrument!" Let's remember who's doing the killing, Snowden. It's you, Horan, and other ignorant anti-scientific fanatics in the cult of global warming, who deny these poor people the electricity they need. There hasn't been any global warming for more than 17 years.Even the IPCC, NOAA, and NASA admit that, and are trying to find explanations for "the pause."
Poverty is a lot worse than the unrealized "climate change".I will continue to speak out - from a thorough knowledge of radiative transfer - against fanatics like Horan. Let God judge.

Bruce Snowden | 7/13/2014 - 6:35am

Every manifestation of materiality throughout the vast fling of the cosmos is fascinating. Whether it be huge orbs of fire rumbling their ways through un-chartered celestial paths. Or an apparently insignificant piece of grass caught between a rock and a hard place, I mean between brick and concrete tenaciously choosing life, all the while boldly flaunting its miniature orb-like structures of chlorophyll, invisibly encircling its periphery in a measured crawl, linked one to the other, but apparently in movement independent of the other. Everything in creation speaking of community, of togetherness, even natural disasters following predictable patterns, governed by nature's laws, negatives, relatives to corresponding positives.

How connected we all are, the handiwork of evolutionary intent, showing as the holy Jesuit priest paleontologist Tielhard de Chardin said, “God makes things make themselves,” one thing evolving “proceeding” as in Trinity, one from the other but with beginning and end, unlike Trinity where there is an “always was and always will be” existence. Yes, Creation seems to me so “Trinitarian!” How sharing is God, theologically going so far as allowing humanity to “share in the Divine Nature” according to St. Paul. And environmentally sharing “us” with creation and creation with “us” not stingily. To mention just a few, we humans share 50% of our genetics, our DNA with bananas, honey bees, the Platypus, the round worm, the fruit fly, the wine grape, and ocean coral. And with the most distant star too, same stuff here, same stuff there!

One aspect of material creation grips me with special wonder and awe, with a penetrating curiosity that gives me happy arrhythmias if that’s possible! I mean the global forests, the global matting of grass. How did the forests and the matting of grass get started? A trillion billion variety of trees, all so beautiful, one type of which served as heaven’s vehicle of Redemption! There must be a natural explanation as God makes continual use of the “natural” opening up vistas to the supernatural. How magnificent are “Sister Trees” and “Brother Grass.” Thank you, Creator God! Thank you Franciscan Father Daniel! Very uplifting, very Franciscan.

In Addendum: Mr. Savage, your "savage attack" of Friar Horan is surprisingly brutish and depicts something less than professional behavior. That's no way to address one of my Franciscan brothers, anyone really! To disagree is fine, but one does not have to use one's tongue as a killing instrument!

Richard Savage | 7/11/2014 - 5:37pm

" We are well aware of the effects of our hubris, like global climate change and pollution."
Yet another piece of nonsense from someone with no knowledge of science. Carbon dioxide is not a pollutant; it is as essential as oxygen in our atmosphere; plants need carbon dioxide as much as we need oxygen. (And CO2 is far scarcer than O2.) Fortunately there is a beneficial symbiosis between plants and animals.
More coal - the"dirtiest fossil fuel" - has been burned in the last decade than in the previous forty years. There has been NO GLOBAL WARMING for 17+ years. And the biosphere has become greener.
Normally I would ignore ignorant loudmouths like this one, but, if Rev Horan is going to talk about care for creation, he should consider the needs of subSaharan Africans who need electricity from the cheapest and most reliable fossil fuel - coal. Get some scientific knowledge, Friar; until then, sit down and be quiet.
Richard C. Savage
Ph.D., Meteorology

Solanus Casey | 7/13/2014 - 10:55am

Mr. Savage

The data doesn't support the conclusions you have presented:

"Only 0.17 Percent of Peer-Reviewed Papers Question Global Warming"

"Surface temperature data for Earth as a whole, including readings over both land and ocean, show an increase of about 0.8°C (1.4°F) over the period 1901─2010 and about 0.5°C (0.9°F) over the period 1979–2010 (the era for which satellite-based temperature data are routinely available)....There is unequivocal evidence that Earth’s lower atmosphere, ocean, and land surface are warming; sea level is rising; and snow cover, mountain glaciers, and Arctic sea ice are shrinking. The dominant cause of the warming since the 1950s is human activities. This scientific finding is based on a large and persuasive body of research."

"Ninety-seven percent of climate scientists agree that climate-warming trends over the past century are very likely due to human activities, and most of the leading scientific organizations worldwide have issued public statements endorsing this position"

"The burning of coal, oil, and gas, and clearing of forests have increased the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by more than 40% since the Industrial Revolution, and it has been known for almost two centuries that this carbon dioxide traps heat." US National Climate Assessment

Bruce Snowden | 7/13/2014 - 12:42pm

Very curious to know who is this "Solanus Casey?" I knew a Capuchin Franciscan priest by that name, whose Masses I served in my teen years and who is now up for Beatification, now Venerable. Is your name really Solanus Casey, or are you just playing around? At any rate, you seem to speak knowledgably about the Global Warming controversy.

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