Ecology and War

April 7, 2014 Podcast

This week’s podcast was recorded at the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress in California. We spoke with Sr. Dianne Bergant, who is a Sister of St. Agnes, and the Distinguished Professor of Biblical Studies at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago. She has also served as the President of the Catholic Biblical Association of America and has been an active member of the Chicago Catholic-Jewish Scholars Dialogue for the past 30 years. America readers may recognize her as a former columnist for The Word, which she authored from 2002-2005.  At LA Congress, Sr. Dianne spoke about just war theory and the natural world. She argues that while the traditional understanding of “just war” addresses the effect of war on human beings and property, it does not adequately take into account the destruction done to the environment. She spoke with us about the legitimacy of this tradition today.

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Luis Gutierrez
4 years 11 months ago

Patriarchy is the key cultural problem, and religious patriarchy exacerbates the problem. There are many other social and ecological problems, but this is the root cause of all the other problems. Culturally, it goes back to the "patriarchal family" that derives from original sin and is the model for most structures of secular and religious governance. In both church and society, it is crucial that we understand how to overcome this patriarchal modus operandi.

Carlos Orozco
4 years 11 months ago

The discussion on just war theory is good. Let's understand it, debate it, put it up to date. In any case, it is far better than the execrable R2P. When neocons, UN bureaucrats and new-world-order advocates agree on something, it can only mean disaster.

Bruce Snowden
4 years 11 months ago

Humanity shares 50% of its DNA with Coffee and Tea and 90% with the Chimpanzee The Natural Order is so linked one thing to the other, that it does create a kind of biological “sisterhood/brotherhood” under God. The familial connection of humanity one to the other through Grace, producing the “new creation” is something altogether “other.” However, it’s clear to me that God is a “Sharer on the natural and supernatural levels.

In Trinity for example, the Blessed Persons share themselves, the Godhood, with each other, so totally, so intimately, that without beginning, or end, they are One God. On the human level too, sharing creates a unifying bond between the sharers, as in Christian marriage for example, participants becoming ONE in the flesh, other ways too.

In the OT/NT we see God sharing himself in Word and Deed, directly or through the agency of Prophets, Kings, Patriarchs and others. In the NT this become eminently clear in Sacrament, particularly Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist, allowing St. Paul to assert that Believers actually become “partakers in the Divine Nature.” Now, that’s sharing!

In physical creation, the natural order, we see God sharing himself ecologically in process and in outcome, beneficial to the intended purpose, that is, to grant a share in Divine productivity for the common good, holding everything together by a natural “glue” called laminins. Interestingly when viewed microscopically laminins are shaped like a cross! See Colossians 1:15-16 for something of a scriptural connection.

In a kind of round-about way, I’m trying to say that when it comes to disrespecting “Sister Earth” as St. Francis might say, because of God’s intimate ecological involvement and human connections to it, we abuse not only the goodness of God, but God himself as one cannot separate Goodness from God. Regarding self, ecological abuse is simply another form of self-abuse, causing either regression, or worse, material annihilation! We are morally responsible for the ecological health of the earth. Its greening must not become its browning through self-produced typhoons of ecological destruction by sinful attachments to ease and comfort connected to Avarice and Greed.

This post is directly related to Sister Dianne Bergant’s audio, with which I agree almost in its entirety. However, I find it difficult to agree with Sister’s respected wisdom that the worse thing that has happened to the Natural Order is the arrival of humankind. It’s true humanity has done much to damage the ecological balance of the cosmos, but I fail to understand how humankind has been the worse thing that happened to God’s creation. We learn from the OT account that following creation God called everything “Good” including humankind. How can that Trinitarian High-Five called “Good” degenerate into the “worse thing” that has happened to Earth?

Yes war is terrible and please God humanity may come to universal understanding able to end all war. But how do we stop ecological war, one creature warring against another that seems to be naturally inherent in materiality , NT says, “All creation groans” awaiting deliverance. Deliverance from what? From whom? Itself? In some ways creation is self-destructive, but possesses a certain resiliency that speaks of guaranteed recovery – may I call it resurrection? Therein humanity can do things to help nature help itself. Is ecological “resurrection” a natural expectation that will happen unless the monkey wrench of gross neglect and abuse happens, similar to the OT/NT promise of human resurrection unless the monkey wrench of personal rejection makes it individually impossible. I wonder? God is first and foremost consistent. hope this post makes some sense.

Bruce Snowden
4 years 11 months ago

I apologize that my above post delivered itself in one big blob. If I sound upset, I am, as I did paragraph my post but the delivery system failed to accept that format and as the internet sometimes does, it simply did what it wanted to do! However, my bigger concern is, did I manage to express myself clearly? I hope what I tried to say makes sense, otherwise what a pointless waste of time and effort to post what amounts to useless babble!

laura sabath
4 years 11 months ago

I appreciate Sr. Bergant's work to raise awareness of this whole area. I am a biologist and am concerned about the progressive destruction of the earth's "carrying capacity", that is, its ability to sustain human and many other forms of life. I see war causing poverty and poverty causing more war and both increasing the areas of desert and barrenness on earth and in ocean. And of course war and poverty also interact with economics, consumer and otherwise. *****

I think we can go farther than talk about proportionality. Also i hope we can correct the misperception of many Catholics that war, not an intrinsic evil, is not too important to think about compared to intrinsic evils. They do not understand that war is a complex of different kinds of actions from heroic to (many) intrinsic evils, but because it is a complex of both good acts, "part-time" evils, and intrinsic evils, it cannot itself be called an intrinsic evil. *****

Popes John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and Francis have all quoted Paul VI's "War never again." This does not seem to acknowledge just war. John Paul II does make room for last resort humanitarian intervention "limited…precise…carried out in full respect for international law, guaranteed by an authority that is internationally recognized" Cardinal James Francis Stafford comments on this: "As a matter of fact, we are living in a world in which the only pre-eminent, internationally recognized authority is the U.N." He also said, "The Pope himself is building upon the experience of the 20th century and modifying, as he perceives it, the just war criteria.…I think there is an evolution in light not only of John Paul II but Benedict XV [re WWI]…" *****

Also Benedict XVI stated (as Cardinal Ratzinger), 10 April 2003, to journalists as US takes control of Baghdad, "it was right to resist the war and its threats of destruction…It should never be the responsibility of just one nation to make decisions for the world, so we must still work with the U.N." *****

Cardinal Ratzinger added the following in an interview three weeks later, May 2, 2003: "…given the new weapons that make possible destructions that go beyond the combatant groups, today we should be asking ourselves if it is still licit to admit the very existence of a "just war." *****

Regarding St. Augustine, John Paul II said: “T) he only realistic response to the threat of war still is negotiation. Here I would like to remind you of an expression of Saint Augustine which I have already cited in another context: "Destroy war by the words of negotiations, but do not destroy men by the sword." (Special Session of the General Assembly, United Nations 7 June 1982) ***** *****

I took the above from the excerpts below:
John Paul II, World Day of Peace, 2000
"Humanitarian intervention"11. Clearly, when a civilian population risks being overcome by the attacks of an unjust aggressor and political efforts and non-violent defence prove to be of no avail, it is legitimate and even obligatory to take concrete measures to disarm the aggressor. These measures however must be limited in time and precise in their aims. They must be carried out in full respect for international law, guaranteed by an authority that is internationally recognized and, in any event, never left to the outcome of armed intervention alone. *****

The fullest and the best use must therefore be made of all the provisions of the United Nations Charter, further defining effective instruments and modes of intervention within the framework of international law. In this regard, the United Nations Organization itself must offer all its Member States an equal opportunity to be part of the decision-making process, eliminating privileges and discriminations which weaken its role and its credibility. *****

Cardinal Ratzinger interview 2 May 2003
Q: Eminence, a topical question that in a certain sense is inherent to the Catechism: Does the Anglo-American war against Iraq fit the canons of a "just war"? Cardinal Ratzinger: The Pope expressed his thought with great clarity, not only as his individual thought but as the thought of a man who is knowledgeable in the highest functions of the Catholic Church. Of course, he did not impose this position as doctrine of the Church but as the appeal of a conscience enlightened by faith. The Holy Father's judgment is also convincing from the rational point of view: There were not sufficient reasons to unleash a war against Iraq. To say nothing of the fact that, given the new weapons that make possible destructions that go beyond the combatant groups, today we should be asking ourselves if it is still licit to admit the very existence of a "just war." *****

Cardinal Stafford on War and the Church's Thinking, Zenit, 22 May 2004
"It should be noted," Cardinal Stafford said, "that the Pope explicitly places his emphatic choice of peace against the background of 20th-century total warfare, not the tribal conflicts of fifth-century North Africa where the first enunciation of the just war criteria were developed by St. Augustine. I think that one should look at the bishops' statement in light of the Pope's abhorrence for war and when he says it is a defeat for mankind."The Pope himself is building upon the experience of the 20th century and modifying, as he perceives it, the just war criteria. Augustine says nowhere as clearly as the Pope does, 'War is a defeat for humanity.'"The cardinal continued: "I think there is an evolution in light not only of John Paul II but Benedict XV, his 1917 proposal for the peace plan, which was rejected by the Allies, and in John XXIII in 1963 against the backdrop of the total warfare that was seen in Nagasaki, Hiroshima, Dresden ... that is the wholesale disregard for the civilian populations."
"The Pope in various World Youth Day messages emphasized the importance not simply of relying upon the U.N. as it exists now, but of a further enhancement of its peacemaking capacities," the cardinal said. "As a matter of fact, we are living in a world in which the only pre-eminent, internationally recognized authority is the U.N."


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