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OP-Ed —  A Response to Pope Francis: Thoughts on the Balance of Faith, the Environment and Man


Last week, Pope Francis issued a call for major changes in our lifestyles and our energy consumption – particularly singling out the western, developed world — as part of the effort to combat climate change. Francis based his call on the Biblical call to stewardship towards God’s creation.

As the Holy Father says, mankind has a duty to act as good stewards of this world God has entrusted to our keeping.  And I am not presumptuous enough to argue with the Pope. I think it is clear to us all that mankind has left an indelible mark on the planet.  Sometimes that mark has taken the form of scars, such as the trenches of northern France or the shipwrecks that dot the ocean floor of the Pacific, but more often than not that mark has been the result of another of God’s great gifts – life itself.

Mankind is an unquiet creation. We tend not to like the status quo. We build, we tear down and we shape our surroundings to fit our needs.  In other words, we fulfill the mandate of God to …. “be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

This, too, is in keeping with God’s commandment as He expelled Adam and Eve from the Garden that Adam would “toil” the earth for his food.

I applaud Pope Francis’ call for coordinated action to address the needs of the poor and the developing world. I would point, however, to the simple fact that the modern industrial economy has created the greatest improvement in the human condition the world has ever known. Today, fewer people work in agriculture than ever before, yet we produce more than enough food to feed the planet. Deadly diseases have been eradicated or rendered all but impotent. We have lifted much of the world out of poverty and humans are living longer, healthier lives.  These improvements came because of capitalism and industry rather than in spite of it.

And if you look around the developed world, you will see that we have created this modern industrialized economy even as we have successfully cleaned up most of the sins of our past.  Right here in West Virginia, we are world renowned for having some of the most verdant and pristine forests in the world, despite the fact that the entire state was clear-cut by the timber industry twice in the 20th Century.  Our streams are cleaner today than any time in the past century. Our air is cleaner.

We have made these improvements because of another of God’s greatest gifts to man – the gift of a rational mind. With our mind we have identified the problems, devised ways to address them and successfully done so at each step along the way even as our population and our economy expanded to levels unthinkable in the past.

Pope Francis said that. “Humanity is called to take note of the need for changes in lifestyle and changes in methods of production and consumption.”

Again, while it is not my intent to argue with the Pope, I would simply observe that we have always followed this rule. We have seen the need to change, to find answers to problems and to fix them, and I believe the real answer to the Holy Father’s call is not to be found in forsaking the resources God has provided to us, but instead will be found by the use of our minds.

I am reminded of the Christ’s Parable of the Talents, in which he told of the master who was leaving and entrusted his resources to the stewardship of three servants – giving each responsibility for a portion. When he returned, those servants who had put those resources to use, who had invested them wisely and in return received a profit on them, were called “good and faithful,” while the one who had buried his portion in the ground, refusing to use it and only returning what he was given, was called a  ‘wicked and slothful.”

The Holy Father said that the answers won’t be found in radicals of either stripe, and he specifically called out liberals and environmentalists for caring about the environment but not about human life. He called for an end to abortion and for a rejection of radical population control. He also spoke of the dignity of work, as well as condemning the deification of the environment.

I would suggest, humbly, that God intends us to make use of the resources He provided us stored within His Creation, to improve the lives of our fellow man. Of course, we should be good stewards and use those resources wisely. We should clean up after ourselves, and like the farmer, restore the Earth to ensure its bounty for generations.

Our coal miners, do that work every single day. And I would suggest that they are truly good and faithful servants, not content to bury their talents in the ground but to use the resources they were entrusted with to the benefit of man.

NOTE: T.L. “Terry” Headley, MBA, MAT, MA, BA, operates Genesis Communications.

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