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The Cross and the Rain Forest

The most fruitful and majestic tree in the history of the world was the one on which hung its Savior, Jesus Christ. Today there is a growing trend among some environmentalists to look past the incarnate expression of God's love and see only a violated and barren tree. This trend toward reinterpreting symbols and the created order is an outgrowth of a larger crisis in the belief that God is both Creator and Father.

Uncertainty about God also calls into question the human person. Consequently, those whose divine mission is to exercise dominion over the created order become interlopers, strangers, and, as several authors have called humans, “diseases” upon the earth. The next step toward deifying the earth is a short one, and rather than man judging how the goods of the earth might best give glory to God, man is judged by the earth.

This subversion makes possible a new eco-religion where disciples of the way of the defied earth (Gaia) preach a syncretistic gospel of pantheism, paganism, and devolved Christianity. Indeed, implicit within this “new gospel” is a contradictory message with respect to Christianity. For while eco-religionists rely on the Christian truth that the created order is good and worthy of respect, they deny, if not avoid, the Christian truth that man is to exercise dominion over it.

Yet it is precisely the charge to exercise dominion that serves to balance humanity by emphasizing both the obligation to revere the created order and to develop it. Only the human person, man and woman, has been created “in the image of God” (Gen. 1:27); a singular excellence emphasized in the creation of woman who alone is a fit partner for man (Gen. 2:18-20). Notwithstanding the truth that every creature, rock, and flower bears its own excellence, Saint John Chrysostom articulates the Christian ordering succinctly: “Man--that great and wonderful living creature, more precious in the eyes of God than all other creatures! For him the heavens and earth, sea and all the rest of creation exists” (In Gen. Sermon, II, 1).

Chrysostom's insight offers a fundamental principle for Christian ecology: A proper stewardship of the created order ultimately awaits the human person exercising a proper stewardship over himself and his relationships. In other words, ecology, if it is to be successful, needs and must respect theological anthropology.

It is for the purpose of informing people of faith about the theological undercurrents of the environmental movement, specifically “green spirituality,” that the authors offer their primer The Cross and the Rain Forest. Like Dixie Lee Ray's contribution in helping raise the issue of whether sound science justified increasingly radical environmentalist claims, the authors seek to cast light on and critique the faulty theological claims of the environmental movement. Indeed, less you think that environmentalism is a benign continuum--that there is no difference, for example, between packing out your trash from a campsite or recycling at home, and many of the ideas that have been proclaimed to “save the Earth”--Whelan, Kirwan, and Haffner convincingly show that ultimately the very notion of God, and thus also the human person, is at stake.

Moreover, that green ideas are increasingly targeted at children both in the classroom and through television should sober any parent who seeks to instill in their children a love of God above all things. For while eco-religionist claims may challenge an adult believer's way of thinking about God, they affect a child at more basic level; namely, eco-religionist claims question whether a child should seek a life with the God of revelation at all. Although it is neither an exhaustive treatment of the religious implications of “green spirituality” nor without its limitations, The Cross and the Rain Forest is a helpful and popular introduction for those who seek to be good stewards of the earth.

In the first two chapters Robert Whelan draws out how green thought subverts the Christian understanding of God and the human person by overturning the “Christian matrix of science” and embracing the New Age. Joseph Kirwan considers in the third chapter how it is that in the “green new world” animals are endowed with the same rights as humanity. And in the fourth chapter Fr. Paul Haffner reasserts, albeit in a preliminary fashion, a vision of a Christian ecology which balances the charge to develop the created order with the obligation to reverence it.

What remains to be presented in another book on the proper relationship of the person to the created order is a more complete account of the Christian vision along the lines Fr. Haffner begins to sketch. Such an account would do well to include a sustained reflection on the “technological movement” that, like the environmental movement, can often embody a similar deformation of the human person's relationship to the created order. While technology can be and often is a tremendous good, a technological approach that so exalts the human person as to render him creator (or perhaps editor) of the created order can also lead to a destructive lack of due reverence of God and the dignity of the human person.

Finally, but not least, churches, as part of their effort to help their members be good stewards, will find the appendix in The Cross and the Rain Forest, which treats topics such as global warming and the ozone layer, among the book's most helpful contributions.

More than ever before the Christian is called to integrate his faith and life. The Cross and the Rain Forest will help Christians and all people of faith critically discern how to do so in the realm of stewarding the created order and thus avoid the heterodox positions blossoming within the environmental movement.