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INTRODUCTION

Since their first days on our earth human beings have looked at the world and seen that it is good. They have delighted in its beauty. They have been grateful for the good things that provide them with shelter, food and clothing.

And they have been led to some crucial  questions:

    To what extent must the beauty we admire be left untouched, save to be nurtured and safeguarded?

    How much is to be used so that we might live well upon this earth?

    And how are our resources to be cared for and replenished so that our children, too, might be able to live upon the earth?

Many of us know too little about the functioning of the world and the inter-connected web of life on our own planet. Therefore we can do harm without knowing what we are destroying. Large areas of the earth’s desert have developed through human abuse of nature, while we Australians have destroyed large tracts of our rain-forests and certain species of our fauna. With our rapidly growing technology, it has become possible for us to inflict far greater harm and to do more irreparable damage.

Fortunately, our growing technology has enabled us to understand better how to embellish our earth and how to avoid the harm that has been done to it in ignorance or greed. A widespread ecological awareness has made us more sensitive to the needs of other living things. “Ecology", from its Greek roots, signifies “The meaning of the dwelling". It refers to the study of the whole Environment needed for the survival of living organisms. It studies nature in all the delicate and intricate interactions which characterise life on this planet.

SIGNS OF THE TIMES
Pope John XXIII called on us to look for signs of the times. Vatican II asked us to try to discover what the Church should be in the world of our day. Today, it is surely a sign of the times that many people are calling for a more enlightened care for the earth and for all living things. We give thanks for the human wisdom that has raised this cry of concern. Among the more significant actions has been that of the General Assembly of the United Nations which in 1982 adopted and proclaimed a “World Charter for Nature". It stated its “conviction that every form of life is unique, warranting respect regardless of its worth to man". It stated a further conviction that, if we are to deal rightly with created things, we “must be guided by a moral code of action."

Here we touch on a second sign of the times, namely, the widespread conviction that there is a moral dimension to questions of ecology. Increasingly Christians are rediscovering a religious character in their attitudes towards other created things. St. Paul’s words appear to be specially relevant in our times: “The whole of creation is eagerly waiting, creation still retains the hope of being freed, like us, from its slavery to decadence, to enjoy the same freedom and glory as the children of God." (Rom. 8, 19-21).

We have long been familiar with the prayers of the Psalms in which all creatures are called upon to give glory to God and to bless the Lord. In our Space Age, our sense of wonder has been deepened as we increase our knowledge of the galaxies, the vast stretches of the universe, and the extraordinary way in which the earth was formed and all its varied forms of life brought into being.

We are pleased to see that Christian scholars are bringing their knowledge to bear on issues relating to our environment. We pray that, to human wisdom we may bring the riches of our Christian heritage so that all of us, enlightened by grace and nature, may work together for the good of all. To this end, in 1983 the World Council of Churches engaged its members in a process of study of the three themes of justice, peace and integrity of creation. For the World Day of Peace, 1990, Pope John Paul added his message “Peace with God the Creator, peace with all creation."

In February 1991 Canberra hosted the World Council of Churches Seventh Assembly. All of us gladly joined in the prayer which expresses the theme of the Assembly: “Come Holy Spirit - Renew the Whole Creation." One of the subthemes “looked at the interrelatedness of life and what the biblical teaching of creation implies for the vocation of human beings in relation to the rest of creation?. Its title, too, took the form of an intercession: “Giver of Life - Sustain your Creation".

THE AUSTRALIAN SCENE
Australians have become aware of the need to treat the land with respect, and to understand its rhythms and its riches. In response to the voice of the people, portfolios for the environment have been created in our parliaments. The Australian and New Zealand Environment Council has been formed. Many Australians have come to realise that they are the possessors of an extraordinary heritage. Much of it is unique. The aboriginal inhabitants of Australia looked on this land and found it very good. For them the land was linked with the “creating spirits" still vitally present to it, and present to them who used its gifts. They enjoyed a special relationship with the earth and they possessed their own “laws" for using its resources and keeping an ecological balance between earth, plants, water, animals and people. Birds and fish, kangaroos, wallabies and other animals served as food for them as did an assortment of seeds, roots and nuts. They felled no forests for they needed no houses, nor did they need to carve out pasture lands for animals which grazed where they pleased. However, in some areas the fire-stick was as destructive of rain-forest as later the axe would be.