In its more negative expression, post-modernism is characterized by pervasive distrust of anyone outside the self; cynicism about the possibility of any objective truths; institutional fragmentation, rampant subjectivism and relativism; and a sense of things not being coherent, of not fitting together.
A classic illustration of post-modernism at its worst is the recent decision of the federal government to introduce legislation that promises to enlarge and thereby alter the definition of marriage in order to include same-sex partners. This lunacy discriminates against marriage and the family, and deprives both of them of social and legal recognition as the fundamental and irreplaceable basis of society.
In a more positive context, post-modernism gives birth to fresh conceptualization, new discourses to assist in explaining our contemporary condition. For example, in our post-modern era, many have come to realize that our love must extend to all of creation - to animals and insects, rocks and mountains, rivers and seas, flowers and trees, earth and sky - everything that God has created.
Some of us have come to this awareness by means of our prayer. I had my own consciousness raised at a Jubilee Garden Blessing at Monsignor Doyle School where we prayed, unveiled an Inukshuk, read the parable of the sower, released lady bugs and balloons, dedicated trees, attached prayer flags, and sang “Oh What a Wonderful World.”
Others have been converted to a greater sensitivity for the planet through social analysis. Reflecting on the beauty of nature, we have become saddened by the abuse of it by human beings. Such assaults on nature as deforestation, the use of harmful pesticides, air and water pollution, species extinction, and toxic waste have convinced us that there are threats to the very integrity of creation.
To reverse this process of environmental abuse we need concrete, practical action, in both local and global arenas. We need to become responsible stewards.
In Sacred Scripture a steward is the one who sees to the law of a household. The steward oversees the domestic order: the rhythms, rules, and agreements in which a household or community thrives. Stewardship describes a leadership position reserved for experienced, capable persons. Stewards exercise considerable authority, but not in their own name. Stewardship links power with service of a community and authority with dependence on the Lord of the house.
“In the beginning, When God created the heavens and the earth, God said, “Let the earth bring forth vegetation: every kind of plant that bears seed and every kind of fruit tree on earth that bears fruit with its seed in it... God saw how good it was... God also said: “See, I give you every seed bearing plant allover the earth and every tree...”
St. Francis of Assisi, the heavenly patron of those who promote ecology, offers us an example of genuine and deep respect for the integrity of creation. As a friend of the poor who was loved by God’s creatures, St. Francis invited all of creation - animals, plants, natural forces, even brother sun and sister moon - to give honour and praise to the Lord.
St. Francis heard the message of God’s goodness, of creation’s interdependence and of humanity’s responsibility toward it. He understood what stewardship of creation was all about, he understood the intimate connection between all of God’s creatures, and that we are dependent upon the Creator for our very existence. Francis had a contemplative’s sense of joy, wonder and praise for each of God’s gifts. Every creature in the world was a mirror of God’s presence and , if approached correctly, a step leading one to God.
As we look around us and read the ‘signs of the times,’ we face a challenging time of crisis and opportunity. This is the time to make important decisions. In religious terms, this time is a call to conversion.
We need to re-examine the ways we think and act, to affirm and support better what we are presently doing that is environmentally responsible and to critique and challenge what is irresponsible and unsustainable.
How can we become more responsible stewards in our lifestyle choices, energy consumption, garbage and recycling practices, and in our everyday decisions as consumers, workers, investors and citizens?
How can we pass on to our youth a respect and appreciation for all God’s creation as well as the confidence and hope that a more just and sustainable society is a historical possibility worth struggling to achieve?
How do we avoid passing on an increasing environmental deficit to our children and grandchildren?
What is needed to make environmental responsibility a major social priority?
Scientists are telling us that in the face of rising global population and increased energy and natural consumption, we have a limited window of opportunity to change our environmentally destructive ways of relating the earth. Failure to act in a timely and decisive manner will threaten the ability of the earth to nurture and sustain life as we know it.
Confronting such challenges can seem so overwhelming - “there is nothing that I can do.” Nothing could be further from the truth. The best place to start is to set aside a few moments every day to go for a walk in your neighbourhood and notice the wild life. “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof” (Ps. 42:1).
☩ Frederick Henry
Billions of dollars have been spent on the so-called “war on terror” while virtually nothing has been spent trying to prevent the deaths of 6,000 children today, tomorrow and everyday.
Passengers on a small commuter plane are waiting for the flight to leave. They’re getting a little impatient, but the airport staff has assured them that the pilots will be here soon, and the flight will take off immediately after they arrive. The entrance opens, and two men dressed in pilots’ uniforms walk up the aisle; both are wearing dark glasses, one is using a seeing-eye dog, and the other is tapping his way with a cane. Nervous laughter spreads through the cabin; but the men enter the cockpit, the door closes, and the engines start up.
The passengers begin glancing nervously around, searching for some sign that this is just a little practical joke. None is forthcoming. The plane moves faster and faster down the runway, and people at the windows realize that they’re headed straight for the water at the edge of the airport territory. As it begins to look as though the plane will never take off, that it will plow into the water, panicked screams fill the cabin—but at that moment, the plane lifts smoothly into the air. The passengers relax and laugh a little sheepishly, and soon they have all retreated into their magazines, secure in the knowledge that the plane is in good hands. Up in the cockpit, the co-pilot turns to the pilot and says, “You know, Bob, one of these days, they’re going to scream too late, and we’re all going to die.”
The savage regime of Saddam Hussein and the slaughter of innocent people in New York and Washington on September 11, 2001, have repeatedly and rightly been condemned.
However, we so easily forget that on September 11, more than 6,000 children died from water-borne diseases like gastroenteritis. Billions of dollars have been spent on the so-called “war on terror” while virtually nothing has been spent trying to prevent the deaths of 6,000 children today, tomorrow and everyday.
Our pilots are blind! Maybe it’s not too late to scream: “Look at the real weapons of mass destruction!”
The real weapons of mass destruction in today’s world are HIV, AIDS, famine and starvation. In Africa alone these plagues have devastated the lives of more than 30 million people.
The HIV virus, now the leading cause of death in sub-Saharan Africa, is leaving an entire generation without parents. There are 660,000 HIV/AIDS orphans in South Africa, a figure that is set to rise to between 2 and 2.5 million by 2010 – a staggering one in every six children.
The infrastructure of community care—access to health care, treatment, affordable drugs, and support programs for the infected and affected children—on which hundreds of thousands depend is strained at the seams.
Many of South Africa’s AIDS orphans need to drop out of school to look after younger siblings; they often become unemployable, and plough families deeper into poverty.
So far, the AIDS orphans of South Africa have been unable to look to their government for leadership. President Thabo Mbeki has questioned the link between HIV and AIDS and the effectiveness of anti-retroviral treatments.
Someone has to scream about the global economic injustice—to systems of trade and subsidies which create international debt and prevent impoverished African nations rising out of fragile subsistence, and to the issue of debt repayments.
Furthermore, under the surface are cultural issues—the taboos, gender inequalities, and appalling levels of violence and sexual abuse directed at women and children. Central is gender inequality. Female genital mutilation, polygamy, arranged marriages, social approval of multiple sexual partners for men, and widow disinheritance are all factors placing people at high risk of AIDS.
These are deeply sensitive cultural issues, demanding great sensitivity and insight. A huge and sustained effort will be required to bring gender equality to center stage in the laws of the countries, in the family environment, in institutions, and in social relationships.
Our networking, lobbying and action at national and international level must be driven by the ethical and moral realisation of the infinite value of the life of a poor person. This life is not worth less than that of someone who can pay for what may be required to cope positively with an HIV status. Affordable drugs, the anti-retrovirals which can delay the onset of AIDS-related illnesses for years, are vital to prevent mother-to-child transmission; to keep HIV mothers alive as long as possible; and for the HIV population in general, who can begin to have some hope.
Nevertheless, for anti-retrovirals to take effect, the poverty, malnutrition and lack of sanitation that open the door to opportunistic infections must be tackled.
If a small fraction of the money that was spent on the war had been spent alleviating human suffering and hunger, many of the frustrations that contributed to the events of September 11 might have been eliminated. Such initiatives, born of human solidarity and compassion, would touch the lives of millions of people and make the world a much safer place for everyone.
Scream before it’s too late!
☩ Frederick Henry