Archbishop sets out Christian vision of environmental responsibility

By agency reporter
October 15, 2009

In a lecture sponsored by Operation Noah at Southwark Cathedral yesterday (14 Oct 2009), the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, set out a Christian vision of how people can respond to the looming environmental crisis.

Beginning with the biblical story of Noah and the Flood, Dr Williams highlighted the “burden of responsibility for what confronts us here and now as a serious crisis and challenge”.

Our relationship with the rest of creation is intimately bound up with our relationship with God, he said. The Bible offers “an ethical perspective based on reverence for the whole of life”.

“To act so as to protect the future of the non-human world is both to accept a God-given responsibility and, appropriately, to honour the special dignity given to humanity itself”, the Archbishop declared.

Drawing parallels with the financial crisis, Dr Williams argued that we are in danger of losing touch with what makes us distinctively human. We urgently need to revise some of our assumptions, including those that are incompatible with our duty of care for the whole of life.

Dr Williams warned against looking for a single solution to the complex environmental challenges which face us.

He said: “Instead of a desperate search to find the one great idea that will save us from ecological disaster, we are being invited to a transformation of individual and social goals that will bring us closer to the reality of interdependent life in a variegated world”.

Dr Williams urged action at the personal and local, as well as at the national and international, levels. He acknowledged “the potential of the crisis to awaken a new confidence in local and civic democracy [and] … a new sense of what is politically possible for people who thought they were powerless”.

He added: “Our response to the crisis needs to be in the most basic sense, a reality check, a re-acquaintance with the facts of our interdependence within the material world and a rediscovery of our responsibility for it”. “When we believe in transformation at the local and personal level, we are laying the surest foundations for change at the national and international level”.

Dr Williams underlined the particular role that belief can play in recovering a sense of balance and interdependence.

“What we face today is nothing less than a choice about how genuinely human we want to be; and the role of religious faith in meeting this is first and foremost in setting out a compelling picture of what humanity reconciled with both creator and creation might look like”, he said.

The Archbishop urged leaders to take bold decisions at the Copenhagen summit in December. He encourages the taking of effective collaborative local action to reduce carbon emissions and to maintain pressure on local governments and businesses to do the same.

He also encouraged the small actions which mark a break with destructive patterns of consumption and waste and help “to make us more aware of the diversity of life around us”.

In conclusion, Dr Williams emphasized that “the Christian story lays out a model of reconnection with an alienated world: it tells us of a material human life inhabited by God and raised transfigured from death; of a sharing of material food which makes us sharers in eternal life; of a community whose life together seeks to express within creation the care of the creator”.

Quoting the biblical book of Deuteronomy, he concluded with the divine invitation: “I am giving you a choice between good and evil, between life and death... Therefore choose life”.

The full text of the Archbishop's lecture can be found here:

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