Faith & Ecology: An Economy in the Agrarian Spirit - Catholic Rural Life

Faith & Ecology: An Economy in the Agrarian Spirit

Catholic Rural Life • September 23, 2014

Ethical Food and Agriculture

Faith & Ecology: An Economy in the Agrarian Spirit


Pope Francis and the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew:

“It is our profound conviction that the future of the human family depends also on how we safeguard – both prudently and compassionately, with justice and fairness – the gift of creation that our Creator has entrusted to us. Therefore, we acknowledge in repentance the wrongful mistreatment of our planet, which is tantamount to sin before the eyes of God. We reaffirm our responsibility and obligation to foster a sense of humility and moderation so that all may feel the need to respect creation and to safeguard it with care. Together, we pledge our commitment to raising awareness about the stewardship of creation; we appeal to all people of goodwill to consider ways of living less wastefully and more frugally, manifesting less greed and more generosity for the protection of God’s world and the benefit of His people.”

Jerusalem, 25 May 2014

Contrary to the above, the road to prosperity is usually cast as intensive industrial development, or so mainstream economists and corporate CEOs lead us to believe. The best way to lift people or entire countries out of poverty, they say, is to rapidly industrialize: This means intensive mining of resources, building extensive transportation systems, and operating large factories, intensive manufacturing and processing facilities, and the list goes on. The initial benefits will likely go to the well-off, but eventually trickle down to the less fortunate — so the promise goes.

Many now realize that industrial development can undercut widespread prosperity by its devastating side effect: ecological damage. Economists have their abstract models that refer to “externalities”, but those on the ground – farmers, community planners, scientists – can see and attest to the ecological damage underway.

Whether through critical thinking or an enlightened faith perspective, we can observe and judge the questionable political-economic underpinnings of our industrial system. As the contradictions become more apparent — and vulnerable groups suffer the consequences of “economic progress” — we are called to change our ways. Statements by our faith leaders appear to say just that, as expressed above and also here:

Pope Benedict XVI: “What is needed is a change in the lifestyles of individuals and communities, in habits of consumption and in perceptions of what is genuinely needed. Most of all, there is a moral duty to distinguish between good and evil in human action, so as to rediscover the bond of communion that unites the human person and creation.”   Vatican Message on World Day of Peace, 2010

Sacrifices and Solidarity

People of faith and goodwill can be part of the vanguard for the social and economic changes to be made. In order to live less wastefully and more frugally, we need to once again become a sacrificial people. We must deny ourselves certain conveniences and even pleasures – less driving, less energy use, less luxuries – if it means that less fortunate people than ourselves can begin to meet their own basic needs.

By our faith we believe that God’s creation, the Earth, can provide for all. Natural resources can meet all our basic needs, but we cannot expect to meet all our material desires and whims. We are called to be in solidarity with the world’s poor. The unbridled consumption of resources can only lead to scarcity; an ethic of resource conservation and recycling will lead to sustenance for all.

Until that happens, our current industrial economic system is leading us on a suicide mission because it is not only unsustainable, but is causing a slow motion disaster as we consume resources and alter the ecology of the planet.

An Agrarian Spirit for a New Economy

Our readers and members know Catholic Rural Life as a constant advocate of sustainable agriculture and all that goes along with the health of the land: watershed management, ecological restoration, and even wilderness protection. The health of the ecological system is dependent on its unity or, more accurately, its indivisibility. Through a moral obligation to till and keep the land, “we act to protect soil, water, plants, animals, and people together as one community.”

The latter part of the 20th century was a worldwide spread of industrialization and materialism. It is well past time to return to the find the right balance between the ecological and economic drivers of our life here on Earth.

Catholic Rural Life is part of the concerted effort to knit the whole back together, beginning where it matters most: on the ground. Historically since the days of Monsignor Luigi Ligutti, we have sought to create an agrarian spirit that makes it possible for a community of people to abide by the land. This is more than a local or geographic community, but a broader community of farmers, ranchers, conservationists, scientists and local food advocates who “aim to create a regenerative economy that works in harmony with nature.”

Societal Shift in Mindset and Values

This previous quote comes from the founding statement of a deliberative group called Faith, Economy, Ecology Transformation. They are an open coalition of mostly faith-based organizations and individuals who believe that humanity is being called to radically change its interactions with each other and Earth. Their founding document — “A Call to Integrate Faith, Ecology and the Global Economy — details this paradigm shift.

Their goal is to create change at all levels of society to help build a New Creation that is inclusive of all and that fits within the physical capacities of Earth. They base this wisdom on sacred scriptures and religious traditions, especially Sabbath traditions in the Old Testament and the Gospel teachings of Jesus. They call for an economy that in part:

  • provides enough for everyone, with no one storing up more than is needed;
  • honors a weekly Sabbath providing rest and human restraint from busy, frenetic economic activities;
  • models the breaking of bread, by creating strong communities built on care for one another.

Individuals and societies must begin a shift from an ethic of exploitation to an ethic of right relationships. This entails a change from competition and “winner take all” to an ethic of sharing and moderation.

The ecological challenges of the day are serious. But by capturing the seeming simplicity of the agrarian spirit, society can return to a healthy reverence for all life, finding well-being in sufficiency, inclusion, cooperation, and serving the common good.

Robert Gronski, CRL Policy Coordinator

{A version of this article appeared in the Summer 2014 issue of the Catholic Rural Life magazine, focusing on the theme of “Faith and Ecology: Why We Care for Creation”}


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