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Catholics, Jews Share Biblical View on Environment
Cindy Wooden
Source: Catholic News Service
Published: Saturday, January 23, 2010
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VATICAN CITY (CNS)—Jews and Catholics believe that in order to be ethically legitimate any action that has an affect on the earth, on animals and especially on human life must recognize that God is the creator of all, said members of an important dialogue.

Members of the dialogue commission sponsored by the Vatican and the Chief Rabbinate of Israel met at the Vatican Jan. 17-20 to discuss Catholic and Jewish teaching on creation and on the environment.

In a statement issued at the end of the meeting, the commission said there is a tension between "secular environmentalist movements and religious perspectives" on ecology, because Christians and Jews follow biblical teaching that gives human beings a special place and a special responsibility for the rest of creation.

They said the Bible "views nature as being endowed with sanctity that flows from the Creator," but it also asserts that God made human beings "the summit of his inherently good creation" and gave them stewardship over the earth.

In order to intervene ethically in the natural order, they said, people must recognize the limits of "the power of science and its claim to absoluteness," and act in a way that expresses solidarity with present and future generations.

"Not everything that is technically feasible is morally acceptable. It is this consciousness that ensures that every aspect of human advancement promotes the well-being of future generations and sanctifies the Divine Name, just as its absence leads to destructive consequences for humanity and (the) environment and profanes the Divine Name," the statement said.

The dialogue members said scientists and governments should seek ethical guidance from religious leaders before taking any action that would change nature.

They said religious leaders could help ensure that progress would be "a blessing rather than a curse."

"Humankind today faces a unique environmental crisis, which is substantially the product of unbridled material and technological exploitation," they said.

Science, technology and political action are all necessary to reverse the situation, but it also is essential that people learn to act with "self-restraint, humility and discipline," the statement said.

The Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, printed an abridged version of the presentation Italian Archbishop Bruno Forte of Chieti-Vasto made to his fellow dialogue commission members.

"Biblical tradition places the human person and the cosmos within a unique plan of covenant: while receiving a particular dignity and responsibility, man stands before God in solidarity with all creation, called to realize the covenant spirit in his relationship with the Creator, with other human beings and with the entire universe," the archbishop said.

Creation is not divine, he said, but "precisely as the object of the creative love of the God of the covenant, nature has its own high dignity."

In the biblical viewpoint, no intervention into the natural order is legitimate "if it leads in any way or to any degree to a violation of the sacredness of human life and the unique and unrepeatable dignity of each human person," he said. Genetic testing to identify and treat a problem can be legitimate, the archbishop said, but any action that fundamentally changes a human being or destroys a human life is not.

"The God of the Judeo-Christian faith is not in competition with man, but is his ultimate guarantee and savior, including in the field of human interventions into the natural order," Archbishop Forte said.

The dialogue commission is led by Chief Rabbi Shear-Yashuv Cohen of Haifa, Israel, and by retired Argentine Cardinal Jorge Mejia, who in the 1980s helped coordinate Catholic-Jewish dialogue.

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