Fr. Schall on Environmentalism and Poverty

The Amalfi Coast described by Fr. Schall

Fr. Schall is a somewhat legendary scholar within US academia, a priest who has defended the faith from within Georgetown University. He has commented on some environmental themes before and was mentioned in a post here, where Chris Shannon critiques his position. After Pope Francis, he stands out as a prominent Jesuit speaking on the issue. In his latest article in Crisis Fr. Schall mentions the environment specifically in an article called “How Environmentalism harms the Poor”.

The truth is that the article is not very well written but contains some interesting ideas. I almost would like to ask Fr. Schall to re-write it so we could appreciate his ideas more clearly. Fundamentally, he argues that environmentalists advocate for ‘leaving nature alone’ and conceive of human impact on creation as negative. This passivity in turn leads to poverty, since it is work, effort and labor that raises people out of poverty. Fr. Schall proposes that we must work hard to raise the poor out of poverty, while recognizing that this may perhaps never be accomplished. More importantly however, is the effort to reach our transcendent goal, God, which all can achieve, rich or poor.

I think Fr. Schall’s point is well taken, especially his explanation of the Christian vision of matter and creation as fundamentally good. I have talked about this here and here. Misunderstanding this point on the synthesis between matter and spirit leads to several problems, such as Manicheanism. A negative anthropology which informs many environmentalists also causes several philosophical problems, such as a passive restorative view of ‘letting nature be’. It is a vision of dominion well understood that paves the way for a truly Christian environmentalism. This dominion, which has a marked Christocentric form, is the only aspect I would add to qualify Fr. Schall’s avocation of human endeavor and use of creation. Otherwise, we could fall into activism rather than passivity, which would lead to human despotism – a position also condemned by the magisterium.  

Fr. Schall


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