Holy Green Orthodoxy: Dr Foltz Responds.

Posted by on November 4, 2013 in Environmentalism, Scholarly | 0 comments

Green crossWelcome—or welcome back—readers of Real Clear Religion! Thank you for your patronage of my new blog, but more especially for your interest in environmental issues and Orthodox Christians’ engagement with them.

Dr Bruce Foltz is a co-editor of  Toward an Ecology of Transfiguration: Orthodox Christian Perspectives on Environment, Nature, and Creation (Orthodox Christianity and Contemporary Thought). This is the book I have begun to use as a basis for further reflections of my own on Orthodox environmental thought (see the initial blog post about it here). I wrote a rather critical piece on the Introduction to the book a couple of weeks ago which Dr Foltz also co-authored (see below, Just How Useless is Orthodox Environmental Thought) and which, very much to my surprise, was picked up by Real Clear Religion and linked there on 31 October. Dr Foltz has answered my blog post with a response of his own on Real Clear Religion, Holy Green Orthodoxy, which is published today. I encourage you to read it.

Dr Foltz is, for the most part, gracious in his rebuttal. He says, in a central paragraph,

However, this makes the further comments of Fr. Michael, a sincere priest of the Church, even more puzzling, for he goes on to criticize the book for not coming up with practical solutions to environmental issues, for being “useless.” Surely he knows that the fundamental praxis of the Orthodox Church concerns the ascetic labor and faithful worship that leads to theosis, the union with Christ, the One who alone “is holy.” Yet I suspect he is temporarily blinded to this by a concern that the book might have fallen prey to the great ethico-political reductionism of our age, against which the Orthodox Church has so far powerfully prevailed.

Here Dr Foltz identifies one of my concerns. If I am concerned that his book might have fallen prey to the reductionism of our age, it is because I have read enough Orthodox writing on the environment legitimately to have concerns about it. I won’t take the time now to run through some examples of what I have found that troubles me. For that, I invite interested readers to look forward to the monograph I have co-authored with Dr Andrew Morriss, Creation and the Heart of Man: An Orthodox Christian Perspective on Environmentalism, which will be published by the Acton Institute and which is currently in press. Some examples of what I mean are included there.

One of my concerns which Dr Foltz did not respond to is negative view of Western technological progress which his Introduction presents. Yes, technological advance has brought environmental harm, but it has also brought much cleaner and efficient technology that has helped the environment, and it has elevated the world’s poor in ways undreamt of a quarter-century ago.

Perhaps Dr Foltz and I differ not so much in substance as in approach. I would rather affirm all that we can about Western technology while criticizing it where criticism is due. My concern is that by making broad denunciations of technology and the West, we risk offending the very people we want to engage. Certainly, I was offended by the perspective of his Introduction. It would be a pity if other people were too and read no further. If, by my criticism of his Introduction I have turned people away from reading his book, I do apologize. As I said in the addendum to my previous post, my comments were directly only to the Introduction and not to the book as a whole.

Dr Foltz says further, “The various essays [in the book] all articulate the great contributions of Patristic, Orthodox Christianity to our understanding of creation, ideas that are deeply “practical” in encouraging and enabling us to hear the holy voice of God, see the glory of God, in creation itself, from which a transformed relation to the environment cannot fail to follow.”

Here we stand in complete agreement. And if I may return to something I quoted from him earlier, “Surely [Fr Michael] knows that the fundamental praxis of the Orthodox Church concerns the ascetic labor and faithful worship that leads to theosis, the union with Christ, the One who alone ‘is holy’.” I do know this, and it is always well to be reminded of fundamentals. Dr Morriss and I make the same point in our upcoming monograph when we say,

The closer we approach the status of sons, the greater our intimacy with God. And the more intimate we are with God, the greater our sanctification and the more we are healed of sin and the corrupting effect of the passions. And when the microcosm (man) is healed, the macrocosm (creation) will be healed as well, for the state of the macrocosm reveals the state of the microcosm.  This is why it is important that the ascetical practices of the Church not be diverted to any other purpose than the sanctification of mankind: they serve the environment best when they serve our sanctification most.

I hope that this public exchange between Dr Foltz and me makes for good publicity for his book and that more people are encouraged to read it. I have read further in the book myself and can affirm that what Dr Foltz says about its perspective and content is true: the “essays, whatever else their assertions, advance the underlying claim that what is most needed in our present environmental situation is a return to the prayerful stillness that will once again allow us, like Elijah, to leave our caves after hearing, amidst the noise of modern life, the ‘small, still voice’ in creation.” But that will be the subject for future blog posts here.

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