As I watch new stories of the oil slick in the Gulf of Mexico, it is sad to realize that my own hunger for things made from oil is part of the problem. Brian Walsh and Steven Bouma-Prediger (in their book Beyond Homelessness) speak of ecological homelessness and its causes. They describe ten such causes.
The tenth (and last) reason for ecological homelessness is anthropocentrism. The belief that we humans are at the center of the universe contributes both to the degradation of our home planet and to our own sense of homelessness on earth. Many now recognize that the so-called developed world’s worldview is overly human centered. Norman Wirzba puts it this way:
The eclipse of divine transcendence, once understood to be the source and goal of the world, created a hole that would be filled by human beings who now position themselves as the center or source of meaning and value. No longer microcosms of the creation, people are the autonomous beings who, in an expression of rational freedom, chart and direct the fate of themselves and the world. Again, the history of this development toward autonomy is complex. But what emerges is a self cut off from the world of which it is a part and a world shorn of all remnants of final causality. Nature, a self-regulating mechanism, stands as the arena on which reason and technique can be exercised.
Having banished or pacified God, we enthroned ourselves at the center of things. Following Protagoras, we believe that we humans are the measure of all things. With ourselves at the center and the world a machine, nature gets reduced to the status of an object – merely a resource to be used and, if necessary, abused. It is not difficult to see how such a perspective on the world and one’s place in it sanctions the despoliation of the earth. Viewing ourselves as autonomous creatures, fundamentally unrelated to either God or the rest of creation, we have shaped a culture, an economy, and a built environment subject to no principles beyond our own self-aggrandizing aspirations and with no sense of kinship with other creatures or their habitats.*
Your appetite and my appetite for oil leads drilling companies to dig it out of the ground many meters below the ocean surface without regard for the danger this process poses for a multitude of God’s creatures who rely upon a clean ocean for their food and well-being. We rationalize that we need this oil and we gamble with the lives of the other species who have no need of oil but also share this fragile planet.
*Bouma-Prediger, Steven and Walsh, Brian J. Beyond Homelessness: Christian Faith in a Culture of Displacement. (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2008), p. 182, 183.