Babies in the Biosphere by John Oliver

Babies in the Biosphere

John Oliver on Abortion as a Matter of Ecology

Imagine a patchwork quilt. Dozens of well-designed individual squares have been sewn together to form an integrated whole. The seams, though visible, are evidence not of division but of relationship and connection. The quilt is the unique within the uniform, and we call it beautiful. But we would not call beautiful a quilt that was torn and frayed and no longer whole. Instead, we might wonder if there was any hope of restoring this fabric.

One consequence of our fall from Paradise is that our cosmology has been shattered. Where there is integrity and dependence, we tend to see separate “issues.” Consider abortion and ecology: These are disconnected in the cultural discourse of political “conservatives” and “liberals” in a way that is neither subtle nor trivial. The champion of one is often the champion of the other, and the enemy of one often the enemy of the other.

Sadly, the fissure is found not only in politics but also in religion: Our clergy, like our political candidates, too often profess no connection between the preservation of our children and the preservation of our world, which these children will inherit.

Creation’s Philosophy

In the ecological discussion of a century ago, the term of favor was nature. Now it is environment. But the better word in any age (certainly for Christians) is creation. The risk of referring only to nature or the environment is that it may introduce into the discussion—unnoticeably—the very philosophy that produces ecological problems: that the natural environment is severed and separate from us, and we are distant and disconnected from it.

Creation has the advantage because it carries its own subtle introduction, not of a philosophy, but of a Person: A creation requires a creator. Then, as man discovers he is not the god of the world but simply a priest, he can assume a more humble position of dependence, with every other creature, on his Father, “in whom we live and move and have our being.”

Creation is a giant—but closed—system. Life exists as a thin skin around Earth, where air meets water and soil. Human and non-human survival depends on the harmony of ceaselessly moving, connected, and intricate cycles of nature, much like the efficiency of an automobile depends on the smooth cooperation of all its inward parts. The fundamental cycles—of water, nitrogen, carbon, sulfur, phosphorus—make repeated use of essential substances found on Earth only in fixed amounts.

Human behavior is today affecting these cycles more powerfully and permanently than the activity of any other organism, because of the human drive for control that Francis Bacon called our tendency to “bind nature into service.” No organism can match our reach, our speed, or our appetite. Beavers will fell a tree to build a dam; humans will fell a forest to build coffee tables.

We humans cannot destroy the biosphere, then order a better one and have it delivered. No, the Creator has given us one creation, and it will yield its promised abundance only if it has abundance to yield. Ecology (from oikos and logy) means “the study or management of the household.” That language is appropriate even for Christians, whom St. Peter calls “strangers and pilgrims” in this world. Risking a cliché, the Earth is our home away from Home. The Creator-creation drama is played upon a stage of soil and water and air, and on that very stage we pray that our Father’s will be done as it is in heaven.


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