Posted by: gcarkner | August 30, 2012

Virtues & Vices of a Fellow Creature

Virtues & Vices of Human Creatures  from Steven Bouma-Prediger, Hope College 

Spirit BearSpirit Bear in Canada’s Great Bear Rainforest

Respect & Receptivity: If life in all its diversity is a gift from a benevolent Creator, we should respect its innate, intrinsic and precious value—its creational integrity. Biodiversity (a rich and full flourishing fittedness) is an intended result of God’s wise and orderly creative activity. We as the human dimension of creation are only one species among multitudes, and so we should cultivate the earth in harmony with other creatures, so that we can all sing a symphony of God’s praises together (Psalms 104; 148).

In other words, other creatures count morally or have moral standing. We have the same God-loved home, and are interdependent with other God-loved creatures on this planet. The virtue principle is to act to preserve diverse kinds of life. The opposing vice is conceit: to ignore or disdain other creatures, or just use or abuse them for our appetites or pleasure. Conceit has no genuine interest in another and will if necessary violate the integrity of the other through a lack of regard. A different kind of vice would be to worship the other creatures through an excess of reverence. Receptivity is a form of hospitality, which acknowledges our interdependence with the creaturely other; self-sufficiency is the vice that says we don’t have need of the other.

Self-Restraint and Frugality: The assumption here is that since creation is finite, others’ basic needs take precedence over our greedy wants. We should learn to live within our means and learn when ‘enough is enough’. There is a prima facie duty to preserve non-renewable resources and conserve scarce though renewable resources. Self-restraint is moderation (old Greek concept) of inordinate desires (temperance), a habitual control of one’s appetites and desires. The vice here is profligacy or self-indulgence (to be belly-oriented). Frugality speaks to an economy of the use of finite goods which acts as a form of hospitality. The opposing vice is greed (excessive acquisition) or avarice, a craving to acquire, blinded to the limits inherent within creation. Think of the recent financial meltdown for illustration of this vice or the destruction of the rainforests of the world.

Humility and Honesty: Humility speaks to the art of being responsible, unpretentious and aware of one’s limits; it recognizes that we humanoids are both finite and faulted; we should act cautiously and move slowly with a view to the consequences of how we consume and live with others. We don’t know all of the implications of our actions and so we should endeavour to be circumspect and careful. The opposing vice is hubris or overweening pride, an exaggerated self-confidence in our own creativity. Honesty means to be without guile or duplicity (perversion of truth for personal gain); it entails that we will act with forethought and put on the brakes even when we are disadvantaged. Its opposite is deception, a cunning misrepresentation of the facts often fuelled by envy and spite in order to see enemies harmed and humiliated. When we make creation our enemy, we can see the potential for harmful destruction. When we make creation our partner as in the recently built greenest home ever near Kamloops, it is speaking to humility, truthfulness and integrity.

Wisdom and Hope: Wisdom is an excellence of intellect, developed over time, one that allows us to live the good life (For the Beauty of the Earth, p. 150). It originates in the fear or worship of God. It is “sound practical judgment based on uncommon insight honed through long experience and informed by cultivated memory.” Assumption: it is God’s will that the whole of creation be fruitful and flourish, not just humans. We should act in such a way that the ability of living creatures can maintain themselves and reproduce—fecundity. Foolishness is the vice of habitual lack of sound judgment, to act as if the earth is endlessly exploitable. Hope is trust oriented forward in time rooted in God’s promises as talked about in an earlier section, a yearning for shalom or wholeness. Despair, hope’s nemesis, is the absence of any expectation of a good future; it leads to the sickness unto death of Kierkegaard, and this cynicism leads to death dealing against others in creation.

Patience and Serenity: Assuming a belief in Sabbath rest for land, humans and animals, it is a principle of rejuvenation. It takes the long view and shows a calm forbearance. We should act in such a way that the creatures, land and property under our care are given their needful rest. The vice is impetuousness, an impulsiveness based on fear of the future, that drive to gratify our desires in the immediate moment. Serenity is an unruffled peacefulness, an inner calm amidst chaos rooted in an assurance of God’s grace and his patience. This is the founding principle of farming: planting the seed and waiting. This takes the pressure off our obsession with productivity, acquisition, and consumerism. If rest is part of our rhythm, we will stay in the game longer and do better more creative work–work towards the bigger contribution.

Benevolence and Love: Benevolence is willingness to promote the well-being of another despite our feelings; love involves a feeling of affection (care) for the other. To love the earth means to serve and cultivate it and protect it from harm (to be earthkeepers), to take responsibility for it. It involves recognition of God as the real owner and we humans as the tenants, those who tend the earth gardens for the Master. If we love God’s good creation, we will not exploit, waste or pillage it; we will nurture it and preserve its well-being. This idea of loving (not worshipping) creation may seem strange, but it is biblical (Genesis 2:15). Caritas (charity or love towards the other) is the ultimate goal of Christian spirituality. The ecological tragedy in the Gulf of Mexico should actually break our hearts; creation is groaning (Romans 8); what a terrible waste.

Justice and Courage: Justice is a central feature of human flourishing, the disposition to act impartially and fairly; it implies respect for the rights of others, especially the vulnerable. In Isaiah 24, justice is intimately tied to the health of the land; social justice and ecological health are bound together. Biblically we are enjoined to act so as to treat others, human and non-human fairly and to attend to the weak, widow, orphan, sick and handicapped. Courage is the moral strength in the face of danger, tenacity in the face of opposition, a stubborn persistence in the face of adversity. Often it takes tremendous courage to sustain justice, to lobby for justice and to do the right thing.

Such is the leverage of virtue. In today’s late modern world, older vices such as acquisitive attitude have become virtues causing a moral inversion. There is still time to recover and retrieve these ancient virtues once again and to truly flourish on this blue green planet. Steve Bouma-Prediger is a good place to start on this journey home. He is a lead voice in this field of creation care

Notes recorded from For the Beauty of the Earth by Gord Carkner, GCU Staff

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