If nominations for
the best bright idea of 2008 are still open, I’m voting for Pope
Benedict XVI’s  “ecology of man”. It goes without
saying that this will not pass unchallenged. His intriguing
suggestion surfaced in a speech to his staff a couple of days before
Christmas — and instantly the gay lobby had conniptions.

An Anglican priest in
London, Giles Fraser, founder of the pro-gay Inclusive Church
movement, told
the London Times
: “I thought the Christmas angels said, ‘Fear
not’. Instead, the Pope is spreading fear that gay people somehow
threaten the planet. And that’s just absurd. As always, this sort
of religious homophobia will be an alibi for all those who would do
gay people harm.”

What did the Pope actually
say?

He was discrete, but
it doesn’t take much to read between the lines. He said that the
Church had a duty to “protect Man from destroying himself”. The
Church “ought to safeguard not only the earth, water, and air as
gifts of creation, belonging to everyone. It ought also to protect
man against the destruction of himself” by gender-bending. True, it
was a critique of homosexuality, but it was not based on the yuck
factor or even primarily on the Bible.

He did not intend to
insult gays, either. Even the gay Australian writer David Marr
acknowledged that. Writing
in the Sydney Morning Herald
, he scolded his over-sensitive
buddies: “But poofs who love the planet more than themselves should
acknowledge the pontiff was onto something here: not just saving
homosexuals from their ‘own destruction’ but announcing a new
role for the church defending ‘the earth, water, air, as gifts of
the creation that belongs to all of us’”.

Marr’s reaction
suggests that the notion that man is part of the ecological web could
be fruitful and persuasive. It could, in fact, lead to a better
understanding of why homosexuality is wrong and a violation of human
dignity.

But to grasp
why, you have to read the
original text
,not
just scraps from jaded Vatican journos. These were not just
off-the-cuff remarks. Instead, they represent a consistent theme in
Benedict’s teaching: that because nature has been created by God,
it is rational, orderly and ultimately comprehensible. Hence it is
possible to carry on a rational dialogue with people like David Marr.

This is an idea that
Benedict visits again and again, and it is very similar to his
critique of Islam in his
Regensburg address
a
couple of years ago. In that controversial speech he declared that
“The West has long been endangered by this aversion to the
questions which underlie its rationality, and can only suffer great
harm thereby.”

In his Christmas
speech, Benedict plays the same tune. Human bodies, having been
created by God, are evidence for an authentic sexual morality: “The
fact that the earth, the cosmos, mirror the Creator Spirit, clearly
means that their rational structures which, transcending the
mathematical order, become almost palpable in our experience, bear
within themselves an ethical orientation.” If the biology of male
and female sexuality are complementary, there must be an ultimate
reason for it. A rational person searches for that reason and draws
ethical conclusions.

He also appeals to a
principle that now seems self-evident, at least in the Western world:
that we trash the environment at our peril. Why? Because “the earth
is not simply our possession which we can plunder according to our
interests and desires. It is rather a gift of the Creator who has
designed its intrinsic laws and with this has given us the basic
directions for us to adhere as stewards of his creation.”

Man, even though he
has a spiritual element, is part of this ecology. He may not – he
cannot – reshape himself without risking his own destruction, just
as abusing the atmosphere, the earth or the sea could lead to
catastrophe.

When the Church
speaks of the nature of the human being as man and woman and asks
that this order of creation be respected, it is not the result of an
outdated metaphysics. It is a question here of faith in the Creator
and of listening to the language of creation, the devaluation of
which leads to the self-destruction of man and therefore to the
destruction of the same work of God. That which is often expressed
and understood by the term ‘gender’, results finally in the
self-emancipation of man from creation and from the Creator. Man
wishes to act alone and to dispose ever and exclusively of that alone
which concerns him.”

Admittedly, this
will not be easy for supporters of homosexuality to accept. What they
feel is that biology is less important than the longings of the
heart, or the desire to conquer and manipulate nature. They are
unwitting disciples of Francis Bacon, the English Renaissance
philosopher who argued that the destiny of science and technology was
to remake and triumph over nature. In his recent encyclical Spe
Salvi
, Benedict treated
Bacon as an important figure, whose naïve enthusiasm for scientific
progress ended up justifying the terrifying and destructive potential
of modern technology. Not long ago Bacon was worshipped as a
visionary thinker, but contemporary philosophers are less
complimentary. They regard him as a forerunner of Western science’s
continuing legacy of alienation, exploitation, and ecological
oppression. Someday, the Pope hints, we will realise that the gay
culture is just an extension of this.

The inescapable fact
of human existence is that we are both rational and animal. As W.B.
Yeats put it in one of his great poems, we live “sick with desire /
And fastened to a dying animal”. Even if our reason transcends it,
we are as much part of the ecology as beetles and sea gulls. We can
no more defy the laws of nature than they can.

Will the Pope’s
brief words, just a couple of dense paragraphs actually, convince
people that homosexuality is “unnatural”? Absolutely not. But
they could spark a realisation that it is inconsistent to demand
respect for the laws of ecology with the single exception of man
himself. When that philosophy was adopted by the Industrial
Revolution, it turned forests into deserts, fields into wastelands
and seas into stagnant ponds. Benedict wants us to see that the
Sexual Revolution could do much the same.

Michael Cook is editor
of MercatorNet

Michael Cook

Michael Cook is the editor of MercatorNet.