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Saturday, November 30, 2013

Seven ways to recover Christmas gift giving

The fearful calm before Black Friday. Photo: Flicker/by Mahat Tattva

"Today’s economic mechanisms promote inordinate consumption, yet it is evident that unbridled consumerism combined with inequality proves doubly damaging to the social fabric." Pope Francis. Evangelii Gaudium, 60.

With those of us in the States recovering from or critiquing the often beastly shopping phenomenon called “Black Friday,” it's a good time to purge the Christmas gift-giving season from its gluttonous levels of eco- and soul-damaging consumption.

And so as an antidote to the modern madness of Christmas shopping, here are seven ways we can check off our shopping lists and take back the meaning of Christmas.

Photo: Flicker/by Sam, W
7. Shop local. Some of the most unique and meaningful gifts—and certainly the most helpful to your community's economy—come from local artisans, shops, and farms. Whether you know them or not, your neighbors own these small businesses, and that often means they don’t need much gas to transport their goods to their shop. Sure, not everything made in locally owned retail stores is made nearby, but often it is and you should search it out. Rather than ordering gifts the impersonal way from an online behemoth—who has to fly whatever it is to your door after it has probably already made a trip from China—take some time to explore what’s happening in nearby village centers and artist communities. Make a day of it. Get to know the owners. Pet their dogs (local stores always seem to have a dog or cat somewhere by the register) and have a free cookie (small shops often give away cookies, too, and if they don’t the really should). When you shop at local stores that sell local wares, you support your community and you ease up on the pollution that comes from far too much packaging, shipping, and perhaps even less than ideal working conditions to justify those advertised low, low prices at those big box stores.

[There is an exception here: If you have a Hobby Lobby in your community, shop there, too. In fact, shop there often. The company is going toe-to-toe with the United States HHS mandate, the Obamacare provision that requires Catholics to violate their conscience by providing health care coverage that pays for abortions, artificial contraceptives, and the like. The owners of Hobby Lobby are doing Christians a great service. They need our support.]

6. Shop eco-friendly. Whether you’re shopping in family owned stores, mega malls, or online, look for gifts that are either made from recycled goods or that support and/or are made by eco-friendly companies. There are a number of outlets that specialize in gifts that are organically made (here and here for instance); made from recycled goods (here and here); or that help homeowners live with the environment in mind (here and here). Now of course these links are not meant as endorsements for everything sold at the referenced sites, but they offer places to start your own searches. And if you find other eco-retailers that you’re happy with, please add them to the comment section below.

5. Encourage learning. A similar option is books (from you local bookstore, of course). Three of my favorites about faith and nature are Charlie Camosay’s For Love of Animals; Tobias Winright’s  Green Discipleship; and Jame Schaefer’s Theological Foundations for Environmental Ethics: Reconstructing Patristic and Medieval Concepts. A full array of additional ideas—from music to books to Catholic publications to resources on spiritual growthare at Kudos to Dan Burke who assembled this helpful list.

4. Buy from Bethlehem. Another option is to buy from the artists in Bethlehem, who use fair trade practices and local scraps of olive wood to make beautiful Nativity Scenes and other religious and artistic goods. Yes, I know—there’s a bit of a carbon-loading issue when you factor in the shipping. But many of the local artisans are Christians living in harsh economic conditions. They truly need our support. Where to look? The Bethlehem Fair Trade Artisans are wonderful to work with and use eco-friendly fair-trade practices. (Last year I gave small olive wood Nativity Scenes from the BFTA to the volunteer teachers in my Confirmation program. They loved them. So will the people you give them to.) You can also find similar goods on eBay and Amazon.

3. Give the gift of time: Members of an incarnational faith should naturally want to spend time with the people we love. Life makes this difficult, for sure. That's what makes the gift of time so special. So get some of your favorite Christmas cards (made from recycled paper, of course) and give a hand-written gift certificate for a movie and dinner, or a trip to a museum exhibit coming this spring, or the philharmonic, or a night for beer and jazz. You get the picture. And they’ll get the best gift you could give: your time and attention, your listening and appreciation. When all is said and done, this sort of gift gives wonderful memories.
2. Pray together. Buck the gift-giving conventions and have Masses said for deceased loved ones of the person you’re giving the gift to. You’ll not only be offering a gift of infinite meaning—a Eucharistic sacrifice for the souls of the dead—but you may also help someone return to Mass. The pray-as-gift option comes in other forms, too: Books on prayer and the lives of the saints make good options, as do Rosaries (locally made are a nice touch). You might even give four of five or ten nights of homemade dinners at your kitchen table that includes bible study—not to worry, if you’re not comfortable leading a conversation on scripture, you can find someone qualified that can. You could also alternate the subjects of conversation between the bible and teaching texts from a few of the most influential pontiffs in the history of the Church—John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and now Francis. After all, considering what we’re all celebrating at Christmas, these last options seem to make the most sense—and they use the least amount of our planet’s resources. This seems to me like a combination that will certainly bring joy to the world.

Before we get to Number 1, please share other ideas in the comments. We all need to rethink how we spend these precious weeks of Advent and how we celebrate the great feast of Christmas. If we do, maybe the wider world will watch joyful, eco-friendly Catholics give differently and pray more. Perhaps what they see will encourage them to ask questions, pray, or attend a Mass for the first time in years. In other words, all this could become a kind of evangelization—and that would be  Number 1, the seventh idea and the greatest gift of all: offering God's grace and the Good News of Jesus Christ.


Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Pope's exhortation on Joy: "protect the fragile world"

Pope Francis has issued this morning his much anticipated "apostolic exhortation" on a topic very dear to him: "The Joy of the Gospel."

There is much to this text that calls for our attention. In one way or another, we'll all be delighted and challenged by it. This includes a recognition that a Gospel-centered life is one that takes seriously the goodness of creation: 
215. There are other weak and defenceless beings who are frequently at the mercy of economic interests or indiscriminate exploitation. I am speaking of creation as a whole. We human beings are not only the beneficiaries but also the stewards of other creatures. Thanks to our bodies, God has joined us so closely to the world around us that we can feel the desertification of the soil almost as a physical ailment, and the extinction of a species as a painful disfigurement. Let us not leave in our wake a swath of destruction and death which will affect our own lives and those of future generations.[177] Here I would make my own the touching and prophetic lament voiced some years ago by the bishops of the Philippines: “An incredible variety of insects lived in the forest and were busy with all kinds of tasks… Birds flew through the air, their bright plumes and varying calls adding color and song to the green of the forests… God intended this land for us, his special creatures, but not so that we might destroy it and turn it into a wasteland… After a single night’s rain, look at the chocolate brown rivers in your locality and remember that they are carrying the life blood of the land into the sea… How can fish swim in sewers like the Pasig and so many more rivers which we have polluted? Who has turned the wonderworld of the seas into underwater cemeteries bereft of color and life?”[178]
216. Small yet strong in the love of God, like Saint Francis of Assisi, all of us, as Christians, are called to watch over and protect the fragile world in which we live, and all its peoples.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

12th-century Cistercian: Christ the King was needed at COP19

Photo: Flicker/CGIAR Climate
As Catholic’s celebrate the end of their liturgical year this Sunday with the Solemnity of Christ the King, the global environmental community is assessing what happened after a two-week gathering of diplomats in Warsaw who had met to hammer out needed climate-change agreements.

Known informally as “COP19,” the 19th session of the “Conference of the Parties” to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change concluded with mixed, but mostly poor, reviews.

A poster to Twitter this morning said simply, "Leaving #Warsaw with feeling that #COP19 was a waste of energy." In their COP19 statement, the Sierra Club sums up this sentiment. In part, the global eco-organization notes 
Japan and Australia have backed out of their commitments, while other nations sidetracked the conference rehashing old differences. Now, [the planned] 2015 negotiations that should offer hope could instead be bogged down by a weakened process and delays.
Whether it's Haiyan, Sandy, Midwest droughts, or Colorado floods, the threat of climate disruption has become a dangerous new reality. We still have time to act to curb this crisis, but the window is closing quickly -- and we can't afford any more missed opportunities."
Some saw progress in last-minute agreements on future plans (I guess this means we have lots of time for future plans), but those agreements seemed rushed, like the kind people make when the world is watching. The minutiae of the event’s diplomatic layers and eco-speak—of previous gatherings and agreements—were discussed with great difficulty because they generally centered on economics. And those discussions did not go well.

As chronicled in Voice of America, stalling substantial progress were these rather basic questions: who would pay, and how much would they pay, to reduce carbon emissions and assist nations hardest hit by a global changing climate? 

Here the human family is like any family: things can get ugly when the topic of money comes up. This is why over its two-week run, the COP19 gathering saw dramatic walkouts, tense language, and inevitable YouTube satires. Protesters routinely expressed outrage at the slow pace and the difficulty of the talks, as well as the presence of fossil fuel representatives, like the coal industry. Others demanded “system change.”

Demonstrators at COP19. Photo: Flicker/350 .org
But what systems need changing?

This question takes us to the Solemnity of Christ the King, the closing feast of the Catholic year. It is a celebration that reminds us of the lordship of Truth and sacrificial Love over the cosmos—which includes you, me, and whatever governing and economic systems we devise. This feast calls attention especially to the need for humanity to allow Christ into our hearts—to transform selfish dispositions into loving, sacrificial, and virtuous ones.

It should come as no surprise that when nation’s converse about global issues—especially who will pay for them—the brokenness that weighs down the human heart becomes rather apparent. Nations are, after all, large groups of imperfect individuals. Thus it should also come as no surprise that what heals individual brokenness can heal global gatherings of climate-change diplomats.

In the most recent edition of Cistercian Studies Quarterly, a superb essay by Wolfgang Buchmüller introduces us to the twelfth-century Cistercian monk Guerric of Igny. For the Catholic ecologist, the subtitle of essay is appropriate for pondering the failures of COP19: “Christ as the Form of Life.”

Buchmüller writes that Guerric “took up the opinion that, through the act of faith and the uniting to Christ of the very person of the Christian, Christ in fact can become visible in the Christian.”

This Christ becoming visible is, for the purposes herein, what transforms the world from a bickering collection of nations and states to a global community that can work for the common, global good. The problem is that accepting Christ’s offer of transforming grace—of communion—is highly personal and difficult.
Abbaye Notre Dame d'Igny as seen today. 
Photo used with permission: Flicker/pottieremmanuel

Buchmüller tells us that Guerric called attention to this by referring to his own struggles. Buchmüller quotes Guerric saying that
[f]or my part, I acknowledge very often that I know the [virtue of piety] but have not developed a taste for it. Justly then do I experience shame and fear at wearing the habit of the [Cistercian] Order, for almost no proof of virtue accompanies it. How could I appropriate the name and honor of a monk if I do not possess its merits and its virtue? … Pretentious holiness is doubly evil, and the wolf that is caught in lamb’s hide will be subject to all the more severe judgment.
Guerric will use this self-analysis much like St. Augustine. They both throw themselves before Christ and ask for His mercy, His grace, and His love. In doing so they seek the transformation that Truth brings, much like an addict must first admit to being addicted before they can allow something stronger than their weakness to heal them.

Buchmüller writes at the conclusion of his essay that
[t]he susceptibility of the human spirit to temptation because of its own conceit and poisonous pride as well as its persistence in a disordered sensuality is viewed as the predominant block to spiritual growth. For Guerric, who can let fly sharp words for the vices of the spirit that, as it were, kill others with the tongue, as well as for the “dry thorn bush” of indolence, ease, and sensual indulgence that extinguishes the spirit of Christ, the only remedy is the thorough following of the mind of Christ, that is, humility, the only way to peace and to wisdom: “Wisdom has sought rest in all creation, but found it only in the humble.”
The nations of the earth (as well as protesters that demand changes to humanity’s systems) would do well to ponder these words—which, come to think of it, are a central message of Pope Francis and his predecessors. Indeed, the thoughts of Guerric of Igny, the Church that taught him, and the Christ that channels Truth through the Church are the necessary and transformative realities that will soothe the tempers of and bring wisdom to international gatherings of climate change diplomats, advocates, and protesters.

I realize that my secular friends may not appreciate this conclusion. But it remains true that ultimately it will not be our politics and protests alone that will change and save the world. It is the person of Jesus Christ, the King of all creation, the author of the human soul—and it is only Christ, the eternal word of God made flesh—that will take away the sins of the world—even (and especially) the sins of greed, gluttony, and indifference that nations (and individuals) exhibit in abundance as they (and we) continue to choke our atmosphere with far, far too much pollution; consume far, far too much of our planet’s mineral resources, forests, and water; and as we resist any change that will mend whatever darkness comes from our vices, our choices, and our hypocrisies. 

Yes. God saves.

What Guerric preached in the twelfth century is exactly what we today who seek to protect local and global ecological systems must hear, ponder, interiorize, live, and preach: Christ must be our king—as individuals and as nations—for He is the Truth, Life, and Way to solving whatever it is within us that struggles to do what is right. 


Friday, November 22, 2013

Bridging the covenants, naturally

Catholic ecologists often quote Hebrew Scriptures. We do so to demonstrate how divine truths are united with the created order. Whether we realize it or not, in quoting these texts we are also building vital bridges of dialogue, understanding, and love with our Jewish brothers and sisters.

Three recent encounters—two virtual and one in person—have had me thinking about all this.

The most recent occurred last night at a talk by Rabbi Michael Klein-Katz, who spoke at the Dominican Order's Providence College for their fall semester’s Theological Exchange Between Catholics and Jews. Rabbi Klein-Katz, who had ministered in New York before moving to Jerusalem in the 1980s, is currently the Scholar-in-Residence at Temple Sinai in Cranston, Rhode Island.

The rabbi spoke powerfully to a group of Christians, Jews, Muslims, students, professors, and guests. His talk, “A Rabbi, a Priest, and an Imam Walk into a Room: The Victories and Challenges of Interreligious Dialogue,” included a good measure of humor, which always helps unite a room.

What struck me about his talk was its reminders of all that Jews and Catholics share. I also was struck with how important it is for such dialogue because there is so much about each other that we don’t know. Still, what we have in common is significant, such as the creation accounts in Genesis—of the very goodness of creation—and of the longing for God to heal all that is broken when humanity’s free will chooses wrongly.

All this resonates with the second encounter that has had me thinking of ecology’s place in Catholic-Jewish dialogue. This is an interview with Rabbi Lawrence Troster, a member of GreenFaith: Interfaith Partners for the Environment. Rabbi Troster offered his thoughts to Dr. Robert Brinkmann of Hofstra University, who had also interviewed me in his series on faith and the environment.

This interview gives us much to consider about the Jewish perspective of ecology. I especially appreciate the rabbi's answer to how the Sabbath relates to all creation.
The Sabbath liturgy is filled with references to Creation as its origin was in the creation cycle of the 7 day week that was central to the theology of the Priestly School of the Temple in Jerusalem in the First Temple period. Thus on the Sabbath we can focus on Creation and also step back from our everyday activities. The traditional rules that govern the Sabbath are meant to do that. But there is also a great celebratory aspect in the traditional practice of the Sabbath. On the Sabbath we are supposed to let Creation be, and utilize our time in relaxation, communal prayer and study and family celebration. By stopping as much as possible our usual activities we can get ourselves out of normal time and enter into a different spiritual place. Again, as with all prayer, it can help us to appreciate Creation and not take it for granted. I believe that Abraham Joshua Heschel once said (in his great book on the Sabbath) that on the Sabbath, because we cannot pick the flower, the flower becomes like us and we become like the flower—each with its own undisturbed place in Creation.
This is great stuff! Indeed, these words made all  the more impact on me given that for us in the United States, Hanukkah is the earliest it can be this year, beginning on Thanksgiving Day, a day that we pause as a nation and give thanks to our Creator. This Hanukkah-Thanksgiving link will not happen in tens of thousands of years—if at all.

The third and last encounter is not nearly as profound as the first two—but then perhaps, in a way, it is.

Odd as this may sound, the topic of Rabbi Klein-Katz’s talk and the words of Rabbi Troster’s interview resonated for me with (of all things) a trailer for a motion picture that stars Russell Crowe. The trailer is for the motion picture Noah and (don’t laugh) it stirred within me a cosmic reminder of God’s love for all living things. Watch for yourselves.

The movie, to be released next spring, is directed by Darren Aronofsky and written by Aronofsky and Ari Handel. Crowe stars in the title role. Yes, it is rather Hollywood-esque. Its effects, music, and drama seem well aligned with the bombastic mode of contemporary movies. And while I am not sure of the filmmaker's desire (or ability) to teach sound theology, from what I saw in the trailer they do underscore (at least visually) one important element of Genesis: that God seeks to save all creation. 

Of course, Noah is not the only flood story of the ancient Near East. Whatever actually happened in human, planetary, and/or climatological history, it seems reasonable that some sort of flood impressed the ancients. While many cultures told (or borrowed) this story, for the Nation of Israel its meaning goes well beyond God’s vengeance against wickedness. Rather, the authors of Genesis use the epic to tell of God’s love for creation and His mercy towards it—and us, which makes it a lesson about loving our neighbor. For Jews and Christians, Noah is a story of redemption and of relationship.

When I first saw the trailer of Noah, I thought about the ecological links but I did not appreciate how its “God loves all creation” narrative brings Christians and Jews together.

Then I read Rabbi Troster’s interview and listened to Rabbi Klein-Katz. Because of them, I am reminded of how important it is for Christians and Jews to share this ancient epic and all else that connects us in love with each other, with all life, and ultimately with God.


Sunday, November 10, 2013

Polluting climate-change science with politics and ideologies

This past Friday I was one of over one hundred “climate leaders” from across New England. We gathered for an all-day summit of (mostly) local, state, and federal government officials as well as a sampling of those in the non-profit and for-profit community. 

While much good came from the event’s conversations, networking, and coordination, a speech by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) reminded me that political grudges don't mix with science and sound policy. 

It also made clear how Catholics may not always be welcome in large groups of eco-advocates.

First, kudos to EPA’s New England region for organizing what was by any measure a huge success. And kudos also to Rhode Island’s eco-friendly Johnson and Wales University for hosting us at their green campus, which sits along the Providence River in the shadow of three massive wind turbines that power the adjacent Fields Point Wastewater Treatment Facility.

Semi-kudos go to Senator Whitehouse, who is arguably one of the most outspoken members of Congress when it comes to eco-issues. He understands better than most elected officials the nuances of climate change and he speaks passionately about its impact on you, me, and the planet. He speaks bluntly about our responsibility to mitigate its causes and to adapt to its effects.

Senator Whitehouse is also calling attention to the issue of ocean acidification—which is also a consequence of excessive amounts of carbon in our atmosphere. This latter issue is rarely discussed, even if it is a ticking time bomb that is already changing the chemistry of our oceans, which can put at risk much of humanity’s sources of food.

But as he is known to do, Senator Whitehouse spent much of his speech last Friday skewering his Republican colleagues, even if he did note that polling data shows that younger Republicans take climate change seriously.

US Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI)
Photo: Flicker/Center for American Progress Action Fund
Now given that most present worked in various levels of government, it seemed odd to be lectured by a politician about the ills of his opposing party. Frankly, it made me uncomfortable. I happen to know and like a few Republicans and even a few climate change deniers, even if we don’t agree. Given the type of gathering, might it not have been fair to have a Republican defend their party, or at least be available to correct anything said that may not be accurate?

Then there is this question: why were so many government officials—mostly the unelected variety like me—applauding so wildly for a speech that was so political? Sure, we were all delighted to hear a sitting United States senator champion this cause—a cause we all work with in the trenches. But if my read of the room was right, a great many of my colleagues enjoyed lampooning Republicans and climate-change deniers, which, to me, seems inappropriate.

And this gets me to my last concern—a moment of extreme discomfort for me.

During the question and answers, a participant asked if the strategy that led last week to the US Senate passing the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) could be a model for like-minded politicians to pass whatever bills needed passing to deal with climate change. (The women gave a delighted “woo-hoo” when she mentioned ENDA, a bill which the Church does not support because of its inability to protect religious liberty.) The senator agreed that there was a link between the success of ENDA and the eventual acceptance by Republicans of climate change needs.

This exchange did not make me feel welcome.

A small point? Perhaps. But a telling one. Even with the senator’s earlier mention of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ support for sound climate change policy, the question and answer about EDNA reminded me that Catholics are usually not aligned with the wider eco-community, which is why so many Catholics are suspicious of eco-issues and why so many eco-minded folk are suspicious of the Church. (That said, one state representative present at the summit, who was instrumental in passing same-sex marriage in Rhode Island, was, as always, exceedingly friendly to me and, it seems, happy that we have in ecology an issue that we can agree on.)

Because this was a work event, I had to tread lightly then, as I do here. But I would imagine I have the right to say this: climate change is a matter of science—which was Senator Whitehouse's main point. It should be approached, then, with reason and clarity, not with politics and ideology. When the senator stuck with science he was fantastic. When he spoke of political armies and polarizing social issues he was divisive.

My concern is that many engaged in climate change mitigation and response (in government and elsewhere) seem prone to encourage ever more division rather than seek relationships with those who have not yet accepted anthropogenic climate change. If the proper regulations and incentives are to be in place to deal with climate change then we’d better learn to stick with what we can agree on when we can and in matters where we don’t agree we better learn to do without political fist fights.

Given the very real danger that climate change and ocean acidification poses—as do many other ecological issues—cooperation, understanding, and relationships are vital for the times ahead. Thus, as always, Our Lord has something to teach those of us entrusted with building community, teaching the uniformed, and protecting the globe’s natural, life-sustaining environment:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil. When someone strikes you on (your) right cheek, turn the other one to him as well. If anyone wants to go to law with you over your tunic, hand him your cloak as well. Should anyone press you into service for one mile, go with him for two miles. Give to the one who asks of you, and do not turn your back on one who wants to borrow.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brothers only, what is unusual about that? Do not the pagans do the same? So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Mt. 5:38-48)


Sunday, November 3, 2013

By the books: Charlie Camosy's For Love of Animals: Christian Ethics, Consistent Action

With the Data Series interviews of natural scientists becoming so popular, I'm expanding the interview format to authors who write about aspects of ecology. 

And so the "By the books" series is born.

Up first is Dr. Charles Camosy, Assistant Professor of Christian Ethics at Fordham University. Dr. Camosy was kind enough to field some questions on his latest book, For Love of Animals: Christian Ethics, Consistent Action (Franciscan).

Dr. Camosy has published articles in the American Journal of Bioethics, the Journal of Medicine and Philosophy, the Journal of the Catholic Health Association, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Washington Post, and Commonweal Magazine

His other two books are Too Expensive to Treat? Finitude, Tragedy, and the Neonatal ICU (Eerdmans), which was a 2011 award-winner with the Catholic Media Association, and Peter Singer and Christian Ethics: Beyond Polarization (Cambridge) was named a 2012 “best book” with ABC Religion and Ethics.
Charlie Camosy

Dr. Camosy received the 2012-13 Robert Bryne award from the Fordham Respect Life Club, and was also recently selected for the international working group "Contending Modernities" which attempts to bring secular liberalism, Catholicism, and Islam into dialogue about various difficult ethical issues. He is the founder and co-director of the Catholic Conversation Project and a member of the ethics committee at the Children's Hospital of New York. He is also a founder and contributor at Catholic Moral Theology.

A particular aspect that I appreciate about Dr. Camosy is his insistence that an authentically Christian, pro-life ethic transcends "blue" liberalism and "red" conservativism. Thus he speaks in terms not of those polarizing colors and labels but of the need for a “magenta” way of engaging issues like life and politics.This is why when you follow Dr. Camosy on Twitter you can do so at @nohiddenmagenta.

Catholic Ecology: What reason or reasons prompted you to tackle the moral questions around Catholics and our relationship with the animal world?

Dr. Camosy: I didn't always have this as a concern. I grew up in rural Wisconsin where hunting and eating animals was a way of life. In graduate school, however, my mind was changed by arguments and evidence, and I concluded that eating meat from factory farms is morally unacceptable. The horrific ways that well over 50 billion non-human animals are tortured and slaughtered in factory farms is something in which no decent person should take part. And it is getting worse. With new biotechnologies, we are now able to genetically alter these animals so that they feel constantly hungry and eat as fast and as much as they can. If things weren't bad enough for these animals, now they live their whole pitiful lives without even the modest relief of a full stomach. It is shameful and sinful that huge corporations treat animals this way in order to make a profit, but they do so only because we are willing to spend money on meat the way we do: that is, without a thought for the welfare of the animals who arrive on our dinner plate. When we cooperate with such evil, our behavior is also shameful and sinful.

CE: What is unique that Catholic thought brings to this conversation?

Dr. Camosy: Catholic teaching on the evils of consumerism, and on cooperation with evil, could not be more clear. We need to resist the social structures of consumerism, and avoid formal and material participation in the grave evil of the kind that goes on in factory farms.  Some say that God's giving us "dominion" in Genesis permits us doing whatever we wish with animals, but this is simply not true. Dominion is understood as nonviolent stewardshipGod even explicitly gives us the green plants to eat, not animals. In Genesis 2, God brings the animals to Adam "because it is not good man should be alone." The Biblical understanding of our relationship to animals is that they are to be our companions, not our food. As I show in my book, this understanding was affirmed by Cardinal Ratzinger shortly before he became Pope Benedict XVI. The Catechism of the Catholic Church insists that we "owe" animals kindness and that we may only cause them to suffer and die in situations of "need." Pope Francis says he supports the slow food movement, and I wouldn't be surprised if he advanced the Church's teaching on animals during his time as the Bishop of Rome.

CE: God originally gave us a no-meat diet in the first chapter of Genesis, which is considered to be a type of master plan for humanity and our relationship with God and nature. It was only after God’s covenant with Noah that we are allowed to eat meat. Given that we live in the fallen world outside of Eden, what significance does this have for the Catholic view of vegetarianism and veganism?

Dr. Camosy: The ideal state for humanity, as the Bible makes clear, is nonviolent vegetarianism. Things change only after sin enters the world, mostly in the form of violence. While it is clear that formal participation with factory farms is gravely evil, the question remains, "Should we eat meat at all?" What about meat that comes from animals which have been treated with kindness? I suspect that this debate along the same lines as other kinds of Christian debates about violence. For many Christians, Jesus seems to be calling is to a completely nonviolent life of pacifism, but other Christians claim that such a life isn't possible until the Kingdom of God comes in its fullness. I suppose I'm in the second camp, and admit that violence is necessary in rare situations to protect innocent human life. But as the Catechism says, we are not permitted to kill animals unless we "need" to—and that, like engaging in other kinds of violence, would only be in very rare situations. Especially today. 

CE: Critics of Catholics embracing vegan/vegetarian diets as a formal teaching point to Christ eating meat and fish. How do Catholic proponents of a meatless diet incorporate this into Catholic moral teachings?

Dr. Camosy: For starters, it is interesting to note that we never see Jesus eating meat anywhere in the Gospels. Not once. I take on more difficult passages (Jesus and the swine, Peter's dream, Paul talking about oxen, etc.) in the book, but it does seem clear that Jesus and his companions in the ancient world needed to eat fish to get a healthy amount of protein. However, it isn't at all clear what this means for most of us in the developed West. For us, eating meat could hardly rise to the level of "need" given all of the alternatives which now exist.

CE: Tell us a little about issues like factory livestock farms. I have read about the environmental concerns around large-scale meat production facilities (a term that in itself tells us that something is not right with our view towards animals). What other concerns are there? And aren't those concerns assuaged if we buy meat from local, animal-friendly farms? 

Dr. Camosy: I said a bit about this already, and buying meat from local farms is a much, much better option. No question. In general, we do much better buying locally rather than simply rolling over for consumerism and picking the cheapest price. We absolutely must become more connected to the processes by which food and other products come to us--not least to make sure that we are not formally participating in grave evil. This is a great opportunity for the Church to be the Church, and create structures of community to resist consumerism. Perhaps more parishes and dioceses could have formal programs where locally grown and raised food could be for sale? And these places should absolutely refuse to serve factory farmed meat.

CE: Critics argue that because animals are beneath humanity in dignity, we should not consider animals within the realm of life issue—even if a diet that includes meat often comes with public and personal health issues. How do you respond to this criticism?

Dr. Camosy: Pro-lifers should be especially skeptical of this reasoning. Our opponents also try to minimize or ignore the value of prenatal children precisely because they find their dignity inconvenient. The result is horrific violence and death. Though non-human animals are not of the same value as human persons, God has given them very high value, and we ought not to ignore it simply because we find it inconvenient. The result is also horrific violence and death. Don't think that animals have very high value? Even if you reject what the Catechism, the Bible, and Pope Benedict has said, consider the evidence. Chickens can beat human beings at Tic-Tac-Toe. Pigs can play video games. Elephants understand and mourn death. Dolphins recognize themselves in a mirror. Great Apes can learn sign language and even teach it to their children. Such beings are not mere things for us to do with as we please. God created them "good" independent of our desire to use and kill them as a mere means to our end. This is why the Catechism uses the language of justice in claiming that we owe them kindness. 

CE: Catholics could theoretically cut their meat consumption by 14% if we adhered to meatless Fridays. What else can we do to better understand and respond to the concerns that you and others are raising?

Dr. Camosy: Interestingly, much of what needs to be done could coincide with returning to some traditional Church practices. Happily, Cardinal Dolan has made a push for Catholics to return to meatless Fridays. Perhaps we should follow our Orthodox brothers and sisters and give meat up on Wednesdays as well. Then, if we participate in the growing trend of "Meatless Mondays", we will have cut out 3/7th of the meat from our diet. Perhaps we should also return to the more traditional practice of avoiding meat for the entire season of Lent. That's a good start.  Also remember that the ancient Church strictly prohibited eating meat that had been sacrificed to idols. And given that factory farmed meat has clearly been sacrificed to the idol of consumerism, we ought to heed this wisdom and avoid such meat. We ought to replace such idols in favor of a relationship with the God of Jesus Christ, who calls us to resist such consumerism.