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03/11/2005
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We have no right to desecrate what creator saw as good
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We have no right to desecrate what creator saw as good
By Albert de Zutter
Catholic Key Editor

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DRILLING FOR OIL in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is again on the table as its proponents are planning to attach it to the "must-pass" budget bill, thus bypassing the normal legislative procedure. Because the ANWR is emblematic of the cause of conservation, and the public widely opposes drilling there, proponents want to push through a measure to open it to exploitation as a way to open the floodgates to multiple practices objectionable to conservationists.

The Wilderness Society and other conservationist groups tell us that drilling in the Arctic Refuge would do permanent and irreparable harm to polar bears, caribou and millions of migratory birds. They say drilling will result in a sprawling industrial complex of drilling sites spread throughout 1.5-million acres of critical wildlife habitat. There would be hundreds of miles of pipeline, as well as roads, airstrips, power lines, and housing for workers.

And for what? According to the U.S. Geological Survey studies determined that the area probably contains about 3.2 billion barrels of oil - about a six-month supply for the U.S.

So why should Catholics care? First of all, because we, along with all humanity, share this earth with our wild creatures, and we have a common moral responsibility to save wild places like the Arctic Refuge for our own future generations as well as for future generations of the wildlife they nurture. There are more specifically spiritual reasons.

The writers of Genesis may have had no knowledge of evolution, but even to them it was evident that the earth, its vegetation, its waters, its sea creatures, birds, and "creeping things, cattle and wild animals of all kinds" were created before human beings and were valued by God in their own right.

At each stage of creation, as Genesis has it, God blessed his creation and saw "how good it was."

After God made "all kinds of wild animals, all kinds of cattle, and all kinds of creeping things of the earth" and "saw how good it was," God made man and gave him "dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and the cattle, and over all the wild animals and all the creatures that crawl on the ground."

Scholars tell us that this version of Genesis is much older than the version which follows in which God is depicted as making man first and making all the rest of the creatures for man's sake. The final line of this brief passage, "God looked at everything he had made, and he found it very good," incontrovertibly tells us that God valued everything that he had made, and not just human beings.

Scholars tell us that these Bible stories are allegories that teach us truths about God and what God wants from us. So the question is, "What does God want from us with regard to the creation that he created, blessed and pronounced good?"

To begin with, the word "dominion" has been perverted from its original meaning as "responsible for," as a virtuous ruler would be responsible, to its opposite: humans may be totally irresponsible in exploiting plants, animals and the environment for their own advantage or enjoyment.

On the contrary, Christians have a prescription from Jesus Christ on how to be leaders, how to exercise "dominion." It is contained in almost identical language in the Gospels according to Matthew and Mark: "You know that those who are recognized as rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones make their authority over them felt. But it shall not be so among you. Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all" (Mark 10:42-44).

Applied to the environment and all living things, that is a prescription not for exploitation ("lording it over them"), but for stewardship.

The U.S. budget will be voted on in the very near future. Time is short. It would be a sin to permanently despoil one of the last sites of pristine wilderness on earth while more promising measures to solve our dependence on foreign oil - such as insisting on greater fuel efficiency in our motor vehicles - go untapped.

Expressing our views on this matter can have an effect on the votes of our senators and representatives. Information on how to contact these legislators is available at: http://ga1.org/campaign/Arctic (be sure to capitalize "Arctic" in the Web address).

A. de Z.

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