‘As the garden withers, the desert grows’

Author: Dr Michael Northcott, Reader in Theology and Christian Ethics at the University of Edinburgh


In his inaugural homily as Pope, Benedict XVI used the metaphor of the desert to link ecological destruction and the moral exploitation and spiritual vacuity of materialism and consumerism; as he put it ‘The external deserts in the world are growing, because the internal deserts have become so vast. Therefore the earths treasures no longer serve to build Gods garden for all to live in, but they have been made to serve the powers of exploitation and destruction.’ This linkage between spiritual poverty and ecological destruction not only hints at a greater ecological awareness than was evident in many of the utterances of his predecessor, but is also reminiscent of Prophetic ecological utterances from the Old Testament: it was Jeremiah who first linked desertification and local climate change with spiritual and moral decay in Israel in the sixth century BC.

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