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Andrew Hoffman and Lloyd Sandelands
  Andrew Hoffman and Lloyd Sandelands

Theocentric View of Nature Offers Hope for the Environment

12/22/2005 --

Unprecedented economic growth and mounting environmental destruction make it imperative to adopt a new way of looking at man's relationship with nature.

ANN ARBOR, Mich.—Highly politicized debates over drilling for oil in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge, controlling greenhouse-gas emissions through the Kyoto Protocol and developing alternative energy sources to gas-powered vehicles illustrate the clash between two opposing moral views of man's relationship to nature: human-centered (anthropocentric) vs. environment-centered (ecocentric).

Unfortunately, neither of these polarized stances offers a viable solution for reconciling mankind to nature and halting human development, which ultimately is ruinous and cannot be sustained on its present course, say researchers at the University of Michigan's Stephen M. Ross School of Business.

In their recent article in the journal Organization & Environment, Andrew Hoffman and Lloyd Sandelands propose a third alternative: theocentric environmentalism.

This metaphysical view revolves around the belief that man and nature are both creations of God, thus making them equals in His divine plan for the world. There are no grounds in this case to suppose that one includes or dominates the other. Thus, the researchers say, theocentrism offers the only hope for achieving a healthy, constructive contemporary environmentalism.

"Seeing man alongside nature as creations of God shifts our perspective from viewing man either as above nature or below nature to viewing man and nature as interconnected in communion," said Hoffman, associate professor of management and organizations at the Ross School and U-M associate professor of natural resources. "It is a mental shift from seeking dominance to seeking harmony."

Hoffman and Sandelands trace the evolution of beliefs about man's relationship to God and nature through centuries of religous history. During the Protestant Reformation, reformers distinguished individual persons as separate beings from God and nature. They argue that this shift in religious philosophy compromised man's relationship to nature by giving rise to the polarity between anthropocentrism and ecocentrism and by providing the ethic and spirit behind the rapid rise of economic capitalism, which has had a devastating impact on the natural environment.

To get things back in balance, Hoffman and Sandelands suggest that human beings must rekindle their awareness and appreciation for the interconnectedness of all life.

"It is important to emphasize that even while Jesus, St. Francis and Pope John Paul II recognized man's unique creation in the image of God, they extolled the entirety of God's worldly creation as evidence of the virtue of God's design," said Sandelands, Ross School professor of management and organizations and U-M professor of psychology. "For us to appreciate the entirety of that creation, we must change our presently dominant view toward it. We must shift from seeing creation as a collection of individual objects—of man and nature—to seeing creation as a totality of life."

Taking a theocentric view of man and nature in God puts human conduct and the environment in a new light, Hoffman and Sandelands say. It requires ever mindful, considerate and charitable attitudes and actions toward nature. As good stewards, they say, people have an obligation to use their intellect and to seek the wisdom to understand the complex environmental web that God has created. In addition, to put theocentric environmentalism into practice, human beings must adopt the conservation virtues of humility, respect, selflessness, moderation, mindfulness and responsibility toward nature.

"Man's spiritual challenge today is to apply both faith and reason to find ways to live in harmony with nature," Hoffman said. "If contemporary environmental problems are to be solved, moral teaching must be a part of the effort to end environmentally destructive behavior. Such moral teaching can and must consider implications of ecological impact, even when that impact does not bear directly on human existence."

Written by Claudia Capos

For more information, contact:
Bernie DeGroat
Phone: (734) 936-1015 or 647-1847