In his Sermon XXII on the Nativity, St. Leo the Great states:
Sun, moon, and stars may be most useful to us, most fair to look upon; but only if we render thanks to their Maker for them and worship God who made them, not the creation which does Him service.
This was written in a context where there were a good number of people who worshipped the sun. Given this context, one might be tempted to dismiss it as something that is no longer relevant in our own context. Despite its intention, however, there is a very interesting argument hidden within this quote — matter is only useful to us when we render thanks to God for it. This is a difficult concept that can be hard to get one’s head around. It helps to read it along with this quote by Alexander Schmemann from his book on baptism, Of Water & the Spirit:
In the Christian worldview, matter is never neutral. If it is not “referred to God,” i.e. viewed and used as a means of communion with Him, of life in Him, it becomes the very bearer and locus of the demonic (p.48).
Thus, unless we give thanks for the matter that God has given us, it is no longer useful as a means to get closer to God; rather it is a means to separate us from God.
Let me give a concrete and contemporary example: the recent scandal surrounding hacked e-mails from the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit (CRU).
Now, I am not going to sit here and argue the merits of either side of the global warming debate; rather, I am interested in looking at how the CRU is going about making its argument and the consequences of that particular course of action.
Today’s environmental movement is largely divorced from God. The argument usually has humanity as the primary contributor to global warming, thus it must be humanity that saves the world. From a Christian point of view this is a faulty argument — only God can save. We can participate in the history of salvation, but it is only God that can save.
The green movement has produced a lot of very interesting and useful technologies. These devices can be used in ways that allow humanity to live with less waste and potentially reduce the amount of negative impact on the world around us. However, according to St. Leo and Schmemann, none of these technological wonders will do us a bit of good if we remove God from the equation.
The scandal at the CRU illustrates this point. The kinds of things the scientists of the CRU are accused of doing — illegally destroying data so that freedom of information laws couldn’t let the data see the light of day, using mathematical tricks to skew results, and suppressing the work of scientists who questioned the global warming hypothesis — are all things that lead us away from God. Sans God, the very science that inspired all of this green technology has lead us toward sin and a separation from God.
In other words, matter matters — every aspect of our lives can be used to bring us closer or farther away from God. It all depends on us and how we use what God has given us.