James A. Nash, Ph.D., is the Executive Director of the Churches' Center for Theology and Public Policy, an ecumenical research center in Washington, D.C., and Lecturer in Social and Ecological Ethics at Wesley Theological Seminary. He is also editor of Theology and Public Policy, a scholarly journal published by the Center. He served previously as the Executive Director of the Massachusetts Council of Churches. He is an ethicist whose research focuses on ecological and political concerns. Among his many writings is Loving Nature: Ecological Integrity and Christian Responsibility (Abingdon, 1991).
Abstract of paper given at
Christianity and Ecology conference:
Despite its well-known historical (but not inherent) deficiencies, the natural law tradition at its best offers certain indispensable elements for viable social and ecological ethics, including a national-experiential method and a quest for common moral grounds. Virtually all of the diverse expressions of this tradition, however, are strongly anthropocentric--indeed, ecologically unconscious. They do not understand that humans are both social and ecological animals, that our moral responsibilities are discovered by reflecting not only on human nature but on our interactions with the whole of nature, and that the exercise of human rights is limited by the moral claims of other life-forms. Beginning with the Stoics, moreover, some versions of the natural law tradition stressed fittingness with the constraints and cycles of nature. That idea is valuable it implies ecosystems compatibility, but not making nature our moral mentor. Some important ethical distinctions must be made here. Ecologically sensitized and otherwise reformed, the natural law approach can provide an adequate social and ecological ethics for our time. This approach will be contrasted with efforts to ground ecological responsibilities in biblical warrants.