Christian Ecology

The emergence of Christian ecology shows a growing number of the faithful view environmental preservation as a matter worthy of spiritual attention.

| January/February 1989

Rockcastle County in Kentucky is a land both beautiful and ugly. The beauty is in the tightly bunched hills, the forests flecked with spring dogwoods. The ugliness is in the wounds scarring these same hills, open sores of raw earth left by unclaimed strip mines.

There's another form of ugliness here, too: poverty. It's the kind that leads people to deadly feuds over the area's most reliable cash crop — marijuana. The kind that produces a sense of utter helplessness in many residents. The kind that leads to vandalism, petty theft, and a "burnout" different from the bane of busy executives: people torching each other out of their homes.

This disheartening backdrop would seem to provide poor soil for Christian ecology, a new stream of thought in the environmental movement.

Christian ecology? To many people, the words combine awkwardly, are perhaps even mutually contradictory. And yet one solemn middle-aged man works to make them meaningful even as he works to restore both property and pride. For almost a decade, Father Al Fritsch — a Jesuit Priest — has holed up along the steep banks of Rockcastle Creek, quietly running Appalachian Science in the Public Interest (ASPI), a nonprofit environmental and service organization dedicated to "making science and technology responsive to the needs of poor people."

Fritsch's soft-spoken, gentle manner only slightly mutes his intense, almost Spartan, dedication. His office is a small, circular cordwood building — one he constructed out of firewood and cement. (His personal living quarters? One room in that building.) His staff consists of student volunteers and local Indians whose modest wages are paid through a government employment program.

This third-generation Kentuckian faces tough odds: "I cannot possibly convey an intellectual appreciation of the suffering of our region .... It's like the South Bronx in the woods."

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