“Everyone can see today that humanity could destroy the foundation of its own existence, its earth, and therefore we can’t simply do whatever we want with this earth that has been entrusted to us, what seems to us in a given moment useful or promising, but we have to respect the inner laws of creation, of this earth, we have to learn these laws and obey them if we want to survive,” Benedict said. “This obedience to the voice of the earth is more important for our future happiness than the voices of the moment, the desires of the moment. … Existence itself, our earth, speaks to us, and we have to learn to listen.”
From there, Benedict said, we may also learn anew to listen to the voice of human nature as well, discovering in other people and in human communities moral laws that stand above our own ego. In that regard, the pope said, we can draw upon the great moral experience of humanity. Doing so teaches that human liberty never exists in isolation from others; it works only if it’s rooted in a sense of common values.
In other words, Benedict sees in the modern environmental movement the most promising route for recovery of the natural law tradition. What today’s rising ecological awareness presumes is that there are limits inscribed in nature beyond which humanity trespasses at its own peril. Without any particular reference to religion, the secular world today is arriving at its own version of natural law theory. Building upon that momentum, and directing it beyond environmental matters to questions of individual and social morality, is what Benedict seems to mean by a “secular path” to formation of conscience.