Friday, December 01, 2006

God's Good Earth Part 1

My sister is an environmentalist. I mean that both in a political and a vocational sense. She works for a non-profit agency seeking to support and preserve sea life and coastal habitat. I am proud of her for that. Actually, I am proud of her for a lot about the woman she has turned out to be, including her calling take baby steps to help heal the damage humans have done to the earth.

When my sister was in high school, and I was in college, I worked to find her resources in our college library and through interlibrary loan to find articles about how the Christian faith relates to the environmental movement (this is when most of us did not have internet capability). There was a lot about St. Francis and his care for animals, which I thought was a credible yet lame example of Christian care for the environment--if that was all their was. In Science magazine in 1967 published an article by Lynn White Jr. called "The Roots of our Ecological Crisis", in which White lays the blame of environmental exploitation on the hands of the Judeo-Christian worldview. And he had some credible arguments.

Since White's seminal article on the relation of religion and environmentalism, Christians have tried to find a narrative of environmental care from Scripture. I believe the pro-environment narrative is there in God's word.

Throughout Scripture there is a sense in which God refers to the natural world as revealing truth about him, and of being witnesses to his glory. When God makes his case about evil done by humans, he asks the mountains and the natural world to be witnesses of what he says. When he gives his law in Leviticus, he makes sure he commands us to let fields lie fallow on a regular basis. And when people command Jesus to silence the crowds, he says that if they were to be quiet the rocks would cry out. Jesus asks us to consider lillies and sparrows (Matt. 5), uses monstrous sea animals as examples of his splendor and his creativity (Job), and gives us trees as role models (Psalm 1). Christ came to earth welcomed by barn animals because people would not give him a place to stay.And the first people that come to meet him are people who care for sheep.

Tony Campolo has shared in his lectures and writings that when a species of animal dies somehow we silence the voice of God. Not because each animal and human is part divine (which is more pantheism than Christianity), but because each creation was spoken into existence by God (Gen 1-3), and creation is meant to give God glory and ascribe worship to him (Revelation 4). I think to a certain point I agree with Dr. Campolo, and it informs my attitude of care for the environment.

The challenge of the issue is this for me right now. It seems fairly clear to me that much of big business and oil have formed an unholy alliance with the religious right in many ways (although that is changing). It also seems very clear to me that the political left, often the radical political left, is closely aligned with a some environmental projects that are at worst dishonest, and at best unjust toward the immediate needs of the working class, the poor and the destititute. And changes are often advocated by children of yuppies who live off trust funds so they can have the luxury of making not wearing deodorant or washing their hair in the name of their ideals. But when the Kjoto treaty tries to address this in giving China a little more time to catch up, then the right steps in (supported by the extreme religous right) to push America away from ratifying the treaty. In other worlds, I think when people are beholden to a political agenda as their moral voice when it comes to environmental concerns, they end up decieved and used by both conservatives (the industrial elite) and liberals (the over-"educated" elite).

Which leaves me to share where environmental concerns inform my lifestlyle and when they do not. Which is a forthcoming post.


Oricon Ailin said...

Wow...what a great post!! I think I agree here. I've never really thought of it quite the way your post put it, but I've always believed that our environment is directly linked to God. He created all things and asked Adam to watch over everything.

It seems that people have done more harm to this world than any natural disaster, act of God, or anything else. We are driving ourselves to extinction. If we don't do something now...we will destroy everything. It's so sad.

Thank you for the different perspective on this. It really has me thinking more. Bless your sister for all her work. She sounds like a great woman!

San Nakji said...

I wish only good things for your sister. She is doing great things.
The environment should never suffer for the economic gain of man.

Anonymous said...

Very good post, Cliff.

I have always been disturbed by the alliance between the Religious Right and Big Business/Big Oil as well. And also that between the RR and the gun industry. And the war industry.

Protection of environment always brings up charges of nature worship, and I find that dishonest and downright false.

As you said, it is time to quit politics or stop being held hostage. Why can't Christians be pro-life and pro-enviroment? Can't do because we are just a branch of political conservatism, and can't offend others because we may need them in the future.

Anonymous said...

Much of it has to do with the fact "the right" and "the left" are pathetically simplistic ways to describe politics, though current usage more or less forces us to follow them. My personal taxonomy follows:

The right is basically composed of four (sometimes overlapping) factions:
1. The religious right (conservative Christians)
2. the free market right (big business supporters who support unchecked capitalism)
3. The authoritarian right (nanny staters who think the strong hand of the government is needed to control the excesses of the hoi polloi).
4. Social conservatives (people who hold to tradition for its own sake and prefer cultural changes to be very slow)

The left has it's own four (also sometimes overlapping) factions:
1. The socialist/Marxist left (who want complete government control of the economy)
2. The religious left (liberal protestants and Reform Jews, concerned more with social justice than theology )
3. The authoritarian left (nanny staters who nanny staters who think the strong hand of the government is needed to control the excesses of the hoi polloi).
4. The libertarian left (who want to get rid of all criminal possession laws and basically legalize drugs and prostitution).

Even this breakdown is too simplistic (and ignores the moderates) since most people are a mix of right, left and middle in their political views.

There are valid historical reasons why these groups aligned (most of them doing with the time around Civil War when the Republican party first gained real national importance), but history also shows that sometimes these constituents realign.

David Cho's comment is right on, though: "[we] can't offend others because we may need them in the future." That's how it works. Those on the "right" and the "left" work together because there are certain goals they happen to value and need each other to accomplish. The American system prefers a two party system, so various "factions" (a term used a lot in the Federalist papers) have to work together.

But, mission creep nearly always sets in - and that's what the real problem is. So (for one example), the religious right and the free marketers may get together to oppose government funding of embryonic stem cell research (but for different motives - one has ethical concerns, the other because they feel the free market should be doing the research without government handouts), but then find themselves having to support positions they don't like.

Same with the left - the religious left and the socialist left may get together to work on environmental concerns (one because they are concerned about stewardship over God's creation and the other because it is merely one more way to put the economy under government control), but then other issues creep in and muddle the boundaries (which is why the religious right stays away - they don't want to suddenly find their work and effort going towards abortion rights when the original purpose was merely to care for the earth).

Politics is often the dismal science of mission creep based around tentative alliances.