The World as Created, Fallen, and Redeemed
What are we to make of such charges? First, there has unquestionably been a world-denying quality in many expressions of Christian spirituality, though this is so much less the case today that some feel the pendulum has swung too far in the opposite direction. With regard to Professor White's main point, it is crucial to recognize that if the Judeo-Christian tradition rejected the notion that every natural object had its own genius loci, there is a real sense in which Judaism and Christianity are themselves animistic.
When the 104th Psalm says that God's spirit "renews the face of the earth" (v. 30) and the Book of Wisdom affirms that "the spirit of the Lord has filled the world" (1:7), this implies that the multifarious guardian spirits of ancient animism have given way to a single, omnipresent Spirit abiding in every creature. It was this awareness that led a mystic like the Jesuit scientist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin to pray to God in the following words: "Blazing Spirit, Fire, personal, super-substantial,... be pleased yet once again to come down and breathe a soul into the newly formed, fragile film of matter with which this day the world is to be freshly clothed" ("The Mass on the World," in Hymn of the Universe, p. 22).
Moreover, Teilhard and many others, including St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of ecologists, have sensed the kinship that humans have with all other creatures, a kinship that led Francis to speak of Brother Sun and Sister Moon, Brother Wolf and Sister Water, even as contemporary science has shown us that we share our DNA, to one degree or another, with every living being on earth.
As Jürgen Moltmann writes in his book God in Creation, "If the Holy Spirit is poured out on the whole creation, then [the Spirit] creates the community of all created things with God and with each other, making it that fellowship of creation in which all created things communicate with one another and with God, each in its own way" (p. 11). In the simplest terms, this means that we humans are not above nature but are part of nature and that Christians, no less than Buddhists, can rightly speak of a certain interdependence of everything on earth.
Some have indeed interpreted the biblical charge to "subdue" the earth and "have dominion" over other creatures in a way that justifies exploitation, but the contemporary environmental crisis surely stems primarily either from human greed or the direst need and not from some scriptural text. After all, there are regions on earth that have suffered tremendous environmental devastation and yet have scarcely been touched by the Judeo-Christian tradition. Our call as human beings, regardless of our particular religious tradition, is to be responsible stewards, mindful of our kinship with other creatures and of our responsibility to care for them and for the earth itself with a love that reflects what we Christians believe to be God's own love for all creation. The practical challenge is to allow this awareness to influence the way we actually live on our fragile planet.
Finally, there is a point I alluded to earlier: Is the Christian understanding of creation ineluctably at odds with Buddhist teaching? An entire book could be devoted to this topic, not least because there are different emphases within various schools of Christian thought and also within Buddhism. It is worth noting, however, that for a great theologian like Thomas Aquinas the world, whether or not it had a beginning, exists because of God, and "ultimately, this ‘because of' needs to be understood as a ‘final cause' ... that is, as a telos" (Perry Schmidt-Leukel, "Bridging the Gulf," in Buddhism, Christianity, and the Question of Creation 167).