It’s Not Easy Being Green—- Green Theology

On the heels of his important book entitled The Bible and Ecology we now have a collection of essays by Richard Bauckham entitled Living with Other Creatures. Green Exegesis and Theology almost all of which have already appeared in journals over the last few years (with the exception of the opening and closing reflections of Richard in this book). The essays are diverse, dealing with both OT and NT texts and the basic thesis is simple— while we have a vertical relationship with God (hence a hierarchy) we have a more horizontal relationship with our fellow creatures on earth and need to treat them more equitably.

I am all for humane treatment of animals in this world, and for loving and caring for animals in general, but I am not persuaded that we have a horizontal relationship with ‘all creatures great and small’. I do think that being the only creature created in God’s image who is called to fill the earth and subdue it, means that our relationship is more vertical than horizontal when it comes to other creatures.

I am however in full agreement with Richard about the importance of conservation, of care taking of our planet in our role as image bearers. This includes working to get away from fossil fuels which continue to poison our air and streams. As you read through Richard’s interesting interpretations of various Biblical passages, I think you will find some of the exegesis convincing, some intriguing, and some stimulating but unconvincing.

The idea here is Richard is trying to help us see the Bible through a different and more eco-friendly lens, and this is a good thing. I am for instance not convinced there is any sort of consistent argument in the Bible against eating meat, or in the NT about avoiding particular kinds of meat (say pork barbecue). What I do think is that Christians need to think ethically and theologically about their world, including about what they eat, and prayerfully and carefully ask how they could be better caretakers of the only earth we have. Cue several verses of St. Francis’ famous hymn “All Creatures Great and Small’.

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  • Stephen

    From your review it sounds like this book is kinda out there, but I agree with your philosophy in regards to our relationship to other creatures.

    “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

  • Oscar

    Being “green” is the latest subjective flavor of the month and reading the scripture through this “green” lens is the latest exercise in relevance. Did not God cause petroleum to form for man’s benefit, or was it the “devil” who made it into a later day “Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil”? If God did, indeed, cause it to form for man’s benefit then isn’t it up to man to use it wisely instead of denigrating it as evil? There is a balance to everything and the modern day thinking that petroleum is evil is just another substitute for true faith in God. Should we refrain from things that harm the earth? Of COURSE! Adam and Eve were charged to dress the earth and care for it, and that should also fall to us as well.

    By the way, I LOVE pulled pork, and plan to eat a lot of it this weekend!

  • Shlomy

    In regards to eating meat (inc. dairy, eggs) I think it is important to distinguish between two separate discussions: that is, what I’ll refer to here as, one, the scriptural discussion, and two, the practical discussion. By scriptural I refer to what I think Dr. Witherington means when he writes, “I am for instance not convinced there is any sort of consistent argument in the Bible against eating meat.”

    By the practical discussion (which, I believe is the more urgent discussion), I refer to the real modern issues we’re dealing with when we’re talking about animal agriculture today: i.e. the suffering and violent slaughter of sentient beings we’re charged to take care of and of which we don’t need to kill and eat; the environmental destruction caused by animal agriculture (for instance, the UN concluded that animal agriculture contributes more greenhouse gasses to the atmosphere than all forms of transportation combined, and is also one of the top three causes of almost every environmental problem we face); the exacerbation of global poverty and world hunger (i.e. it takes approx. 12 lbs of grain to produce one pound of meat); and lastly public health and personal health issues (the ADA confirms that a well-balanced plant-based diet is not only nutritionally adequate but is beneficial).

    All that is not to say that the scriptural issues are unimportant. I would profer point out that the Bible depicts vegetarian ideals of co-exitence with the animals before the fall (Gen. 1:29-31) and in the fullness of the Kingdom of God (Is. 11:1-9). While Dr. Witherington might be correct that the Bible doesn’t explicitly condemn meat-eating, I would argue that it is at best a concession given after the fall, similar perhaps to divorce and slavery. I think it is important to note that the Bible does make a consistent argument for compassion, stewardship, mercy, and love, and that if we take these values to their logical conclusion we wouldn’t exploit and kill helpless creatures when it’s so unnecessary (i.e. it’s not for sacrificial atonement anymore, and furthermore, it even works against human flourishing and environmental stewardship).

    I offer these thoughts with with love and humility. Thanks!

  • Josiah

    There’s being “Green” and there’s being “Colour Blind”, for the true cost of not being green is the blood of the poor.

    In no particular order, here are some of the ethical issues surrounding oil:
    *Every resource on Earth is necessarily limited to a finite supply. Regarding the Earth’s total possible oil output, and assuming the oil industry sceptics are correct, peak oil will be in a few years time. Most commentators maintain that peak oil was several years ago – world supplies are running out.
    *The only reason the price of oil has decreased since the heights of 2008 is because of the GFC; American’s haven’t been using as much; and now China is the worlds biggest consumer of oil.
    *It is expected that by 2020 America will reach self-sufficiency regarding domestic oil production, and this will be almost entirely due to fracking (which carries its own ethical issues).
    *Proceeds from Saudi sales are used to finance Salafist movements globally.
    *As the cost of exploration continues to increase, the cost at the pump will likewise increase.
    *The price of oil is a significant factor in food security (oil is used in: fertilizer manufacturing, harvesting, production, cooling, and global transport). Increasing food prices hurt the poorest the most.
    *Environmental catastrophes in Ecuador, Nigeria, and the Gulf.
    *The only justifiable reason for the invasion of Iraq, and the toppling of one of the only secular nations in the Middle East was to secure oil.
    *Before Timor Leste could gain independence from Indonesia, the Australians emptied the oil wells off the Timorese coast. Independence would have disrupted the flow, and the contract with Indonesia would have become worthless. Furthermore, an independent Timor would have put the contract out to tender. [In fairness to the Aussies, once those fields were empty Australia intervened, and Timor Leste now has independence.]

    Too frequently the cost of oil is the blood of the poor. Whether ‘the poor’ are your neighbours or your enemies, you should reflect with sober judgement. Would your witness for Jesus be more visible if you were “green”? Conversely, scripture informs us that God will “destroy the destroyers of the Earth” (Revelation 11:18); who might these people be if not the jingoists and the oil industry?