Subduing the Earth

Christianity’s relationship with the environmental movement has always been a rocky one. While some groups of Christians view protecting the planet to be a sacred imperative, others – an alarmingly large number of others – believe that God gave us the Earth to use and exploit in any way we deem fit, and since Jesus is coming back real soon to destroy the world anyway, it really doesn’t matter what we do to it in the meantime.

Now, Pharyngula gives us not one but two examples of prominent religious conservatives voicing the latter view – from opposite sides of the theological aisle, no less. First, Catholic Cardinal Giacomo Biffi, whose highly appropriate former title was Archbishop of Bologna:

An arch-conservative cardinal chosen by the Pope to deliver this year’s Lenten meditations to the Vatican hierarchy has caused consternation by giving warning of an Antichrist who is “a pacifist, ecologist and ecumenist”.

…Cardinal Biffi said that Christianity stood for “absolute values, such as goodness, truth, beauty”. If “relative values” such as “solidarity, love of peace and respect for nature” became absolute, they would encourage “idolatry” and “put obstacles in the way of salvation”.

And on the Protestant side, Jerry Falwell, whose position on just about any issue is pretty much guaranteed to be the wrong one:

[Falwell] said Sunday the debate over global warming is a tool of Satan being used to distract churches from their primary focus of preaching the gospel.

“If I decide here as the pastor and our deacons decide that we’re going to get caught up in the global warming thing, we’re not going to be able to reach the masses of souls for Christ, because our attention will be elsewhere, ” Falwell said in Sunday’s sermon at Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Va. “That’s pretty wise for Satan to concoct.”

…Falwell quoted a scientist saying the west Antarctic ice shelf has been retreating two inches a year for 10,000 years. “I would back it up to 6,000,” Falwell quipped…

…Falwell cited two Bible verses that he said apply to the global-warming debate: Psalm 24:1-2, which declares “The earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof,” and Genesis 8:22, which says there will be seasons of spring, summer, fall and winter for “as long as the earth remains.”

“Now that alone ought to let you sleep better at night, after you read Al Gore and attend his ‘Inconvenient Truth’ film,” Falwell said.

Yes, that certainly calms my fears. The Earth is warming so rapidly that entire new islands are emerging out of melting ice in Greenland and Inuit people in the Arctic Circle now need to use air conditioners, but relax! A book written two and a half thousand years ago by an Iron Age tribe living in a small region of the Middle East explains quite clearly that their tribal god will not allow the Earth to change too dramatically, so we have nothing to concern ourselves about. I, for one, will sleep much better now that I have that reassurance.

Falwell and Biffi are not by any means the only Christians to voice this view. Here’s a similar sentiment stated even more bluntly by pastor John MacArthur:

The earth we inhabit is not a permanent planet. It is, frankly, a disposable planet — it is going to have a very short life. It’s been around six thousand years or so — that’s all — and it may last a few thousand more. And then the Lord is going to destroy it.

I’ve told environmentalists that if they think humanity is wrecking the planet, wait until they see what Jesus does to it.

…This earth was never ever intended to be a permanent planet — it is not eternal. We do not have to worry about it being around tens of thousands, or millions, of years from now because God is going to create a new heaven and a new earth.

Interestingly, as Falwell and MacArthur’s remarks show, the young-earth creationist view in particular devalues the planet and regards it as “disposable”. Perhaps these believers’ lack of appreciation for the true, vast tapestry of geologic history blinds them to what a glorious place the Earth is, and renders them less likely to care about its fate.

Statements like these are a dramatic illustration of how belief in an afterlife makes the theist more likely to view this life as unimportant, as I wrote in “No Heavens“. But these views are especially dangerous, because they impact not just these individuals or their followers, but the rest of us who must share the planet with them. We all live on this world together, and we are all connected by what happens to it. Sulfur emitted into the air in one country causes acid rain in another; fertilizer dumped into a river upstream causes toxic algae blooms that deprive fishers of their livelihood downstream; carbon emitted by the United States causes melting glaciers in India and Africa and global warming in the Arctic. We cannot solve the problem of environmental degradation in one place without solving it in all places, and we cannot do that until people around the world are united in purpose to work together.

As a result, the irrational and dangerous faith-based views of fundamentalist Christians and others who view the planet as theirs to abuse as they see fit can completely undermine the efforts of any number of informed, devoted people. These Christians are confident – suicidally confident – that Jesus is coming back soon and that this makes any major effort at environmental protection pointless, even a Satanic deception. Two thousand previous years of Christians have lived and died believing the same thing, but this does not give the ignorant, history-blind fundamentalists any reason to hesitate. But as the ability of human technology to reshape our environment grows ever greater, and as we draw ever nearer to a tipping point after which any action will be too late, it is increasingly urgent that we stand up to these dangerously irrational beliefs now and defeat them. The task that lies before us is large and grave enough without uninformed bigots nipping at the ankles of responsible people and hindering their way.

Thankfully, not all Christians are as arrogantly complacent as these three. There are many influential Christian individuals and organizations that have signed onto “creation care” initiatives like the Evangelical Environmental Network or the National Religious Partnership for the Environment. (Credit to Slacktivist for those links, who also points out that even a few apocalyptic “dispensationalist” Christians, like Jack Wyrtzen of Word of Life Fellowship, came aboard on the bizarre grounds that it’s God alone, not human beings, who has the privilege of destroying the Earth. Well, we’ll take what we can get.) Of course, this halting step toward rationality has been fiercely opposed by other, more conservative Christians, but the fact that there is such a movement at all is a hopeful sign. Not all Christians are content to sit by and cheer as the world careens toward destruction. There are good ones who understand the moral obligations in giving human beings a safe and clean environment, and who expect the planet to have a future and understand the need to protect it so that it will still be around for generations to come. Whether they – and we – will succeed remains to be seen.

UPDATE: After posting this article, I came across an example of the kind of fierce opposition that progressive, pro-environment Christians face from fundamentalists. The vice president of the National Association of Evangelicals, Richard Cizik, is a well-known environmental advocate who has spoken about the need to fight global warming. Now the leaders of several prominent conservative Christian groups, including well-known rogues’ gallery members like James Dobson, have sent a letter to the NAE demanding that they either silence Cizik or force him to resign. As usual, these sex-obsessed theocrats claim that protecting the environment is drawing attention away from what they believe should be the only priorities of Christians, namely bashing gays and outlawing abortion and birth control.

“We have observed,” the letter says, “that Cizik and others are using the global warming controversy to shift the emphasis away from the great moral issues of our time.”

Global warming is one of the great moral issues of our time, whether or not James Dobson, Gary Bauer or Tony Perkins want to admit that. I suspect that these people, if asked, would say that giving meat and drink to the hungry, sheltering strangers, clothing the naked, and visiting those who are sick or in prison are likewise “issues that draw warm and fuzzies from liberal crusaders”, whereas real Christians know that those things are just insignificant distractions from the really important moral issues, like making sure that gay couples can’t get health care.

So far the NAE’s president Leith Anderson has stood behind Cizik, but only time will tell how this plays out. This is not my fight and I cannot assist in it, but nevertheless, I wish Cizik and his allies the best of luck.

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • Jarrod

    Hello, whoever writes these articles. I found your site while looking around for some things on Richard Dawkins, and it’s proven to be quite interesting. I’m not an atheist myself, but I have several friends who are and want to get to know the views on the other side of the aisle, so to speak.
    While I don’t agree with some of your conclusions about religious people (such as the one about belief in an afterlife reducing the value of life on earth), I think most of what you say here is right on. It’s very disturbing and downright wrong that many fundamentalists view this planet as theirs to abuse; sadly, it also exposes their extreme ignorance of scripture.
    That said, I find your site to be something of a breath of fresh air with atheism. Several of the atheists I know hold without compromise that religious people are all wrong and completely insane; I was glad to see at least one atheist concede that at least some Christians are capable of doing something good, haha.
    Thanks for listening!

  • Jarrod

    Hmm, just to add one last thing to my above comment, I think that perhaps you’re taking the comment by the Cardinal out of context. I dug up a bit more on his speech, and the comment about the antichrist being an ecologist, etc., was not to suggest that these things are antithetical to Christianity. Rather, the Cardinal was trying to make a point about faith in God, by declaring that people of faith could be drawn away from it under the guise of compromise to go along with other, sensible things (such as environmental concern). This is not to say that these are bad things, or things Christians shouldn’t be concerned about, but rather an incitement to the faithful not to place such things above their God. Taken out of context, these comments seem to be very ignorant, but if you place them in the context they started in, they don’t seem to indicate a belief “that the world can be screwed because it’s ending anyways.”
    Thanks!

  • James Bradbury

    This is not to say that these are bad things, or things Christians shouldn’t be concerned about, but rather an incitement to the faithful not to place such things above their God. Taken out of context, these comments seem to be very ignorant, but if you place them in the context they started in, they don’t seem to indicate a belief “that the world can be screwed because it’s ending anyways.”

    I still think that’s a bit of an irresponsible attitude from the Cardinal. I don’t think he’s saying, “Go wild” with the environment, but he should really emphasize the importance of dealing with this problem.

    Instead he falls into the old Christian trap of being insanely jealous of anything which people spending more time thinking about than God. Previous examples include The Beatles and Harry Potter.

  • http://stereoroid.com/ brian t

    I was going to use that John MacArthur quote elsewhere, but then I actually went and read the rest of what he said. Crazy as that quote is, the overall tone of his article is actually pro-environmentalism, which is something, and I’m a bit loath to take that quote out of its context.

  • James Bradbury

    Somewhat disappointing program on Channel 4 a few weeks back with a Catholic guy finding views on environmentalism from around the world’s religions.

    http://www.channel4.com/culture/microsites/C/can_you_believe_it/debates/green.html

  • Robert

    The Fundies real reason for rejecting “pacifist, ecologist and ecumenist” thinking has little to do with dogma and everything to do with the broad threat to their influence that these sorts of ideas represent. Their ability to control their followers requires that the sheep suspend logic; they see any thinking on environmental, or ecumenical subjects a Trojan horse for questioning the “reveled truths” that the leaders have been feeding them.

    While this stand by extremists like Falwell is expected, it is disappointing to hear it coming from a leading Catholic, given that they seemed to be coming around on the issue of evolution.

    That being said I have a feeling that this will become a deadly issue for them, that is to say all Christian groups that ignore this problem, as it will probably become a issue that drives out their younger members.

  • Jarrod

    Alright, responding to two of the above posts.
    James:
    If you’re looking for religious leaders, specifically Catholic ones, espousing environmentalist viewpoints, there are many of them out there. It’s true that emphasis needs to be put on saving the environment by Christians, since God tasked us with caring for our world. However, you’re looking at this article entirely the wrong way. The cardinal did not make these comments in a speech about environmentalism, pacifism, etc. He made the comments in the context of a warning to Christians not to concede key beliefs in the name of compromise, e.g., don’t do something like “we’ll give up X belief in order to work with you on Y idea.”
    As for your comment about “the old christian trap,” I don’t know what the heck you’re talking about. How is this a trap? Since religions do put focus on God, you’d expect them to put emphasis on Him. It’s not a matter of ‘jealousy,’ but rather the idea that people ought to think about things in the context of God and that it’s not a good thing when they don’t. Still, that doesn’t apply to this speech at all; the cardinal is not declaring that there is an either/or choice between environmentalism and christianity. It seems to me that you’re falling into the old ‘atheist trap’ of assuming religions, Christianity specifically, offer their believers nothing but either/or choices: God OR the environment, God OR your own likes, God OR…etc. This is as far from the truth as you can get. Please bother making real arguments based on real material instead of making all sorts of assumptions and grand statements.
    Robert:
    Sadly, I find your comments ignorant in the extreme. If they are addressed solely to fundamentalists, that’s fine, but many religions do not require “that the sheep suspend their logic.” As a person who has gone through atheism and two strains of Christianity, I’ve found that many religions encourage individual thought and conclusion, rather than limit it. Never in my entire Catholic education have I heard people tell me to believe something because “the pope says so” or “that’s the way it is.” Thought and discovery are very much encouraged.
    As for your little complaint about this coming from a leading Catholic, see my original posts and reply to James. The comments by the Cardinal were not about environmentalism, pacifism, etc., and their relation to the Church. Please don’t take things out of context. Furthermore, if you bother actually looking at the intellectual and spiritual tradition of the Church, you’ll find that they accept and encourage these ideas: the Just War theory was originally derived from meditations and thoughts on peace and pacifism, St. Francis was very much a sort of early environmentalist, etc. Please understand that which you wish to criticize before you go after it.
    Thanks.

  • Robert

    Jarrod,

    In case I did not make myself clear: ALL religions demand that adherents suspend logic and subordinate it to faith. This is coming from someone who was educated by French Jesuits, so I know of what I speak. If you claim to have had a Catholic education, and weren’t taught the requirement of obedience without question to the authority of the Church on spiritual matters, then I suggest you weren’t paying much attention. It would seem that you not I, lack an understanding of what it means to be a Catholic.

    As for the comments by the Cardinal, it is not so much what he said, as it was the pulpit he chose to deliver it from, and the fact that he did not use the occasion to ask that the faithful include these issues in their Lenten thoughts. To me this is a most telling context.

    Claims of St. Francis being early environmentalist are post hoc at best and typical of the theist habit of massaging facts to support their contentions.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blog/daylightatheism/ Ebonmuse

    I have to disagree with the commenters who are defending some of the people quoted in this post.

    I think that perhaps you’re taking the comment by the Cardinal out of context. I dug up a bit more on his speech, and the comment about the antichrist being an ecologist, etc., was not to suggest that these things are antithetical to Christianity. Rather, the Cardinal was trying to make a point about faith in God, by declaring that people of faith could be drawn away from it under the guise of compromise to go along with other, sensible things (such as environmental concern).

    In other words, what Biffi is saying is that we should protect the Earth except when doing so would interfere with the more important duties of a Christian. That is exactly the same thing as what Jerry Falwell is saying – that global warming is a demonic deception intended to distract Christians from the more important work of saving souls. Biffi is just putting it more diplomatically, that’s all. It’s comparable to other statements made by the Catholic hierarchy, such as that the “Christian duty” to eschew birth control and have as many children as God wants supersedes the merely “relative” value of desiring to have only as many children as one can reasonably provide for. In all cases, they’re prioritizing things that don’t matter over ones that do.

    And come on. Do you really think his warning that the Antichrist himself will be an “ecologist” isn’t going to cause lay Catholics who believe him to view environmental advocates with far more suspicion and distrust in the future? These silly apocalyptic fantasies have never done anything other than make people paranoid and distract them from things that really matter, and this is just another example of that.

    I was going to use that John MacArthur quote elsewhere, but then I actually went and read the rest of what he said. Crazy as that quote is, the overall tone of his article is actually pro-environmentalism, which is something, and I’m a bit loath to take that quote out of its context.

    Again, I disagree. If you read MacArthur’s sermon, he’s clearly saying that long-term sustainability is not and should not be a goal of Christians. Read this passage in particular:

    We do not have to worry about [the Earth] being around tens of thousands, or millions, of years from now… Understanding those things is important to holding in balance our freedom to use, and responsibility to maintain, the earth.

    In other words, we shouldn’t rapaciously seek to destroy the planet, but neither should we be overly concerned with preserving it in the long term. If we wipe out vast tracts of habitat, use up all its nonrenewable resources, or cause irreversible climate change, who cares? That’s part of our “freedom to use” the Earth, and since it won’t be here forever, we don’t have to worry about making it last forever. That attitude of apathetic unconcern is the very attitude that any responsible environmentalist should oppose. In many ways it’s more harmful than the attitude of unalloyed greed to corrupt the world for profit, because that one is more easily recognized for what it is.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blog/daylightatheism/ Ebonmuse

    Never in my entire Catholic education have I heard people tell me to believe something because “the pope says so” or “that’s the way it is.”

    I take it you’ve never heard St. Ignatius of Loyola’s statement that “we ought always to hold that the white which I see, is black, if the Hierarchical Church so decides it”? Or even the doctrine of papal infallibility when it comes to ex cathedra pronouncements?

  • Robert

    Do you really think his warning that the Antichrist himself will be an “ecologist” isn’t going to cause lay Catholics who believe him to view environmental advocates with far more suspicion and distrust in the future?

    A lot of lay Catholics are becoming increasingly alarmed of what comes out of the Vatican these days, and dogma aside, are not taking pronouncements without question. Again, I believe that the arch-conservatives that seem to be running the show are going to drive more young people out of the faith.

  • Jarrod

    Wooo, all these posts to answer to, so little space to do it in. Again, thanks to everyone for all these repsonses; it’s quite informative and interesting to try and understand the contrasting opinions.
    Robert: It seems I was unclear when I used the phrase “Catholic education.” I have not attended any private Catholic schools. However, I did spend quite a significant portion of my life learning about Catholicism, and continue to do so. I have read up a decent bit on the subject, had arguments with priests, taken classes at Church, taken theology classes at my university, even taught a bit of religion myself at a local church. I’d venture to say that I have a reasonable grasp of what I’m talking about. And never in that whole crazy journey was I taught that I should ‘suspend logic’ and ‘obey without question.’ In fact, constant questioning has been a mjor instrument in the formation of my faith and the faith of many others I know. Furthermore, in case you claim that I haven’t been to an actual Catholic school and can’t know, I do know a reasonable number of people who went to Catholic school, and nowhere were they taught that we should not question any aspect of our faith or the church leaders.
    As for the cardinal not including environmentalism et al. in his speech, again, the speech/comments were meant to address purely spiritual concerns at the beginning of lent. Does every speech in every high position have to include every problem of relevance in this world? Leaders everywhere, not just religious ones, do not address everything in a given speech; rather, they address the topic they set out to deal with. Why is this such a problem for you?

  • http://www.patheos.com/blog/daylightatheism/ Ebonmuse

    Furthermore, in case you claim that I haven’t been to an actual Catholic school and can’t know, I do know a reasonable number of people who went to Catholic school, and nowhere were they taught that we should not question any aspect of our faith or the church leaders.

    I mentioned papal infallibility before. To serve as a point of reference on whether Catholics are taught to question or to doubt, here are some excerpts from Pope Pius XII’s 1950 decree Munificentissimus Deus. This was an ex cathedra statement which declared the assumption of Mary to be official Catholic dogma:

    …by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul, and by our own authority, we pronounce, declare, and define it to be a divinely revealed dogma: that the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory.

    Hence if anyone, which God forbid, should dare willfully to deny or to call into doubt that which we have defined, let him know that he has fallen away completely from the divine and Catholic Faith.

    …It is forbidden to any man to change this, our declaration, pronouncement, and definition or, by rash attempt, to oppose and counter it. If any man should presume to make such an attempt, let him know that he will incur the wrath of Almighty God and of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul.

    If that does not constitute a demand to “obey without question” because “the pope says so”, I invite you to consider what possibly could.

  • Jarrod

    Continuing on with responses:
    EbonMuse: Again, you’re misunderstanding the Cardinal’s comments and making utterly preposterous assumptions about what they mean. The Cardinal is not saying that global warming is a demonic deception; he is merely saying that Christians should not be willing to put other things above their faith. This is not to say that we shouldn’t be concerned about them, and it is a far cry from declaring the idea of global warming a demonic distraction ot believers. He is not giving an either/or proposition, simply asking that Christians keep their priorities straight. Oh, and just to ward off any comment about this, Catholics do not view ruthlessly exploiting the earth as a God given duty; it is true that we are given authority to use it, but we were also tasked with keeping and protecting it. There is no incompatibility between environmentalism and Christianity.
    As for the antichrist being and environmentalist, to quote the article: “Cardinal Biffi said that the Antichrist was not necessarily a person but ‘the reduction of Christianity to an ideology.’” As I said before, he is not out to scare Catholics with ‘silly fantasies’ and distract them from real problems; he does not talk about hellfire and damnation and the end of the world as we know it, he is merely reminding Catholics that they need to stick to their faith, even when invited to do otherwise. That’s all.
    As for the speech encouraging suspicion of environmentalists among the faithful, I cannot imagine anything farther from the truth. Even the most simple minded of Catholics do not take every random pronouncement from Cardinals etc. as gospel. Heck, I doubt the vast majority of them even know about this; I certainly didn’t until I saw it here on your site.
    As for the doctine of Papal Infallibility, it is true that Catholics believe what the pope says ex cathedra is always correct. However, that does not mean that everything the pope says is infallible. In fact, pretty much the only things considered infallible are those pronouncements on doctrine, such as the nature of the Eucharist. Even then, these pronouncements are not made randomly or at the whime of whatever a pope wants to believe; rather, they have a good foundation in scripture and theological tradition. Thus, it not not just blind faith, but faith with reason behind it. However, this still has no application to the article at hand: the cardinal is not infallible and his opnions are his opnions; it even mentions in the article that some in the Vatican are wary of many of this particular cardinal’s statements.

  • Jarrod

    Alright, last response for the night, since I have midterms tomorrow.
    Ebonmuse: As I said in my last post, which unfortunately did not get in before you responded, papal infallibility only applies to statements on doctrine. Anything else the people of the Church are perfectly free to question.
    Furthermore, simply because something has been declared infallibly by the Pope does not mean we cannot attempt to understand or that it has no foundation in our beliefs or theological tradition. Additionally, people are not utterly prevented from doubting an idea; if they want to, that’s their choice, God gave us free will. Has that person fallen away from the faith? That answer is obvious. But should they choose to come back, they’re perfectly welcome; that’s one of the nice things about Christianity: one of it’s central tenets is forgiveness. But simply because we are told to believe something does not mean we cannot wonder why we believe it, i.e. what is the basis in our faith for such a pronouncement?
    Again, thanks for all the responses to my posts. I didn’t come to this site looking to start a debate; I just wanted to understand what atheists think, how they think, and why they believe what they do. I guess I got more than I bargained for. But again, thanks for the swift responses, they’re given me plenty of food for thought!

  • http://www.patheos.com/blog/daylightatheism/ Ebonmuse

    As I said in my last post, which unfortunately did not get in before you responded, papal infallibility only applies to statements on doctrine. Anything else the people of the Church are perfectly free to question.

    Yes, and who decides what is or is not a “statement on doctrine”? Unless I am radically misinformed about the nature of Catholicism, it is the Pope who has that sole power, and his decisions are not subject to a vote and cannot be overruled. In other words, your statement basically boils down to this:

    Q: When are Catholics permitted to doubt what the Pope says?

    A: When the Pope tells them that they are.

    Are you still prepared to claim that this religion encourages free thought and questioning?

    Additionally, people are not utterly prevented from doubting an idea; if they want to, that’s their choice, God gave us free will. Has that person fallen away from the faith? That answer is obvious.

    You have now shifted your position without acknowledging it. You originally said this:

    Never in my entire Catholic education have I heard people tell me to believe something because “the pope says so” or “that’s the way it is.” Thought and discovery are very much encouraged.

    You’ve now qualified that initial position with the admission that there are things Catholics are required to believe because “the pope says so”, and that choosing to doubt these statements removes one from Catholicism. That is exactly the point I and others were making originally, and you’ve confirmed it for us.

  • Robert

    As for the cardinal not including environmentalism et al. in his speech, again, the speech/comments were meant to address purely spiritual concerns at the beginning of lent. Does every speech in every high position have to include every problem of relevance in this world? Leaders everywhere, not just religious ones, do not address everything in a given speech; rather, they address the topic they set out to deal with. Why is this such a problem for you?

    If he didn’t want to bring up these matters that would be fine, but the fact is he did and in a negative way, and no amount of twisting on your part will make anyone see it otherwise.

    If you refer to the articles of faith and cannon law on the subject of obedience in general, you will find that as a Catholic you are bound to obey much, much, more than just ex cathedra pronouncements by the pope.

    By some standards sir, you have demonstrated that you have no more right to call yourself Catholic, than I do as an avowed atheist.

  • Jarrod

    Allright, time for a quick reply.
    Robert: First of all, you seem to be consistently missing my original point. For some bizarre reason you seem utterly convinced that the Cardinal’s speech was actually about environmentalism, etc. Have you actually read the article? I’m not twisting anything, Robert. It’s rather obvious that while the Cardinal did in fact bring up things like environmentalism, he did not bring them up to criticize them or advocate them. Nowhere does he say anything close to ‘environmentalism is bad’ or ‘environmentalism is or can be at odds with Christianity.’ The man was simply trying to point out, at the beginning of Lent, a period of spiritual reflection, that Christians should not put other priorities above God. He did not say that Christians cannot have other priorities, nor did he say that environmentalism was contrary to Christian belief. The only person here twisting anything would be you. Feel free to offer citations from the article proving me wrong. I’d love to see them.
    As for these articles of faith and canon (spell it right, please. Big difference between the laws and the gun) law, would you mind citing a few so I can know what you’re referring to?
    Robert, you’re entirely correct when you point out that I don’t know everything about Catholicism, and that I could stand to learn more. However, to declare that this eliminates my right to be identified as a Catholic is nonsense; do you know every little bit of science there is? I doubt it. Does this prevent you rationally discussing science, or considering yourself a man of science? Again, the answer is probably a no. Do you know every little thing there is to know about atheism? Again, I doubt it. Does this prevent you from being one? No. Your assertion that this deficiency on my part makes you as much a Catholic as myself is utter nonsense. That’s like a creationist asserting that he is as much a scientist as a biologist at Oxford, simply because he knows a little bit about science. I believe what Catholicism teaches, I know much more than the average religious person in terms of my faith, and furthermore, I live my faith. The idea that you, as an avowed atheist, are as much a Catholic as I am simply because of a lack of knowledge on my part is ridiculous. Next time you decide to reply, please bother to scatter your commentary with an ounce of reason and cut down on the ad hominem. I’m here to learn more about atheism, not be insulted and illogically attacked by dogmatists.
    Ebonmuse: Since you actually seem to be a logically capable poster, I’ll have to respond to your comments with a bit more depth later. Thanks again for the reply.

  • Robert

    Bluntly, claiming to be here to “to learn more about atheism,” and then spending your time defending this idiot of a cardinal seem to be at odds.

    Yes, as a matter of fact I do know everything there is to know about being an atheist, since to be one is only to know that the universe was not created, nor is it run by a supernatural being.

    I know what the cardinal’s speech was about alright:

    Cardinal Biffi said that Christianity stood for “absolute values, such as goodness, truth, beauty”. If “relative values” such as “solidarity, love of peace and respect for nature” became absolute, they would encourage “idolatry” and “put obstacles in the way of salvation”. The cardinal also said the Antichrist espoused vegetarianism, pacifism, environmentalism and animal rights, and furthermore would “… advocate ecumenical dialogue between the Roman Catholic Church and other Christian denominations, including Anglicanism and the Orthodox Church …his real aim: the destruction of Christianity and “the death of God”.

    How this sort of nonsense is any different from the blatherings of a Falwell is opaque to me.

    Also, I am not here to further your development as a Catholic, do your own research if you want to stand as an apologist for the faith.

    As to my written English, I am willing to debate with you in my mother tongue (French) at your convenience. Please post an e-mail address and I will get back to you.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blog/daylightatheism/ Ebonmuse

    It’s rather obvious that while the Cardinal did in fact bring up things like environmentalism, he did not bring them up to criticize them or advocate them. Nowhere does he say anything close to ‘environmentalism is bad’ or ‘environmentalism is or can be at odds with Christianity.’ The man was simply trying to point out, at the beginning of Lent, a period of spiritual reflection, that Christians should not put other priorities above God.

    Perhaps that is the case. But then, if any secular priority pursued too zealously can be a danger to Christian devotion, why did the cardinal single out these causes and not others? That’s the point I think Robert is making as well. The fact that Biffi didn’t just say not to put other things above Christianity, but named several specific causes to warn believers about, strongly suggests that he feels those causes present some special danger to Christians.

    Even more so, he didn’t just single them out, he identified them as attributes of the Antichrist. The very name implies something fundamentally at odds with Christian belief. The fact that he suggested the Antichrist might be an ideology rather than a person makes it even worse, because then the problem is not one person overemphasizing these causes, but the causes themselves. Even if your interpretation of his words is correct, Jarrod – and I’m not necessarily convinced of that – those words lend themselves very easily to a misinterpretation that would group him with people like Falwell.

  • lpetrich

    Jarrod’s defense of Cardinal Biffi remind me of Rush Limbaugh followers’ defenses of their hero — “What I meant was…”

    Thus, Rush Limbaugh’s vilifications of feminism are often “explained” by his followers as denunciations of belligerent, “radical”, in-your-face feminism.

    The fact is, Cardinal Biffi didn’t say anything like “ecumenism, environmentalism, and pacifism are all well and good, but don’t forget to keep us in business, because gawd will get awfully pissed if you don’t”. If that is what he meant, then why didn’t he say that in the first place?

  • Jarrod

    Alright, this ought to be a fun one to reply. I’m becoming increasingly suspicious about the point of it, because of fun people like Robert and Ipetrich, but I’ll continue because of the few reasonable souls who bother frequenting such discussions.
    Robert: As seems to be your norm, you enjoy these rather pathetic ad hominem attacks rather than actually addressing what I’m saying. I’m not simply ‘defending this idiot of a cardinal’; I simply wanted to make sure that he was being properly quoted. I’m a big fan of reasonable, logical arguments, and I’d prefer it if my fellow thinkers were actually making them. Taking a quote out of context and using it as a straw man is a horrible way of arguing. If the man popped up and said “environmentalism is evil,” I’d applaud you for rightly criticizing him. But I really don’t think that’s what he said and am voicing that view.
    As for learning more about atheism, you can learn by asking questions and proposing challenges, you know, instead of just asking. Your responses and arguments have shown me plenty about both what you believe and the type of people who tend to believe it. Also, I never asked you to ‘further my development as a catholic.’ Where do you keep getting these ideas?
    When I said, do you know everything about atheism, I meant, do you know all of the arguments for/against, all the reasoning and thought on the matter, etc? You didn’t answer my phrasing of that argument in terms of science. Does this mean you concede, or just don’t like addressing things that make sense? Oh, and please explain to me how the section of the article you popped out furthers your point of view. Really, it’s opaque to me.
    Ipetrich:
    I’m still here, so I’d appreciate it if you’d address me directly when making these objections. The difference between this cardinal’s rantings and those of that wonderful Limbaugh (that was meant sarcastically, for those of you who will assume otherwise) is that Limbaugh actually pops up and says stupid things like ‘feminism is evil’; the cardinal did not say ‘environmentalism is evil.’ I’ll further that explanation in my next post to Ebon.
    Question: Where does this whole thing about ‘keeping us in business’ come from? Where is the conclusion that such a statement was his real meaning coming from? Unless you bother substatiating this line of thought, you seem to be as adept at pulling things out of your ass as many theists are.
    (cont’d in the next post…)

  • Jarrod

    Ok, responding to the person who seems to be the only one here capable of making reasonable objections rather than wild ad hominems…
    Ebonmuse:
    While I cannot really know the entirety of the Cardinal’s thinking on this matter, I think he singled those views out not because he feels that they in and of themselves are immnently threating, but rather because the current popularity they enjoy in many circles could be used as leverage against Christian belief. I’m sure the Cardinal could have said ‘The AntiChrist will be a communist,’ but communism doesn’t carry a ton of weight anymore. His point is not that they are evil, but that the popularity of them could be used as a lure to bring Christians away from faith in the name of compromise. Your point about the antichrist being an ideology is moot; he specifically mentions what this ideology will be: the reduction of Christianity to a system of principles no different than any other. Therein lies the (supposed) danger of these politically popular ideas: Christians will be enouraged to abandon one of their beliefs in the name of ecumenism, etc. Obviously these things aren’t categorically at odds with Christianity; JPII was a big fan of ecumenism, just not the sort that requires Catholics to give up cherished beliefs.
    As for him attributing such things to the ‘antichrist,’ I’ll agree with you that it was a rather unfortunate choice of words given its association with fundementalist fanatacism (think the Left Behind books), but I’ll go back to one of my earlier points. I sincerely doubt that too many Catholics are going to hear even the gist of this speech; I myself did not until you brought it up, and I actually try to keep up with Church news. Furthermore, despite the extraordinarily insane connatations evangelicals associate with that word, not nearly as many Catholics feel the same immenent threat from some prophetic anthichrist. A lone Cardinal’s mention of him/her/it is not going to send the Catholic world up in arms against environmentalism.
    If any of what I said above is not crystal clear, please let me know, as I feel this particular dispute about what he means when he attributes things to the ‘antichrist’ is key to understanding how he was misquoted. As for your earlier arguments about belief, dogma, etc., I’d need more space than this and will try and address them on that open thread you spoke of. Sorry for the inconvenience.

  • bassmanpete

    Jarrod, I would agree with you that some respondents have read into what Cardinal Biffi said more than he did say. However, where I part company from him (not that I was ever in step in the first place) is when he states that respect for nature is a relative value. To me, if you don’t have respect for nature, you don’t have respect for yourself nor for any god that MAY have created it all.

    If you want to show a creator that you value it’s creation, surely the best way is to appreciate & respect that creation in your behaviour, deeds & just sheer joy in revelling in it and not just turn up on Sundays to sing songs, say words and basically suck up to the supposed creator?

  • http://www.patheos.com/blog/daylightatheism/ Ebonmuse

    Apropos of the earlier discussion on whether there are things that Catholics are required to believe, I present the following story from Pam Spaulding’s blog: Wyoming church to couple: if you support gay rights, no communion for you. The article concerns a Catholic church that has decided to deny communion to a gay couple that has publicly supported marriage equality.

    Jarrod, do you still hold the position that Catholics are permitted to think freely and to question any church proclamation they choose? If so, how do you square that position with this obvious evidence that the church intends to use communion as a weapon of spiritual blackmail against Catholics who take political positions differing from those held by the church hierarchy?

  • Robert

    Just to put a nail in the obedience issue:

    The Roman Catholic Promise of Faith and Obedience:

    Form 1:

    I believe that the teaching of the Holy Catholic Church is God’s teaching, without exception.

    I believe that the Pope is the supreme teacher and leader chosen by God to have authority over the entire Universal Church and over each individual Christian.

    I promise the Most Holy Trinity, I promise Jesus Christ suffering on the Cross, I promise the Blessed Virgin Mary and all the angels and saints, to always believe and follow the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church,and to never fail in true obedience to the teaching and leadership of the Pope.

    I promise to pray for, defend, and obey the Pope and the Roman Catholic Church.

    Form 2:

    I acknowledge the holy, Catholic, and apostolic Roman Church as the mother and teacher of all churches.

    And I solemnly promise and swear true obedience to the Roman Pontiff, vicar of Christ, and successor of blessed Peter the head of the apostles.

    I solemnly promise and swear that with God’s help I will firmly retain and confess whole and immaculate to my dying breath this true Catholic faith, which I now profess freely and hold truly, and outside which no one can be saved.

    May God have mercy on the Holy Roman Catholic Church through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blog/daylightatheism/ Ebonmuse

    An update on another of the topics discussed in this post: the National Association of Evangelicals stood behind Richard Cizik at this week’s meeting, rejecting a demand by 25 religious right leaders to silence him from speaking out on global warming (source). Good for the NAE! I’m glad to finally see some evangelical Christians who care about something other than sex. Dobson, Perkins and the rest, however, will continue to richly deserve all the scorn they get.

  • http://www.schoolseek.com.au/school/affiliation/catholic Catholic Schools

    I think at one stage the catholic church was considering making littering a sin. Trival as that sounds I think that would suggest some kind of environmental undertone within the church.

  • http://caunionthetimelord.blogspot.com/ Caunion

    Interesting enough, the rather obscure Eastern Orthodox Church is planning to make a new type of sin. Sin against the environment. You’re welcome to read more here:

    http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1058/is_n34_v114/ai_20063986

  • http://wilybadger.wordpress.com Chris Swanson

    You know, I know this is a rather old article, but I do feel the need to make one comment. The article states that people in the Artic Circle are having to use air conditioners. Listen, I spent a summer living in Fairbanks once. It was 90+ degrees for three weeks straight, and extremely humid. This is what happens when the sun doesn’t set for several months. It’s not global warming, just climate.

  • http://wilybadger.wordpress.com Chris Swanson

    Good crap on a stick! I just looked, and according to Wikipedia, the highest temp ever recorded in Fairbanks is 99. Ack! Of course, that was back in 1919, so we can’t blame it on global warming. :)

  • OMGF

    No, one aberrant reading or one span of a couple weeks of weather (hot or cold) does not a global phenomena make. That’s why we base our findings of global warming (and athropogenic global warming) on ice core data, global average temps, etc.


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