Santorum recently made some remarks about climate change that have garnered some media attention. I mention this here because reading Santorum’s comments was like stepping back into my childhood and adolescence. I was raised on exactly this thinking.
We were put on this Earth as creatures of God to have dominion over the Earth, to use it wisely and steward it wisely, but for our benefit not for the Earth’s benefit. [Climate change is] an absolute travesty of scientific research that was motivated by those who, in my opinion, saw this as an opportunity to create a panic and a crisis for government to be able to step in and even more greatly control your life.
When you have a worldview that elevates the Earth above man and says that we can’t take those resources because we’re going to harm the Earth; by things that frankly are just not scientifically proven, for example, the politicization of the whole global warming debate — this is all an attempt to, you know, to centralize power and to give more power to the government.
There are two different things going on in this quote. First is this idea that the earth is being elevated above man; second is the assertion that climate change was invented as a phony crisis to grant the government more power.
Earth v. Man
Christians believe that the entire purpose of the universe, the center of everything and the most important element, is humankind. The earth’s entire purpose is to serve and sustain human life, and human life is set apart from the earth because humans, unlike the plants or animals, have souls and the potential for a relationship with God.
Many Christians emphasize God’s command that humans be “good stewards” of the earth and care for it, and use this passage as a call to environmental activism. I salute them. Other Christians, though, emphasize the other aspect, that the earth’s whole purpose is to benefit and serve us. In fact some go so far as to assert that coal and oil were put on earth solely so that humankind could burn them as fossil fuels.
If you read my series on the end times, you’ll know that many Christians believe that the earth isn’t going to be around for much longer. In fact, a full 40% of Americans believe that Jesus will return by 2050. This takes away any impetus to care for the earth or protect it or make sure that it remains healthy and habitable. Furthermore, these Christians assert that God would never allow us to destroy the earth, because only God can destroy the earth.
Conservative Christians argue that “radical” environmentalists have elevated the earth above humans, and even that they “worship” the earth. Some even argue that environmentalism is a religion or that it has a theology of its own.
It is true that many environmentalists see humans as simply a part of the natural world, and do not elevate man in value above nature. But it’s not about valuing the earth over humans so much as leveling the two to see humans as part of nature. Of course, this in and of itself is a problem for conservative Christians. Humankind isn’t a part of nature. Humankind is above nature.
But what Santorum and those like him also ignore is that environmentalists argue that if we don’t protect and value the earth and its ecosystems humans will suffer. In other words, protecting the earth and valuing nature is beneficial to humans. It’s not about seeing the nature’s needs as above those of humans so much as seeing them as interrelated and interconnected.
A Phony Crisis
I was taught that global warming was a scheme created to centralize power into the hands of a one world government. This one world government was the same that would eventually be ruled by the Antichrist during the Tribulation.
The argument goes as following: By the 1990s other threats such as communism had largely disappeared, so the global elite decided to invent an environmental crisis in order to invoke fear in the people and justify the multiplication of environmental regulations that would eventually result in a centralized government with complete control over people’s lives.
Global warming, then, was a hoax, a hoax invented to fill people with fear and render them easy to control. You can see from Santorum’s quotes above that he shares this view. Somehow, I’m not surprised.
There is, of course, a problem with this view. Or rather, many problems. First, though, it requires a very conspiratorial view of the world, on the level of holocaust denial. Second, it requires rejecting the evidence that has been mounting that climate change is real. Third, it requires seeing environmental regulations as all about controlling people rather than about trying to protect the earth for people’s own good.
The biggest thing that struck me when reading Santorum’s recent remarks is that these sort of arguments forestall all actual communication and cooperation. Take care of the earth? Ha! God gave it to us to use it, not pamper it! Climate change is a problem? Ha! It’s a hoax, totally made up, a conspiracy!
Instead of discussing the very real problems our planet faces and how to come together as humans to mitigate them, the sort of thinking Santorum displays leads only to a dead end.
What’s more, anti-environmentalism has become a sort of required litmus test for evangelicals Christians. Fred Clarke of The Slactivist quotes Jonathan Dudley’s Broken Words as follows:
I learned a few things growing up as an evangelical Christian: that abortion is murder; homosexuality, sin; evolution, nonsense; and environmentalism, a farce. I learned to accept these ideas — the “big four” — as part of the package deal of Christianity.
To belong to the evangelical “in-group,” or the in-group of conservative Christianity in general, you have to believe essentially what Santorum stated at the beginning of this article. And that, unfortunately, is where the conversation stops.