Green is my favorite color. I am told that red actually suits me better. I am fine with that. Christmas time allows me to be my most fashionable. They are also the colors of my politics. But I do not intend this post to be about ideology. My purpose is to bring some clarity to claims about Christian ethics, spirituality, and environmentalism. What does a Christian believe about the natural world? It is the product of the Divine creative power.
A Green Lie
Fundamentalist Christians are notorious for disregarding the natural world. James Watt infamously said, “After the last tree is felled, Christ will come back.” There is only one problem. He never said it. Instead he said, “I do not know how many future generations we can count on before the Lord returns, whatever it is we have to manage with a skill to leave the resources needed for future generations.” In other words, the former Secretary of the Interior actually argued for stewardship of natural resources. He took the position of what evangelicals call “Creation Care.” Regarding the misquote Watt said, “I never said it. Never believed it. Never even thought it.” What he believes is, “I know no Christian who believes or preaches such error. The Bible commands conservation – that we as Christians be careful stewards of the land and resources entrusted to us by the Creator.”
The misquote was given by an environmentalist writer. It is an example of bad action with good intentions. We know how false claims lead to disastrous results. Lying is not a good policy when trying to make policy.
There are many claims available to guide us to saving the Earth. Here are a couple of my pet peeves.
- We should be Vegetarian/Vegan. The assumption is that keeping livestock is harming the natural world. Animals consume water, feed, and pastureland. All these claims are true. But that is the nature of farming. Plants consume water, nutrients, and space for planting. Farming is a contest with insects, birds, and mammals for the food being grown. Pest control is violent and poisonous.
- Recycling saves resources. Someone once said recycling is actually down-cycling. Recycling is not a panacea. It can limit the consumption of some materials. It never stops consumption completely.
- The idea that everyone must do these things.
Conservation should not deny science. There are no exemptions from fact even for good intentions. Asinine claims are made in order to persuade or motivate. They are well-intentioned. But, ultimately, misleading. Christians must support truth. I disagree with the Dispensational theology of Secretary Watt. I do not disagree with his desire to conserve natural resources. My disagreement leads me into a different direction regarding environmental policy.
The origin of life on planet Earth is undetermined. The diversity of life on our planet has come to us by evolutionary processes. It was not until the modern era that people began to understand that species of animals can disappear forever. The discovery of extinction led to the conclusion of evolution by natural selection. Before the modern era, humans knew how important conservation of natural resources were. People fought over access to land and water. Tribal societies developed truces and territories for the sake of hunting and gathering food. Human cultures all began by organizing resources. Our spiritual appreciation of natural beauty comes from this drive.
Conserving The Largest Resource
Should humans dominate the Earth? Some believe we should. In fact, there have been religious arguments for it as well as scientific ones. It is easy to argue humans should do everything in our power to protect the Earth. But that is also a domination argument. Climate science is convincing. We should prepare for the terrible effects of global climate change. It is wrong to assume our knowledge allows us to control the planet.
A liberation green theology is best applied locally. There is nothing wrong with vegetarianism or recycling as lifestyle choices. Any belief that is based on domination of others wants to be imposed. It is the nature of the beast. Mutuality is better for the future of civilization. We are neighbors to other people and species. Consideration for the neighbor should motivate our ethics and actions.
Should the churches support major policies like the Green New Deal? Good question. Churches should support policies that increase health, the quality of life, and encourage creativity. The so-called second part of the GND should be the first part. That is the part about how people will live during the transition to the proposed Green economy. People need to do more than merely survive. They must thrive. Church leaders need to look closely at Climate science and the GND proposals before making resolutions. But first we must clearly state what we see as the purpose of human civilization. “I believe help my unbelief” is the plea of faithful people. Churches must speak to that purpose and speak to it clearly.