Recently, Page Lynn presented a paper on the environment in The Ethics Round Table. From which, I suggested four guidelines to The Round Table to assist us in thinking and acting christianly about environmental issues and our involvement. Following are those four suggestions. For a fuller discussion of this issue I recommend Cornwall Alliance web site, or sign up for the Round Table next year.
1. Determine the relative importance of our responsibility as God’s stewards of the world based upon biblical revelation. We are to be managers of the planet that God has placed us upon (Genesis 1:26-28, 2:15); however, our interest in environmental issues, and the prioritizing of that interest must be according to biblical priorities rather than that of modern man.Consequently, spreading the gospel, emphasizing eternal things, stopping the wanton killing of pre-born babies, and the prevention of other methods of devaluing of human life must take precedence. This is not to be interpreted to mean that we are therefore not to do much if anything; but rather to remind us that while we stand in the line of Adam and are therefore commanded to “tend” the garden—the earth—we must concomitantly remember that the earth will be destroyed and replaced (Revelation 21:1); whereas, humans will live forever either in heaven or hell.
Moreover, Christ demonstrated the unquestioned superior value of human life over animals and that averment on a number of occasions; for example, when he healed the demoniac and cast the demons into a herd of swine, which resulted in the death of two thousand swine. Thus demonstrating that one human life was easily worth more than two thousand swine (Matthew 8:28-34). On another occasion, he cursed a fig tree in order to teach a spiritual truth. (Matthew 21:19).We are not single issue persons. We can walk and chew gum at the same time, but we must always be careful to keep the most important issue the most important.
2. Choose environmentally friendly practices, all things being equal. For example, if coal is determined to be a serious pollutant, we should consider alternatives; however, we should not make coal unavailable or unnecessarily costly for those who need it and thereby cause human beings to freeze or to lose jobs and thereby become unable to feed their families….The same can be said about drilling in Alaska or elsewhere.There are many environmentally sound, humanity affirming actions we can take that do not anthropomorphize or deify nature—with phrases like “Mother Nature”, some form of Monism, or place environmental concerns above people, e.g. refusing to pursue or severely limiting the quest for discovering new medicines or cures because rats must be used in the experiments.
Actions that may help the environment while concomitantly devaluing humans by making them a means to an end or unnecessarily hurting them should be avoided or delayed until solutions that both respect the sanctity of human life and improve stewardship of the environment are developed.
3. Use environmental discussions as an opportunity to share the Christian worldview of creation, stewardship, sanctity of life, sin, salvation, and the gospel. It seems that the greatest stewardship of that which is perishing is to maximize God’s glory by introducing people to His Son and telling them the wonderful truth that God loves them and desires for them to spend eternity with Him in heaven. That way, although the environment passes away, our stewardship of the perishing environment has eternal consequences. This is not to say that someone can get saved by earthly means, but it is to say that the decaying can be used to lead into the gospel.
4. Explain that we have been good stewards. By “we”, I do not mean every American all of the time; but rather, I mean to disavow many environmentalists’ mischaracterization of Americans, and Christians in particular, as environmentally molestful Neanderthals. This mischaracterization is done by mentioning only the harm, misrepresenting the facts and context, and/or simple demagoguery. I reject the idea that failing to put the planet before human lives, or rejecting the notion that man is an intruder into the environment, is tantamount to being responsible for the ecological crises and this in spite of their most capable raconteurs. These misrepresentations are from either people who are woefully uninformed or willing to skew the facts for the demagogical effect.
I categorically reject Lynn White’s argument that “We shall continue to have a worsening ecological crisis until we reject the Christian axiom that nature has no reason for existence save to serve man.”1
While it is true that there has surely been some wanton abuse of the environment by Christians and non-Christians alike, the full truth is that, consequential damage may have happened in the process of doing good for mankind rather than for merely capricious or scandalous ends; further, in light of the people’s beliefs about the environment at the time of the damage, oftentimes they did not appreciate or see the need for alternatives—like when we all used to burn our trash, oh what a bonfire! Sometimes the harm was minimal compared to the good that was produced in light of the current knowledge at the time.
For example, we have used natural resources for good such as: medicines—some of which are known as “miracle cures”—to create the best healthcare system in the world, creating technology that allows us to produce more food than we can eat, technology that makes life safer, longer, and more enjoyable, and we export all of these and much more so that the world benefits; further, our military supremacy has and does thwart a perennial host of would-be world conquerors who not only terrorize the earth for their own aggrandizement, but humans as well; additionally, for Christians, our wealth and technological developments have afforded the greatest opportunity to export the gospel to the remotest parts of the world. I for one believe that one person coming to Christ in some isolated hamlet is incomparably worth whatever harm is done to the environment by jet fuel expended into the atmosphere. Although America is not perfect, people do still risk life and limb and break the law to come and participate in what we have. Many places that have far less than we do—China for example—have far worse pollution problems, and in many countries people may have less pollutants but they are starving and dying of curable diseases and exposure; of course, they do not have the pollutants that we do because their transportation is a crippled camel…
So while Christians should live as good stewards of all that God has entrusted to us, both in the spiritual and material realm, and although there are problems and abuses, we have actually done quite well. Some are fixated on presenting the United States as the gluttonous evil of the world while summarily dismissing the reality that we have and do help the rest of the world more than any other nation. It is quite interesting that we are citied for our cars, houses, etc., but as soon as the rest of the world gets a chance, they do the same.
I do want to be a good steward and faithful to God; however, I for one do not want to become an elephant riding, organic banana eating atavistic vegetarian, who considers the earth before humans and considers having beyond the bare necessities something evil.
- This is an excerpt from the paper “The Historical Roots of our Ecological Crisis” written by Lynn White in 1967, a historian at the University of California. It has served as a mantra for environmentalists ever since. Alister McGrath’s book, “The Reenchantment of Nature” is an excellent book that sets the record straight. [↩]