Thursday 17 July 2008

Environmental warriors on a religious crusade?

While I am committed to environmental issues and believe that all of us must be good stewards of God's world, like many others, I am often surprised by the religious zealousness of some environmental activists. Critique of the almost apocalyptic language of the environmental movement has recently come from some surprising sources.

Writing in the Sydney Morning Herald this week (12-13 July 2008) Michael Duffy penned these words:

The rhetoric surrounding global warming is drawing increasingly on notions of religion and war. As has been often noted, environmentalism in its more extreme forms is deeply appealing to those of us with a need to believe in something, but who have decided that science has killed off Christianity.

(Bob) Brown with his apocalyptic talk of cataclysm, exemplifies this. Ross Garnaut’s use of the term “diabolical” when presenting his report pressed the same button. The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse certainly get a good gallop in the report, with predictions of war (geopolitical instability), famine (collapse of agricultural productivity), pestilence (dengue fever) and death (all the above, plus heat-related fatalities).

ABC TV’s political editor Chris Uhlmann, picked up on the religious element in the carbon crusade…… “One of the things that strikes me most strongly about this debate is its theological nature – and that’s essentially that we have sinned against the environment, that we are now being punished and the only way we can escape that punishment is to wear a hair shirt for the rest of our lives”

I pray that Brown, Duffy, Uhlmann and others can join the dots between human selfishness, greed, exploitation, pride, power, environmental decay, sin and rebellion against God, and perhaps read Genesis and Revelation with eyes opened by the Spirit of God. My hope is that in the midst of these difficult times when the environment is under threat, and we face significant challenges from global warming, that they might realise that science does not control the world and that God is not dead!

Just and true are your ways,
O King of the nations!
Who will not fear, O Lord, And glorify your name?
For you alone are holy. All nations will come
And worship you,
For your righteous acts
Been revealed.
(Revelation 15:3-4)

Above: Port Stephens (NSW) at dawn yesterday where I'm holidaying


Anonymous said...

I am not a religious person, but I believe that selfish humans are only responsible for environmental disorder. Not God.

Trevor Cairney said...

Thanks for your comment Sandeep. As a Christian I believe that God is ultimately in control of his world. The natural forces in his creation can lead to devastating storms, floods, droughts etc.But the world has had a curse placed upon it due to human sin. Global warming is a consequence of increased CO2 emissions that reflect human waste, exploitation, materialism, greed and self interest. In other words sin - which the Bible teaches is a consequence of mankind's rebellion against God. So, in short, I think we agree, but for different reasons.

Hinch said...

I do not consider the root cause of our environmental disorder to be the sinfulness of humanity; i regard the root cause to be humanity, period. You could remove all sin from the world tomorrow, and the net effect of over 6 billion christians going about their god focused ways would still degrade the environment. You don't have to be greedy, materialistic, or self-interested to negatively impact the environment. In fact the surest way to hurt the environment is to follow god's command of "be fruitful and multiply".

Trevor Cairney said...

Hi Hinch, thanks for your comment. If I put to one side my belief in the sinfulness of humanity and the Bible's teaching that the planet is subject to decay as a consequence of this sinfulness and rebellion against God (i.e. trying to live by ignoring him and seeking to control our own destinies), your question is an interesting one. Would the planet struggle simply because of the weight of numbers and overpopulation? There is obviously a point at which over-population will contribute to many social, economic and environmental problems. However, the evidence concerning the way humanity has used and shared (or abused and not shared) its resources, suggests that we can produce sufficient food on the planet and that we would have sufficient energy etc with less exploitation of the planet. So I can't accept your argument on purely rationalistic grounds. As well, I stand by my comment that I believe that it's all about human selfishness, greed, exploitation, pride, power, sin and rebellion against God. That's what the Bible teaches and I believe it, though I didn't for my first 31 years of life as an atheist when I thought I was completely in control of my own destiny. Thanks for the comment I enjoy our dialogue and your questions.

Hinch said...

Trevor, i agree that environmental degradation could be reduced if greed, selfishness, and other sins were eradicated, i also agree that we could feed the world more effectively if we could abolish the sins that stand in the way of a more equitable distribution of money and resources; however, i do not consider it possible to feed, clothe, and charitably sustain, the lives of over 6 billion (even sinless) people without ongoing detriment to the environment. We may be able to feed the world, but this comes at the cost of desalination, deforestation, loss of biodiversity, a depletion of non-renewable resources, and other environmental hurt. I am arguing that environmental degradation is not entirely the result of human sinfulness. It is without doubt, partly driven by our self-centred ways, but it is also partly a logical consequence of too many people in a closed ecosystem. In recent months i've heard several christians make a claim along the lines of "Humans can't change this planet, only God can. He created it, he sustains it, and only he can change it." This claim is not empirically defendable, nor is it responsible. I'm not suggesting this is your position; i am simply saying that our choices, even god-centred choices, have the potential to irreparably damage the planet on which we live. The sheer scale of our growing population renders this a certainty. We may be able to improve our position through scientific research, community education, and the adoption of many christian principles; but we should not forget the importance of family planning. It’s not just about sin. The numbers do matter.

Trevor Cairney said...

Hi Hinch, thanks for the clarification. A quick response. I believe in a sovereign God who is ultimately in control of our world (this gives me great confidence and hope. However, the Bible teaches that God has given us stewardship of his creation. So on this point I agree, humanity has a role to work and take care of the world God has given us (see Genesis 2:15). As for populating the earth and family planning, that's another topic.

byron smith said...

It’s not just about sin. The numbers do matter.

I'm actually with Hitch on this one. The numbers do matter, though I would add that the interplay between the numbers and the lifestyles is where the crunch comes at the moment. Most environmental scientists hold that we are currently exceeding a sustainable level of impact on the planet. This is both because of numbers and because of the disproportionate environmental impact of western lifestyles. If the whole world lived at western standards, we would need something like 18 planets like earth to sustain our current population. But the earth can sustain six and a half billion people on more modest lifestyles (less meat, less production, less energy use, etc). Some estimates put it at eight to ten billion at this level. Yet there will still come a point where even with the most modest lifestyles, the planet cannot sustain an ever-growing human population. At some stage, the population question itself (even apart from the question of sinful greediness and wastefulness) does become sharp.

Furthermore, it is entirely possible to use belief in divine providence to justify unsustainable lifestyles. I'm not saying this is what you are doing Trevor, but this possibility is actual for many western Christians. While we can be confident that human sinfulness will not ultimately thwart God's purposes for creation, I don't think this provides us with any guarantee that we are not on a path to self-destruction on a massive scale. Jesus is Lord of the cosmos, but that is not a promise of ecological indestructibility.

Thus, I am also with Hitch that sometimes the way certain beliefs are phrased and used can be part of the ecological problem. There is no theological justification for greed and apathy. There is only repentance and forgiveness. And it is here that the article Trevor quotes was most interesting, because it highlights the lack of grace in the ecological crusaders' theology.

byron smith said...

PS Oops - Hinch, not Hitch. My apologies!

Trevor Cairney said...

Hi Byron, I accept your comment about Western lifestyles and agree that no-one can justify selfish consumption and waste on any grounds, but I stand by my comment (and think the biblical support is strong for this view) that it's all about sin. The decay of the planet, our selfish response to the use of limited resources, over-consumption etc, all reflect the sin of a fallen world. But at the same time, I don't think I ignored the role of man in my comments. Hinch was making the point that the world's problems are due to the weight of numbers. As you've accepted in your comment we have sufficient resources at the moment to support all people on the planet and a few more. While we might reach a point where we simply can't support the people we have on the planet and deal with their waste (which I acknowledged in my first response to Hinch), I don't think the evidence suggests that we're at that point yet. The problem (in my view) as I suggested in the original post is a combination of "human selfishness, greed, exploitation, pride, power, environmental decay, sin and rebellion against God". Nice to hear from you and thanks for taking the time to comment. Cheers, Trevor