Christianity and the Environment
by Handsome Matt
Oh yes, we are going to do this. A little bit of background information about myself, I went to a conservative Christian university for my college education. I graduated from there in five(ish) years with a degree in youth ministry. If that causes you to stop reading my blog forever, I apologize and wish you the best.
Lack of Environmental Concern
It has bothered me for years that Christianity (especially in the United States) has been, at the best, quiet on environmental issues. At the worst, they’ve supported positions that are at odds with the environment.
After much thought, I think I might have figured out why that is.
A part of my collegiate career focused on studying the various interpretations, and interpretive process, of the bible. It is astounding. And rife with politics and intrigue.
When we look at Genesis, there is a verse, soon after the creation of man that outlines mans role in the environment:
And God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.”
That’s from the Revised Standard version of the bible. Here is the King James version.
And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.
Disregarding the “eths” we see the same language: Subdue and dominion. The King James version was translated from Greek and Hebrew texts, but it reflected unfortunately the landscape of 16th century England. Especially in issues of gender bias.
The New Revised Standard, while better at eliminating gender biasness still holds onto that phrase of subdue and dominate. The New International Version is only moderately better replacing “dominion” with “rule.”
Enough with the Bible!
This is a serious issue! We’re looking at words that describe conquering and ownership. A “do what you want” mentality. Unfortunately, the ideas of stewardship, interaction, relationship, and respect get lost under the much cooler sounding “dominion.” I get goosebumps saying that word.
Furthermore, we ignore the further story of Adam. That Adam engaged in work with creation. Not over it.
A more accurate understanding of man’s role should be that of rule and stewardship. Yes we are in charge of creation, we can bend it to our will, but we must do so with a sense of stewardship; that is responsibly managing another’s property.
We treat the earth as something to be conquered and tamed. Not managed and cared for.
The Left Behind Syndrome
Christians, especially those in America have focused on the end of the world. And who can blame them, they went from being the guardians of morality in the 50s, to a bad joke in today’s society. Instead of trying to fix the problems, they hype up the fact that the world is going to end. The sooner the better.
That’s a bit to simplistic.
It also comes from the idea of “treasures in heaven.” That the real reward is after death. After everyone is judged and a new heaven, and new earth are brought into existence.
With your reward coming in heaven, and the world ending very soon: why worry about creation?
Kingdom Of God
The idea of the “Kingdom of God” is simple: It’s the establishment and carrying out of God’s work on the earth. Stated simply: Making earth a little bit more like heaven. This is a cryptic command at best. How does one bring about something, that isn’t going to truly exist until the end of the world?
But the idea, of working towards that new heaven, new earth involves every facet of our lives. And as such must involve then an environmental aspect also. If we take Adam’s initial work seriously, we interpret subdue and dominion as rule and stewardship, and we focus on what we can do in the here and now to better our world, environmental responsibility takes a forefront.
(For those who are Christian or biblically inclined, I cite the Parable of the Talents, where much was given to the stewards and much was expected. I also cite the statement in Genesis of being created in Gods image; meaning we should act in our role of steward of creation as God acts: With mercy, justice, love and responsibility.)
Politics man, it’s Politics.
A less theological and more political development is in the recent Protestant church aligning itself with the Republican party for two reasons: The Republicans party moral position and the Democrats pro-choice position. Does either party have a strong environmental stance? Hardly, but Republicans tend to favor business and development, meaning the environment takes a distant second place.
Furthermore, many in the church today (especially those in leadership) were at odds with the rebellion movements of the 60s and 70s. Where did the environmental movement get its start? With the hippies. Who also believed in recreational drug use, free love, and rock n’ roll.
Also many of the protest groups were anti-religion. Why would the church align itself with something that would seek to tear it down and destroy it?
Lastly, we’re still operating under the assumptions and pretenses of the first settlers. Who operated under the idea of subdue and dominate, and believed the “wilderness” to be the realm of Satan. Civilization then, represented God, justice and order. So of course, destroying the natural world was destroying Satan’s power, and thus establishing God’s Kingdom in the New World.
Honestly, and I doubt this will happen, today’s church needs to take a serious look at its position in the contemporary world. It is no longer relevant to what people are going through today. The church is still working on overturning Roe v. Wade and the Scopes Monkey trial and bringing prayer back into public schools. Seriously.
The issue though is this, a large majority of voting individuals still go to church and consider themselves Christians. Nixon’s “silent majority” is as true today as ever. If churches were to stand up and demand environmental reform, it would happen. In fact, plenty of necessary reforms would occur if the Church took an active role in individuals lives again.