Ecology and the Bible

Is Christianity to blame for the ecological problems that we have?

Believe it or not, Christianity is often blamed for pollution, extinctions, wastefulness and the poor ecologic state of our planet.  In 1967 Lynn White, an historian from the University of California, published an article in Science entitled, "The Historical Roots of Our Ecological Crisis."  In science today this work is widely quoted and generally accepted as truth.  White's argument is summarized as follows, "Both our present science and our present technology are so tinctured with orthodox Christian arrogance toward nature that no solution for our ecologic crisis can be expected from them alone.  Since the roots of our trouble are so largely religious, the remedy must also be essentially religious, whether we call it or not.  We must re-think and re-feel our nature and destiny."

Scientists continually level this indictment of Christianity today.  Recently on Public Broadcasting a program entitled "Natural Connections" reflected this attitude by such comments as, "If we choose to embrace the earth more as a community in which we belong rather than a community belonging to us, then we might begin to cherish our natural connections to this magnificence place we call earth."  Bob Fuerstenburg, Senior Ecologist for King County Department of Natural Resources urged the viewer to, "Realize that we are not in this by ourselves, that the world was not created just for us, as much as there is lots of people who like to think so."

Ironically, this mindset, which is almost universally accepted in science and taught to our school children, is part of the problem.  As orthodox Christianity has been abandoned in our society and replaced by such moralizing it has become harder to motivate people to respect nature and care for it.  The world was created for us and entrusted to us as its stewards.  In the most historically and scientifically reliable resource we have, the Bible, in Genesis 1:26 the Creator of this beautiful world told the first man and women to take "dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth."   As descendants of Adam and Eve, we are obligated to obey the Scripture.

In addition, mankind is described as being created in the "image of God" and given control "over all the earth."  These are certainly not politically correct statements, but if we are continually taught the opposite of what the Bible teaches in these verses, then our God-given job of protecting and nurturing the planet is forgotten.  Our motivation for conservation becomes extrinsic instead of intrinsic.  We must respect nature because God created it for us and it has value because God is the source of its existence.  Respecting nature is expecting others, which ultimately is respecting God.  As our country has moved from having this moral reason why to respect nature it has had to impose more extrinsic motivations such as fines, imprisonment and laws to preserve our environment. 

Why is it then that there are not more "orthodox Christians" in the modern environmentalist movements?  The reason is foundational.  Many such organizations are based on a pantheistic belief that man and nature are of the same essence; that man is really no greater than a blade of grass.  The Biblical Christian mandate is that mankind, created in the image of God, is to have dominion over the earth, caring for it and maintaining it out of obedience to God.  Of course, many wrongly characterize this as giving a license for despotic exploitation of our natural resources.  However, the dominion mandate described in the Bible should be a superior motivation for correctly managing our environment than any established by the world.

Interestingly, during the last 150 years as the scientific and industrial establishments have given us our current ecologic crisis they have also been committed to an evolutionary philosophy.  The natural outcome of social Darwinism defined by "struggle for existence" and "survival of the fittest" is that nature is to be conquered by man, not respected and cared for. 

Therefore, the root of our ecological problems is not orthodox Christianity but the heart of man.  The thoughtless exploitation of our natural resources is the result of the sinful nature of man.  Christians should be the best environmentalists as we consider how wonderfully God's creation displays His handiwork and His glory.  As we consider the awesome responsibility of stewardship over this planet, the words of the Psalmist should remind of God's view of His creation, "O Lord, how manifold are thy works!  In wisdom Thou hast made them all: the earth is full of thy riches….  The glory of the Lord shall endure for ever: the Lord shall rejoice in His works." Psalm 104:24,31.

I think Charlie Elliott summed it up best, "We of this generation are the stewards of the land in which we live.  The next generation will call upon us to give and account of our stewardship."

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©Tom Carpenter
Originally published in the Rockdale/Newton Citizen