Friday, September 14, 2007

Can Religion Help the Environment?

Chatting with a friend at Greenpeace recently I said “As with most people I don’t worry too much about the ‘ecological crisis'. After all the present situation is one that has been created by so many of our industrial and agricultural activities over the last couple of hundred years. So what difference will my little consciousness make?” He made one comment: "You claim to be a follower of Jesus, have you never thought of how God views what we are doing to His world - and you an amateur conservationist”.
In Africa, South America and the very few areas of Asia that still have some tropical forests, native tribes practice a type of semi-nomadic lifestyle supported by hunting, gathering, and ‘slash and burn’ agriculture. They have done so for millennia. The forests were not much affected. Climate change was something that happened slowly over tens of thousands of years. Plenty of time for native species to adapt or move on.
Nowadays, many of these tribes are shifting to the slums that surround all cities.
The forests have been taken over by agricultural 'developers' following close on the heels of the poaching and timber mafias. The few remaining forests are being decimated.
In fact, the whole world’s population is shifting to the slums of our cities, even our farmers! The human race has lost touch with the land that gives us life. Everywhere, businesses accumulate land and exploit the land for the maximum output at the least possible investment.
We don’t worry about the long term results on the land as long as our supermarkets are well stocked and prices remain affordable.
The land has become invisible. The same could be said for many of the staples of 'civilisation', electrical energy, gas (petrol), building materials, steel, and so on are not areas of concern, and unless prices rise we just don’t think about them at all.

The one environmental issue that we do get a bit concerned about is pollution and that is only because we do have to feel the consequences in our landfills, in the air we breathe and in the water that we drink. The easy way out is what we always prefer and you would be surprised at how much toxic waste gets exported to the third world for disposal or just dumped in our oceans. That’s the stuff that’s too nasty to dump anywhere near ‘civilised’ people.
The results of our selfishness are the steady destruction of the ecological balance of the world. Down the road we will pay a heavier price as pollution, deforestation, loss of biodiversity, and global warming take hold. The #GW skeptics are wrong!
That process has already started. Take the lowly mosquito; a silent and versatile vector for various nasty diseases, this tiny insect is working its way ever northward as winters get milder. The result now is a few cases of West Nile Virus attacks sporadically here and there. Unfortunately, these will be followed by Japanese Encephalitis, Dengue, Malaria, Chikungunya, Ebola, … and other little horrors for which there are no known cures.
Being a Christian, starting with the Bible, the creation imperatives lay out the present situation rather too well. Gen 1:28 “Multiply…subdue it and have dominion”. We have, in our fallenness, persevered pridefully to rape and pillage without a care for the condition of the very lands and the oceans that give us life. The context has been ignored, and Gen 2 has God planting a garden that was just sufficient... and I believe modifies both the meaning of 'dominion' and 'subdue'.
One issue for me today is how to start obeying God’s commandments in the light of what history and science teach. But, neither history nor science are very encouraging for they leave me with a sense that our best intentions can cause more harm than good. Interventions on behalf of nature very often backfire resulting in unforeseeable bad consequences. Human interventions in anything are disaster-prone!
More encouraging is the trajectory that Jesus brings with the teaching on 'the kingdom'. Today, what effect will it have if I take Jesus’s teachings on being in God's kingdom to heart and start living as a citizen of the kingdom of God?
Some of these basic gospel teachings are:
1. To identify with and to accept the have-nots.
2. To not accumulate wealth or possessions.
3. To freely share whatever I have.
4. To be more concerned about others welfare than my own.
5. To not build up buffer stocks against whatever may happen tomorrow.
6. To consume only what is absolutely necessary for today.
7. To use all of the talents that God has given me to the best of my ability.
8. To love and accept responsibility for all mankind without discrimination while ignoring worldly and genetically determined imperatives.
9. To personally stand for justice and to support systems and laws that promote justice in its narrowest and broadest senses.
10. To pay taxes and to demand accountability from the leadership on behalf of God’s kingdom.
11. To be unostentatious in matters of one's religion.
Jesus’s teaching of these principles automatically brought him into conflict with both the politicos and the religious. There is no 'mammon' to be had for anyone in God’s kingdom, it won’t even trickle down! Therefore, there is a big element of risk involved, especially if a growing proportion of Jesus’s followers start taking His kingdom teachings seriously.
We conveniently also forget that the original command was to 'fill' and that certainly implies not overfilling and not taxing the world's systems and biodiversity to destruction!

The most important environmental principles are to shun exploitation, or excess, in any form. By redefining what is really necessary and differentiating it from what the market drives me to desire, I will be able to reduce consumption and automatically the environment will benefit, as will the humans of this world! So, for our environment, if I can live by the principles of the kingdom, the results will be at least neutral (we won’t make matters any worse) but more probably I will give the world of nature some breathing space and maybe help to see something of a recovery.
A proper understanding of religion therefore can help the environment!

Related Posts:
Biodiversity II - or How to be LESS Inversive!


What's In A NAME - Biodiversity vs Global Warming

Biodiversity - The Inverse Main Point

Biodiversity and taxonomy

Holy Books And The 21st Century - Exploring Cultural Bridges

My Complaints About Christianity:

[Slightly modified from a comment made on opensource theology (site now dead)- and first published in October of 2006]


Anonymous said...

Pretty much the same ten things this atheist does.


Unknown said...

Ivan, I always suspected that you were a disciple even though you vehemently may deny it!

Jonathan Erdman said...

To consume only what is absolutely necessary for today.

Sam, this is so radically counter-cultural in the west that I don't even know where to begin!

ALL marketing and advertising is geared towards selling us "shit we don't need," to borrow the words from Fight Club.

We are now going several generations deep into the results of Consumerism such that I don't know that it is really even possible, anymore, to imagine life without being in the hamster wheel of consumption. We go to work in Corporate America so that we can help feed the machine and produce more stuff. Then we turn around and get rewarded with more money so that we can buy more of the stuff that we are making. In the meantime the Corporate advertising assures us that this next, latest product will make everything even better.

"Shit we don't don't need."

Unknown said...

"Shit we don't don't need."
It used to be "keeping up with the Jones's" in my generation, so it's just a matter of newer slogans like "shop victoriously"! I really don't think that you young guys are so much worse off. I trust that God is capable of dealing us with doses of his reality therapy to keep us grounded - let's hope so!


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