A comment on one of my posts last week gave me the idea of writing on the relationship between Christianity and the environment. Generally, when we think of this connection, many of us think about the “Religious Right” and their strong conservative beliefs and anti-environmental policies.
What is at the root of Christianity, though? Can anti-environmental language and beliefs be found in the Bible?
The Bible seems to proclaim that nature was made as it should be and is something that should be respected and protected. In Psalms 104:25,30, it is written: “In wisdom you made them all, the earth is full of your creatures. There is the sea, vast and spacious, teeming with creatures beyond number – living things both large and small…. When you send your Spirit, they are created and you renew the earth.” The general spirit is one of positivity and love here.
In another portion of the Bible, the ability to learn from nature, and the respect we should give to nature is thoroughly expressed: “Job 12:7-10. But ask the animals, and they will teach you; or birds of the air and they will tell you; or speak to the earth and it will teach you; or let the fish of the sea inform you. Which of all these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this?”
Whether as a metaphor or in reality, in Ezekiel 34:17-18 and Jeremiah 2:7 (respectively) lack of environmental stewardship is admonished forcefully: “As for you, my flock… Is it not enough for you to feed on good pasture? Must you also trample the rest of your pasture with your feet? Is it not enough for you to drink clear water? Must you also muddy the rest with your feet?;” “I brought you into a fertile land to eat its fruit and rich produce. But you came and defiled my land and you made my inheritance detestable.” These are strong criticism of humans degrading the Earth here.
Of course, greed and over-consumption are delineated as highly sinful throughout the Bible. Whether we are average Americans or wealthy ones, we live in perhaps the wealthiest society in the history of the world. Naturally, even our “basic needs” are excess comforts and pleasures these days. In reference to over-consumption and greed, here are a few quotes from the Bible:
“James 5:5. You have lived luxuriously on the earth and led a life of wanton pleasure; you have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter.”
“Mark 4:19. …and the worries of the world, and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word and it becomes unfruitful.”
“Luke 12:15,23,34. And He said to them, ‘Beware and be on your guard against every form of greed; for not even when one has an abundance does life consist of his possessions. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.'”
“Mathew 19:24. And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.”
The teachings expressed in the Bible concerning the environment seem to advocate a strong environmentalism in which humans should be responsible for the environment. It strongly advocates against consumerism and taking more than you need from the world. Perhaps, the Religious Right and every individual Christian have not found this teaching. However, some Christian groups have adopted this strong environmentalism. Below are a list of environmentally oriented groups and groups against excessive, unnecessary consumerism. I plan to continue this discussion a little further, including more controversial issues, in “Christianity and the Environment Part II“. For now, take a look at Christianity’s basic relationship to the natural environment and environmental care.
Christians for Environmental Stewardship
National Religious Partnership for the Environment
Evangelical Environmental Network
Catholic Conservation Center
Pope John Paul II himself published several papers, which can be found here, on the importance of care for the environment.
Most of the quotes above were retreived from Christians for Environmental Stewardship, but the final one is from Biblos.com
Image credit: Guttorm Flatabo via flickr under a Creative Commons license
I think the nail you failed to hit on the head is Christianity’s general apathy towards the environment. This stems from their belief that they’re only here for a short time and then they’ll be in Heaven, and/or, that the Earth we currently live on will not be around long enough to care as Revelations states that a new Earth will eventually be made.
Not every Christian may be as apathetic as it sounds, there are some who do care, but I remember that when I was a Christian I was definitely apathetic for the above two reasons.
These arguments are all true but it should not be assumed that Christianity is the one and only environmentally concerned religion/way of life. Take for example, ‘maausk’ or ‘belief in earth’ as it was called by the worshippers circa 200 years ago, but was tagged ‘paganism’ by the very Christians “saving” the pagans from their blindness.
This ‘maausk’ treats the nature as it has a soul – stones, trees, sea, everything. Everyday life and major events, 21 December for example, are inspired by the changes in nature. No-one has to read a man-made book to know the good from bad, and that work is about the only tool to feed one-self.
These are just a couple of thoughts in front of my mind.
Ok, this is great. I really thought for a while that I was the only “green” Christian out there. While I don’t agree with Marju above, I do agree that the earth is something to be cared for. Adam’s first job was the care for the Garden of Eden, so why should we care less?
It just makes sense…more of us need to write about it.
Just a point of info, it is not at all accurate to call “conservatives” or the “religious right” as being “anti-environmental” or having such policy’s. It would be nice if liberals/environmentalists would stop misrepresenting the conservative position.
We are “pro” QUALIFY OF LIFE, and that includes the environment, but it is not our sole focus. Our focus is overall quality, in all areas, financial, family, business, environmental etc. And in that, we are only anti-environmentalists and/or their policy’s, because they are extremist in many of their views, and not balanced or holistic. For example, we don’t believe in destroying the free-economy just to save the planet, especially when in most of our views the “harm” that is occurring is completely exaggerated and not the whole truth, such as with “Global Warming”.
We believe in America and in Americans, and that our efforts will change things for a better life, because that is what we all want. And America is the greatest place on earth because of this, and it will be that way with the environment as well. Just look around you. Compared to basically all other places on the planet America is the cleanest and has the highest quality of life, and that will continue, unless Americans are taxed to death. So trying to force certain policy’s on us, at the expense of other areas of life, is simply not something we are willing to tolerate. There is a right way to do things.
Anyway, Conservatives and Christians (especially mormons) most certainly care about their environment, after all, we like success, and we like “clean” for a quality of life. So, don’t confuse our being anti your policy’s and fascism with our somehow being anti the environment, they are not related. That’s like calling conservatives racist because we don’t like Obama’s views and policy’s. They are not related.
Therefore, it would be nice if liberals stopped bearing false witness of us, after all that also is in the Bible.
Take care…. 🙂
I don’t think that this article even BEGINS to state that Christianity is the only environmentally concerned religion.
A statement like that is born out of a spirit of defensiveness, clearly, because it is irrational.
Unlike other movements and religions, the environment and the care of it has it’s place, not as something to be worshipped or argued over–but just the plain responsibility. A duh!
A recent pastor I just heard who is not an environmentalist at all just proclaimed that we Americans have become the gluttons of the world. This is obvious. I also just heard that there are 75 million cases of food related sickness in America alone.
Religions that treat nature as if it has souls is retarded. If you want to believe I should value a pretty plant as much a I value you, you’re wrong. I’d die for you and run over that plant to save you any day. And when the rubber meats the worldview clashing road, the people at the head of these movements cave in like the truthless pagans they are.
I agree with this — when you consider that God is reflected in nature (directly stated in Scripture) and has created all things and is behind the mysteries of nature, it makes you stand in awe and wonder and at the very least, respect the planet we live on. I think we currently stand in the midst of a conflict between God’s natural design (and man’s dominion over it which may be called stewardship), and the industrialization and mechanization of nature, which is the principle reason for the destruction of it.
Dan Smith, you are definitely not the only environmentally-responsible Christian. I myself believe it is a Christian’s responsibility to take care of Creation. The world is beautiful and like you said, “it just makes sense” to take care of it.
The unenlightened have worshiped the earth, sun, moon, and stars for centuries at the expense of other human beings. Much of the current environmentalism should be seen for what it is. It is another “golden calf” upon which the high priests of its movement enrich themselves at the expense of the poor. Using selective statistics and “junk science” the high priests of this “false god” continue to live in luxury while the poor lose jobs and die in poverty without the insecticides and minerals that might enrich or save their lives. Like the “high priest” of false gods before them the humans they control must be sacrificed upon the “golden calf” so that the “progressive few” can control the so-called unenlightened masses. As at Mt. Sinai the masses pray to the “environmental god” while Moses nearby holds in his hands the true word of God. Look at the Pharisees of 2009. Follow the money. Who is benefiting for their environmental worship? Is it the earth or they? Is it the masses created in God’s image or the false prophets of environmentalism that benefit? As at Mr. Sinai the “golden calf” is attractive. The emotional attachment is strong. It seems that everyone is worshiping. It is painful to search for the truth. The truth will set you free, but as Jesus showed us it can also be very costly searach.
The Worden Report
You might be interested in the shift that occurred in the history of Christian thought on the relationship between wealth and greed. It is indeed surprising the bredth of views on it within the religion. In my essay (see link below), I discuss this shift from the standpoint of Christianity as a potential normative constraint on the greed we saw in the financial crisis of 2008. In short, the shift went from anti- to pro-wealth, and then the Reformers sought to return to the anti-wealth stance. The question is whether they succeeded. If you or your readers are interested, please see http://thewordenreport.blogspot.com/2011/02/godliness-greed-how-effective-is.html