Saturday, January 31, 2009
The Riddle of Theological Environmentalism
In a recent post at Pharyngula, PZ Myers is excited by a recent Nature Video Channel video featuring Sir David Attenborough in which he blames the Bible for fomenting an attitude that validates environmental destruction.
"The influence of the book of Genesis which says that the lord God said 'go forth and multiply' to Adam and Eve and that the natural world is there for you to dominate," Attenborough explains. "'You have dominion over the animals and plants of the world,' and that basic notion that the world is there for us and if it doesn't actually serve our purposes it's dispensible, that has produced devestation of vast areas of the Earth's surface."
"Of course it's a great oversimplification," Attenborough admits. "But that's why Darwinism and the fact of evolution is of great importance, because it is that attitude which has led to the devestation of so much of the Earth."
Naturally Myers, who has never heard a criticism of religion that he didn't enjoy, is quite enthused about Attenborough's comments.
But as Attenborough himself admits, his comments are a great oversimplification of the matter. After all, one of the most important elements of religion is that of interpretation.
As it turns out, a great many Christians interpret the Book of Genesis very differently. While some very much do seem to subscribe to the Coulter-esque "take it, rape it, it's yours" school of thought, there are many Christians who believe that their religious faith obligates them to care for the Earth.
Such is the attitude toward the environment taken by organizations such as Care for Creation, a religious environmental group that brings together Christians, Muslims and Jews to meet the group's goal of better caring for the environment.
This is also the motivation behind the recent publication of the the Green Bible, a version of the Bible in which scriptural verses referring to God's love of his creation and God's commandment that the Earth be cared for are highlighted in Green.
Approximately 1000 pages of the book -- printed with soy-based ink on recycled paper with a cotton cover -- are duly highlighted.
Contrary to Sir Attenborough's insistence that the book of Genesis, in particular, is responsible for validating environmental destruction, a significant portion of Genesis is highlighted in green.
While someone who wants badly enough to find justification for careless exploitation of the environment may find it in Genesis, those who pay close attention will find commandments toward caring for the environment as well.
Ironically, the book of Revelations also features numerous passages that promote care for the environment. This is ironic because many Christians who have rejected the Green Bible have questioned the need to care for a world that, according to particular interpretations of the Bible, will only be destroyed anyway.
Even if the eventual destruction of the Earth isn't treated as a rationale for rejecting a biblical focus on environmental protection there is still the matter of priorities. Some conservative Christians have argued that saving souls is more important than saving the Earth -- although they clearly overlook the need for a healthy planet for the next generation (also representing the next generation of souls, depending on the nuances of one's own religious views).
In Canada, the theological environmentalist movement has found some influential leaders. In particular Preston Manning has been instrumental in promoting the Bible as a book that encourages environmental conservation.
This matter isn't nearly so simple as Sir Attenborough describes it. For those intent on believing that the Bible justifies environemtnal destruction, they will find it. But for those who want to believe that the Bible encourages proper stewardship of the environment, they will find that as well. Often, they will support for these differing view points in the same parts of the Bible.
This is why theological environmentalism is a riddle. But like any great riddle, it is one that must be solved in order for the wisdom it entails to be enjoyed.
Unfortunately, the search for this solution won't be abbetted by individuals like PZ Myers who would rather content themselves to chortle triumphantly.