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Christians And Environmental Ethics - A Strange Combination?

Jan 3, 2008
You can find very different attitudes towards environment and global warming problem among Christians. There are of course Christians who simply do not care and do not see any real connection between their religion and the idea to save the planet. Religion is about saving humanity, spiritually speaking, not the planet, right? Before moving to the answer to this question, let's have a quick look at another, even less eco-friendly Christian attitude.

Many Christians (evangelicals) believe in the second coming of Christ, but some of them believe that Christ's second coming is imminent, that it will happen very soon. Majority of those in this second subgroup also point to global warming phenomenon as a sign before Christ's coming - a prime example of such a sign actually! Such interpretation of the prophecy also includes the claim that we really can't do anything in this matter to make things better. The belief, that Christ will come very soon and that global warming is an important sign of His coming, naturally leads to the belief that there is no point in "saving the planet". Not only will this planet burn in destruction in a very near future, but you are actually working against the prophecy (and so against God) if you are trying to save the planet. Not to mention the peril of wasting your time and energy you should use for other more important things to do. The comment of the late evangelical leader Jerry Falwell, that "the myth" of global warming is a "Satan's attempt to redirect the church's primary focus" is just one expression of such a position.

Even if these beliefs are not so explicit and widespread, and despite the change of mood in the environmental issues among the evangelical leaders in the USA in last couple of years, there is still a general feel of relative passivity in relation to the environmental issues among many evangelical and also other Christians. In the internet and in other media you will much more likely find new-age believers and atheist defending the green attitude. Why? Majority of new-age belief-systems include belief in (equal) sanctity of all life, a belief in Gaia Mother Earth, and similar. These beliefs inspire new-agers to action. Atheists on the other hand believe that this world, however bad and imperfect, is the only world we have. So whatever we feel, we better do something about it or we will simply cease to exist as a race! If there is no afterlife you naturally have a very strong motivation to preserve this life and this world.

So, what about Christian beliefs and environmental concern? Are Christian beliefs actually a disadvantage for someone who wants to take eco-friendly attitude? Not necessarily. This of course mainly depends on one's choice of Christian theology. Which biblical messages are more, and which are less important and relevant today? Such hermeneutical decisions, for Christians who take Bible more seriously, guide their ethical priorities and lead to decisions.

There is an important difference between focusing mainly on the texts where God threatens to destroy the earth because of the sins of humans (e.g. "I, the Lord, now promise to destroy everything on this earth"(Zep 1,2)) and on the other hand focusing on the threats that He will destroy the destroyers of the earth ("It is time to destroy everyone who has destroyed the earth." Rev 11,8). Also, the responsibility towards the whole of mankind, which is for majority the single most important reason why we should care about the environment at all, is present in the biblical idea of the first human couple and the human race as a big family (whether Adam and Eve are literal or a symbolic doesn't matter here, the very idea of the human family is what counts). Yet another positive route to environmental ethics in Christian theology is praising the inherent value and beauty of Creation, which definitely doesn't lack in the Bible (Gen 1:31, Ps 104, Rom 1:20, etc.). Most of these positive reasons for environmental concern are of course present also in Judaism and can be found in Islam too.

So, there are many starting points for a Christian believer when deciding why to take environmental issues seriously. Christianity need not be eco-unfriendly at all.
About the Author
Gorazd Andrejc is a free-lance writer and a postgraduate student at University of Cambridge, UK. He has an eco-blog which is intended for "ordinary people" (not necessarily activists) who nevertheless want to do something to save the planet. Be sure to read more and and comment on Eco friendly lifestyle blog!
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