Climate Change & Religion OpEd

Well, it was really more of a glorified press release. The Centre Daily Times asked me to write up 600 words for today’s OpEd page and they ran it with a sidebar giving the details of the panel.

There has been a small conversation about this panel over on the Engage.SHC site some of you all might be interested in as well. My basic premise, in those comments and for this panel, is that the debates about whether we should reduce the use of fossil fuels, whether Al Gore’s science is accurate, and so on is secondary and even tertiary. The more fundamental question is whether or not concern for the environment, for this creation a moral and theological question. (Yes. There is, in fact, little debate that I can find on this point. See my article below.) And, assuming that it is a moral question, how do (in this case) Christians form their response? Reducing the national speed limit to 55 MPH or mandating reduced emissions are policy responses to the underlying concern. I am more interested, for the purposes of this panel at least, in the theological and exegetical justification that folks like Jim Wallis or Jerry Falwell offer.

So, without further ado:

With the press coverage generated by Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth and the ensuing controversy over whether or not our cars and cattle are leading to the warming of our seas and the melting of the polar ice, it is understandable that many believe this is a relatively new debate. Those with longer memories will point out that concerns about the inevitable depletion of the world’s oil supply have been around for several decades now (and a few cars still running have speedometers that only go up to 55 mph). The historians among us will remind us that the onset of the industrial revolution caused the more insightful to warn of the dangers of humanity altering nature. But how many will take this argument back to the Beginning?Genesis, the first book in the Bible shared by Jews and Christians, opens with two accounts of the creation of this world and its inhabitants. In both accounts creation is made for humanity. The first story recounts the well-known six-day progression of God calling the world into being, from light to the final, culminating act of making humankind in his image, “male and female he created them.” In Chapter 2, man is created first and then God planted a garden for him. Some will argue that our conquest of the planet, and the exploitation of its riches, is the direct result of this teaching. Since the world was made for us, we can do with it what we want! Yet that is not what these texts say at all.

As God determines to make humanity in Chapter 1, he declares to the heavenly court, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion … over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.” Humanity’s dominion over this creation is to mirror that of God’s own rule over the world, a rule that is benevolent and nurturing. In Chapter 2, “the Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it.” The message of Genesis is that, while the world was created to sustain humanity, we were created to care and protect the world.

This is not to say that all Christians and Jews agree upon how we are to benevolently rule over creation and care for it, but these debates are largely political. Some prominent Christian leaders such as James Dobson and Jerry Falwell have insisted that “the science is not conclusive” with regards to global warming, but such arguments are more about policies and economics than interpretation and theology. It is also not a position maintained by all conservative Christians.

According to its Web site, the Evangelical Climate Initiative is a group of “American evangelical Christian leaders” who present a biblically based argument for protecting “the well-being of the entire world.” Even the Interfaith Stewardship Alliance, the group supported by Falwell, argues on its Web site that “the moral necessity of ecological stewardship has become increasingly clear.”

Each of these groups, in some way, takes their argument back to Genesis, to the Beginning.

If the science is inconclusive to some, the theology is just as befuddling to others and so Penn State’s Rock Ethics Institute and the Center for Ethics and Religious Affairs is sponsoring a four-part series on “Climate Change/Climate Justice: The Role of Religion.” Monday night will be our first panel and will focus upon the creation narratives of the Bible and how they have and can be used to form the basis for an ethical response to such environmental concerns.

The events are free and open to the public for it is in the public where such a discussion belongs.

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