Podcast- Climate Change/Climate Justice: Creation Narratives

Last night was the panel discussion on climate change that I mentioned earlier. I think it went quite well. The podcast is below, so please listen for yourself! I made a few very brief remarks, the idea being to generate discussion rather than exhaustively present a particular view or argument. I have pasted that below. Our panel included Carl Derk (not Carol), Director of the Coalition for Christian Outreach; David Miller, Pastor of the University Mennonite Church; and Paull Spring, member and former pastor at Grace Lutheran Church. Thomazine (Timmy) Shanahan, chaplain for the Episcopal Student Ministries was unable to join us.

The discussion went quite well (although that was not captured on the recording) but the comments after it was over was even more interesting. One man insisting, based upon Col. 1, that I was wrong in stating that Gen. makes it clear that all creation was made for humanity. It was made for Christ, of course, “all things were created through him and for him.” The sticking point for me was that he argued that my reading of Gen. was flawed on its own merits, i.e., the text did not say that the world was created for humanity, thus it was not. The Col. reference was merely being brought into the discussion after the fact, rather than, he instisted, informing his reading of Gen. 1 and 2.

One woman was upset that I asserted that “adam” in the beginning of chapter two was really male. This was not, as I initially supposed, an argument about ha’adam being androgyn or anything like that, rather she had a theory about a gradually awareness that came over this creature and then only later were genders differentiated. At the root of her argument was a concern with which I have great sympathy, gender equality, but I still insist that a more direct reading of Gen. 1 and 2 do far more for making that argument than any other “eisegetical” reading.

And finally, one man who took great umbrage that I made the comment that “maybe” global warming was caused by humans. In spite of my assurances that we cannot help but be contributing to climate change and that we should do what we can to moderate that, my insistence that assertions of “certainty” be tempered with qualifications like “to the best of our data and tests to date” apparently irritated him and made me a radical right climate change denier. (I am not, for the record.) In this case I had in mind the NYTimes article (via Mercury News) regarding scientists being uneasy with the strident nature of Al Gore’s presentation of their findings.

So, being able to irritate people from all sides of this debate is probably a good sign. 🙂

My opening remarks follow:

The question that brings us here tonight is not so much whether or not the global climate is changing (it is) or even whether this change is from human impact (could be) but what perspective does religion bring to these debates. If you follow the popular press you could be forgiven for believing that conservative American Christians don’t believe that there is any concern about the world’s climate and resources. I, in fact, had in mind to track down some good quotes where a preacher or religious leader had cited Genesis as the basis for humanity doing whatever we wanted with the earth, after all God made it for us!

The reality is that although there may be some who take such an aggressive dominating stand they are not the usual suspects. People like Jerry Falwell, James Dobson, and Chuck Colson have all spoken against the current political trends and policy proposals regarding global warming, but none of them base their argument from such a biblical interpretation as I have described. There are a good number of conservative American Christians, however do believe that there are sound reasons for being concerned about changes in the world’s climate and many of them support the various efforts to bring about changes through our political system. What separates these groups is not theology per se but politics and policy.

Tonight we want to focus not upon the politics but upon the religious texts and teachings that form and inform those policy decisions. The base text of all is, of course, the creation narratives in Genesis. There are clearly two distinct accounts presented in Genesis, one may debate whether they are contradictory or complimentary, but they are in complete agreement that the earth and its inhabitants were formed expressly for humanity. Moreover, both accounts also agree that humanity is responsible for overseeing and caring for this creation. I want to briefly touch on each account and then move to discussion with our panel and open the floor to discussion.

In Gen. 1 the key text reads

Gen. 1.26 Then God said, “Let us make humanity in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion…

Notice that the statement that humanity will have “dominion” immediately follows the statement that humanity will be “in our image,” that is, in the image of God. Thus the kind of rule that humanity will have over the fish, birds, every creeping thing, is the same kind of rule that God has over humanity and all of the rest of the cosmos. What exactly that means will be discussed further in a few minutes.

Consider now Chapter 2 where God makes Adam, the Man, and

Gen. 2.15 The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it.

The word translated “to till” is the root עבד meaning “to work” or even, in some cases, “to serve.” The image is clearly that even before the fall, where Adam and Eve disobeyed God and were therefore kicked out of the Garden, Adam was to perform work. The word translated as “to keep it” is from the verb שמר which means “to keep, protect, or preserve.” It is the same root that gives us words meaning “guardsman” and “protector.” In other words, there is already inherent in this story the notion that Man, by virtue of being the pinnacle of God’s creation and ruler over it must also take care of it.
The story of Noah presents us with a story of re-creation where again, humanity’s rule is affirmed. God’s blessing of Noah, however, includes these ominous words:

The fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth, and upon every bird of the air, upon everything that creeps on the ground and all the fish of the sea; into your hand they are delivered.

The conflict between man and nature, ordained by God in his curse of man and woman, is now firmly established. Animals and men will no longer exist in harmony and now too humans may eat the flesh of other animals. We are not in the Garden anymore!
Finally, there are a number of passages in the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament that speak of a “new heaven and earth” that will be formed when God’s day of judgment shall come. And then there is the language of Paul who speaks of Christians as being “a new creation” (2 Cor. 5.17). In the next panel on the 23rd the role of apocalyptic beliefs will be taken into consideration but for now, let us focus upon the creation narratives.


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