By Carl Teichrib - October 24, 2003
Please visit his website at www.forcingchange.org
Fundamental Christians are to blame. We are the cause of untold suffering and mass death. We are the force behind the environmental crisis. We are the purveyors of hatred and intolerance. At least, that’s what many in the New Age and interfaith movement would have the public believe.
The following article is part two in a three part series titled “Casting Stones” – an examination of allegations against the Faith.
In 1970, the Environmental Handbook came out as a resource for teaching school children about the importance of the environment. This book, published by Ballantine and Friends of the Earth, contained numerous articles by leading “environmental thinkers,” and was a pivotal piece of literature meant to reshape the minds of impressionable youth. Consider these statements,
"What we do about ecology depends on our idea of the man-nature relationship. More science and more technology are not going to get us out of the present ecological crisis until we find a new religion, or rethink our old one." — Lynn White, Jr. p.24.
"No new set of basic values has been accepted in our society to displace those of Christianity. Hence, we shall continue to have a worsening ecologic crisis until we reject the Christian axiom that nature has no reason for existence save to serve man." — Lynn White, Jr. p.25.
"Both our present science and our present technology are so tinctured with orthodox Christian arrogance toward nature that no solution for our ecologic crisis can be expected from them alone. Since the roots of our trouble are so largely religious, the remedy must also be essentially religious…" — Lynn White, Jr. p.26.
Public school students were taught that the answer to our ecological crisis must be based on religion, but not Christianity. What sort of “religion,” then, would be ecologically acceptable? The Environmental Handbook spelled it out,
"It seems evident that there are throughout the world certain social and religious forces which have worked through history toward an ecologically and culturally enlightened state of affairs. Let these be encouraged: Gnostics, hip Marxists, Teilhard de Chardin Catholics, Druids, Taoists, Biologists, Witches, Yogins, Bhikkus, Quakers, Sufis, Tibetans, Zens, Shamans, Bushmen, American Indians, Polynesians, Anarchists, Alchemists…the list is long. All primitive cultures, all communal and ashram movements." — Keith Murray, p.331.
Quite obviously, fundamental Christianity doesn’t fit within this paradigm of ecologically acceptable beliefs. Mr. Murray went on to say that this “revolution of consciousness” would be won by “seizing the key images, myths, archetypes, eschatologies, and ecstasies* so that life won’t seem worth living unless one’s on the transforming energy’s side” (p.331). [* Spelling errors in original have been corrected.]
Two years after the release of The Environmental Handbook, the United Nations Environmental Programme came into existence. Over the years, UNEP has worked hard to document and propagate the idea that nature and religious experiences need to be blended – just as Lynn White explained, “since the roots of our trouble are so largely religious, the remedy must also be essentially religious…”
With this in mind, UNEP established the United Nations Environmental Sabbath-Earth Rest Day, and linked it with the UN’s World Environment Day celebrated each June 5th. In 1990, this Earth Sabbath was designated to run for three days, June 1-3. Noel Brown, the Director of UNEP at the time, wrote to religious leaders requesting that a new spiritual basis be established in order to protect our “Planetary Home.”
That same year, UNEP published a guide book titled Only One Earth. The goal of this book was to aid religious and spiritual leaders in directing their “flock” towards proper environmental enlightenment. Songs, readings, declarations, and ceremonies which highlighted the “sacredness” of the earth were suggested for various major religions, including Christianity. At the back of the document was an “Earth Covenant” which formerly declared that “All Life forms are sacred.”
In the year 2000, UNEP, along with the Interfaith Partnership for the Environment, re-released Only One Earth, adding more Earth prayers, songs, and readings. Like the first edition, the purpose of this new edition was to merge organized religions and spirituality with Earth-first principles. Hence, the majority of Christian material used took a liberal and often mystical approach, thereby allowing it to be lumped with all religions in an attempt to bring honor to the Earth.
This UNEP version of Christianity – a religion of Earth equality and divine life forces – is completely acceptable to the interfaith/New Age movement. It’s a watered down and revamped religion, meant to coincide with today’s new spiritual principles, based on reverence of the Earth and the global shift towards a “divine planetary union.” However, the “historical” version of Christianity, the orthodox or fundamental approach, is completely unacceptable.
In UNEP’s 1995 document, the Global Biodiversity Assessment, an 1100 plus page interpretation of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (which is only 18 pages in length when printed on 8 ˝ by 11 paper), it fingered historical Christianity as a key component of environmental problems. Western based economic concepts, industrial advances and technological breakthroughs, western versions of production and resource use, were all linked as negative examples of the Christian religion, showing it as an adverse force on cultures, economies, and ecosystems.
What then does UNEP regard as being spiritually correct? To answer this question, UNEP published a 700 plus page document titled Cultural and Spiritual Values of Biodiversity. This massive volume, which was a further interpretation of the 18 page Convention on Biological Diversity, followed in the footsteps of UNEP’s Environmental Sabbath material. Historical, orthodox, and fundamental Christianity was out; eastern religions, shamanism, paganism, “sacred groves,” indigenous spiritual practices, Buddhism, Hinduism, and New Age teachings were considered ecologically appropriate and encouraged. Of course, if we could re-define Christianity to fit within the new global paradigm of spiritual diversity and Earth centered philosophies, then it too would be embraced as a fellow traveler “seeking the divine.”
Consider this statement from UNEP’s book, Cultural and Spiritual Values of Biodiversity,
"…the goal of the world religions, especially those in the West [the context refers to Christianity], must be to examine and redefine their genuine purpose, taking into account habitual institutional objectives and then comparing them, for example, with the spirit and content of the Assisi Declarations [Earth-embracing declarations]. This is a radical goal. It represents the courage to rediscover religion’s foundation in the web of life, rather than a willingness to prolong the captivity of religion by narrow political and economic interests. (pp.448-449)
All of this leads to the question; is “Christianity” and its affiliated “Western” version of economic productivity the leading cause of environmental damage? It’s a strange question, and one that diverges from the real issues of Christianity.
Christians should be primarily concerned about the state of the human condition, not necessarily the Earth’s condition. With this said, it must be noted that Christians do have a part to play in natural environments.
In Genesis, man is given the mandate to play out the part of a gardener. Essentially, tilling the soil and working the land in the quest for food and raw materials. This fact, coupled with Biblical teachings of stewardship, should serve as models for use-wise conservation – a concept of practical stewardship, and wisdom in using what God has given. In the past, this was called “common sense.”
Regardless of the spin deep-ecologists and New Agers put on the Christian role as it relates to nature, it has never been a “Christian” mandate to destroy God’s creation. In fact, this is diametrically opposed to God’s word, which state that His wonders can be seen throughout creation (Psalm 19).
Some argue that Christians have a negative attitude towards creation because Scripture tells us to “be fruitful and multiply.” Yes, God has given humanity a desire to develop and grow – “be fruitful and multiply” – but this inherent characteristic to expand in knowledge and advance in civilized design is Biblically guided with principles of stewardship, compassion, and justice. Moreover, all peoples – not just Christians – have this built in drive to advance and expend civilization.
Maybe a better question would be, “have Christians done damage to the environment?” The answer of course is “yes.” Individual Christians are responsible for causing problems, but to use this as an indictment against Christianity as a whole is not realistic. Individuals in every sector of society and in all religions and ethic backgrounds have acted adversely to some degree.
But through all of this, it seems that those who have cast stones at Christianity have missed some important historical points.
If Christianity and western economic models are so wrong and bad for the environment, then the opposite “economic model” – Communism – should have given us an optimized environmental and economic synthesis. Instead, with the “opening” of the Soviet Union, we found that this system had created unbelievable environmental disasters. So much so, that entire regions had air, land, and water contamination to the point of inflicting massive health problems on both humans and natural ecosystems. Today, the ill effects of the Soviet’s environmental mismanagement and abuse is still causing health problems, environmental stresses, and economic woes.
And what about those nations which are steeped in eastern religions? The United Nations Environmental Programme openly endorses eastern religions as ecologically sensitive and acceptable. Are these eastern beliefs true models of environmental harmony?.
Michael Coffman, author of Saviors of the Earth, answers this question with a question,
"If Eastern mysticism is the answer [to environmental problems], then why are the economies and environments of Southeast Asia, where Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, and Zen predominate, in such a state of disaster? Who has the better environmental record?"
Good question. The Indian subcontinent and the entire southeast Asian region, including China, has a long history of environmental spoilage, linked health problems, and poor living conditions. Some of this has changed, but the process has been slow and painful.
There is much more that could be said concerning the state of the environment and the myths that surround New Age/deep-ecology perspectives on nature. A quick read of Robert Whelan’s essay, Wild in Woods: The Myth of the Noble Eco-Savage, demonstrates that even indigenous cultures – Indian tribes throughout North and South America – conducted themselves in ways that grossly harmed the environment.
Every culture and people group have done things that have inflicted harm upon the natural world around them. Some of these activities have been necessary for the survival of tribes, cultures, and populations. Some have been superficial and meaningless, causing damage for no apparent reason. However, those who claim that Christianity is to blame for the world’s environmental woes have conveniently forgotten history, and have been quick to cast stones.
Carl Teichrib is a highly respected freelance researcher and a wise and authoritative writer on issues pertaining to globalization. Please visit his website at www.forcingchange.org
Many of his articles will be listed here: http://www.crossroad.to/text/articles.html#teichrib