Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Taking It to the Next Level

So my friends and I discussed global warming. The end of the discussion revealed an interesting (and perhaps predictable) divide: The two who take the threat more seriously would support some kind of government action to help us live with less dependence on fossil fuels; the two who think the threat is overblown support the ability of individuals and business to find better ways of doing things—and mistrust the government having any significant role in finding a better way. That’s oversimplified, but I think accurate. It does not mean that the sceptics are not environmentalists; but it does mean that they don’t want the government to regulate how we treat the environment.

I have some sympathy for the libertarian impulse behind their position. I have both a Canadian and an American identity—having lived and worked in both countries. I have seen the tendency of those in power to think that they have the answer to the world’s problems, and I have seen how those answers get turned on their heads and produce the opposite of what the policy makers intended.

The problem is that I don’t see who else one can turn to in such a big arena. My own level of trust for business per se is not great. I know many good business people, and them I trust. But then I hear a story about a gas drilling company that starts fracking to re-open an unused well in the middle of a residential district—without consulting with the people who live there, or even notifying them of the event! (Hear the story at The residents respond by pressing for laws that compel the company to at least keep them informed. Who must pass the laws? Who will enforce them? Not business.

But these deeper disagreements as to the place of government aside, I want a sense of how Christians should live their lives with respect to the environment. Here are some simple statements that move towards an answer.
·        Don’t call nature “the environment”. Call it “God’s Creation”. It’s good to remember who gave us this earth. One effect of this change is to take away some of the fear that Al Gore and company use to try to motivate us for change. God is in control of the universe. We don’t need to fear, “though the earth tremble and the mountains fall into the sea”! Another effect is to replace fear of the future with the fear of God—used in the sense that the writer of Proverbs says: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” Fear in the sense of awe and awareness of our own finitude, our own smallness in the presence of the Creator.
·        Remember that God gave us the earth in trust. Some Christians grab the command, “Subdue the earth and multiply.” But the Genesis account is clear: God’s command to rule the earth is “rule in his stead”—that is, we are trustees, and God will hold us to account for how we handle our trustee-ship.
·        Work out what it means to be trustees (or stewards) of God’s Creation in the small places we control: Our vehicles, the trash we generate, the space we call home, the roads where we drive and walk and ride our bicycles, the fields we farm. Our small piece of God’s Creation. My guess is that if we learn not to drop a paper (or plastic) cup on the sidewalk because we remember that we are caring for that piece of the earth, we will not sit by idly when larger groups of people begin to tear up the Alberta Tar Sands, or blow off the tops of mountains to extract coal, or dump so much plastic in the ocean that it forms dead zones where nothing can live.

If I tell the truth, I don’t care nearly as much about whether the world is heating up or not as I do that we remember God’s Creation mandate. I am a conservative at heart, and a conservative Christian to boot. I believe in God’s judgment at the end of time. I recite the Apostle’s Creed regularly because I believe it to be true: “I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ his only Son…He shall come again to judge the living and the dead.”

I know that referring to judgment brings in many stereotypes that people have about Christians. We have, I regret to say, lived (or down) to many of those stereotypes. I don’t want to do that. My primary motivation here is not God’s judgment, but God’s incredible love and grace in entrusting this great creation to us. I want to live up to that responsibility and show that God’s trust in us is not misplaced. I want to treat God’s Creation well, really well! I see many examples of mistreating the earth all around me, and I want to help change that. I hope that those who disagree with me on the likelihood of global warming can agree at least on this point: We will take care of the piece of God’s Creation given to us.

P.S.: There are many other issues. For example, should one trust scientists (just out for the money), or business (polluted by the bottom line), or government (corrupted by power)? That is worth discussing at length. The streak of distrust in our society that writes off what “experts” say just because they are experts is distressing—and evaporates just about the time one has to go into cataract surgery (as I did this past month). But that really is another discussion.


KGMom said...

Two responses.
First, a personal theological revelation. Some time back--about 20 years ago--when some of the first discussions were occurring about the impact human activity is having on the planet in terms of changing environment, I had a sudden revelation. I had been thinking "God is in control" so whatever happens, God is still in control. And then it hit me--that does NOT mean that God will bail humanity out of its destructive stupidity. In fact, looking at the Biblical record, it is quite clear that humans can do things that result in great destruction. I guess I had been expecting some kind of deus ex machina of God appearing and putting the environment aright. It will not be so; if we humans screw up the environment so much that earth becomes intolerable for habitation, that is what will happen.

Second, I completely agree that we all need to do what we can to keep our earth--our home--habitable. To that end, some of the things I/we have done. I have recycled for more than 40 years--taking cans, bottles & paper to recycle centers before there was a township program. I have picked up trash in public places, and even chided those who litter. We have switched away from chemical lawn service opting instead for natural treatment (e.g. corn starch to inhibit weeds). We have changed away from coal powered electrical power and now get our electric power from wind.
It's not enough, I am sure, but it is a start.
The church tradition in which we grew up certainly instilled respect for "living more with less."

Climenheise said...

Further on point one: I agree that "God is in control" does not mean "God will bail us out whatever we do". But the idea of the New Heaven and New Earth suggests something beyond this planet--a New Creation which the trustees cannot destroy. We have been accused of being so heavenly-minded that we are no earthly use (focussed on the hereafter rather than the here and now). I suggest we have both the hereafter and the here and now, and should not give up either. C.S. Lewis, "Aim for heaven and earth will be thrown in. Aim for earth and you will receive neither." (I know CSLs not your cup of tea, but ...)

Climenheise said...

Further on #1: "God is in control" is a faith statement. One of its basic implications is that God does not take lightly the way that we act towards Creation. Another is that God calls us to do our part, but not to try to do more than our part. So ideas like adding to the haze in the sky with some kind of gas are non-starters. There we go beyond acting as stewards to trying to be the creator ourselves. Such hubris will more likely lead to disaster than a better future.

On #2: Our society militates against simple living. Committing ourselves to simplicity is a useful and worthwhile step as Christians and as humans.