Sorry for not being more active. However, I have a number of books that need to be read among my other obligations. Rest assured, I will be writing soon as I will comment on three books related to eco-theology very soon.
I normally don’t read novels. Right or wrong, my attitude is why bother reading fiction when there is plenty of non-fiction reading to do. But a doctoral student and friend at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln wanted me to read this book because it had such a big impact on him. So I agreed to do so.
Ishmael: An Adventure of the Mind and Spirit by Daniel Quinn (ISBN 0-553-37540-7) is a story about a man who answers ad which reads “Teacher seeks pupil. Must have an earnest desire to save the world. Apply in person.” The guy arrives to the location to find a large gorilla. The gorilla can talk and leads the man through a process to help him understand how mankind fell into the trap of destroying the planet.
I am almost at the book’s midpoint and wanted to provide a brief review of the text. On an artistic level, the book is rather interesting. Unlike the Planet of the Apes, the ape in this book doesn’t hate or want to enslave people. Instead the Ape wants to teach humans how to save the planet. The Ape leads his pupil through a thought exercise to help the human understand how things got this way.
First, the Ape invites the human to think about the cultural myth that blinds him to the problem. Core elements of the myth are 1. humans are the pinnacle of evolution (creation isn’t permitted), 2. the planet is for mankind, 3. that the problems with the planet is because there is something wrong with humans, and 4. facts are different from values in that facts can never prove values. All four of these ideas are mistaken and leading humans down the wrong path according to this Ape.
What I find interesting about this book is that it diametrically opposes the teaching of Scripture. Let’s look at the elements in parallel. 1. Bible says humans are the pinnacle of creation (Genesis 1). 2. The Bible says the planet was made for mankind (Genesis 1-2; Psalm 8). 3. The Bible does teach that there is something wrong with humans, it is sin in that we have rebelled against God (Genesis 3 and the teachings of Christ). 4. Interestingly, Scripture would agree that the fact-value split is over played. However, the reason for the split is due to humanity’s willing rebellion and subsequent denial of the Creator. Paul says humans suppress the knowledge of God and therefore fall into great moral evil (Romans 1).
In summary, Christians should recognize that key elements of the doctrine of creation are under assault because non-Christians believe that those doctrines have encouraged humans to abuse the planet. Plenty of articles have demonstrated that self-professing Christians (I hasten to point out that plenty of people call themselves Christian because they believe their religion is a genetic heritage) are not alone in harming the earth. Even Buddhist and Hindu lands have a poor record (Dr. Robert Wright has an excellent article on this. Find it at the American Scientific Affiliation website). The ultimate point I want to make is that Christians must understand that this anti-christian story is what is feeding the actions of many so-called environmentalists. We must understand their story in order to have a proper answer.
I will have more on the book in the future.
Stephen M. Vantassel is a tutor of theology at King’s Evangelical Divinity School and author of Dominion over Wildlife? An Environmental-Theology of Human-Wildlife Relations (Wipf and Stock, 2009).
I welcome book submissions. Contact me at King’s Evangelical Divinity School or through my website.
With all the conversation about creation-care amongst Christians, one has to ask, “Was Jesus an Environmentalist?” It isn’t a silly question, one would hope that if Christians are going to engage in an activity as part of their Christian obligation, it would make sense to ask if Jesus would support the behavior?
In one sense, the question of environmentalism is anachronistic. People in Christ’s day had enough trouble just staying alive, let alone worry about whether a specific species was going extinct. But on another level, we can inquire and gain some insight on how his behavior should be a model for ours? For example, many people worry about whether they are recycling enough or feel guilt about the bottled water they bought because they were thirsty.
Consider Christ, he killed a fig tree simply because it didn’t bear fruit when he wanted it (Mk 11). Does this exemplify behavior of someone who is supposedly calling us to environmentalism?Christ killed a tree simply to make a point. Is that right? Couldn’t he have just made his point in a more environmentally responsible way?
I think a couple of points should be considered. First, Christ is Lord of Creation. He can do with his property as he wished/s. Second, since Christ was fully human, it means we too can destroy elements of God’s creation in God’s service. That may shock some people, but it is true. When you eat an animal, you destroy God’s creation but no moral stain obtains. The key is to judge oneself accurately and truly, by asking, “is this destruction to God’s glory or yours?” While that is a humbling question, we should also consider that Christ’s yoke is easy and his burden is light.
Stephen Vantassel is a tutor at King’s Evangelical Divinity School and author of Dominion over Wildlife? An Environmental-Theology of Human-Wildlife Relations (Wipf and Stock, 2009)
One of the fundamental debates of the environmental movement is over what is the best way to protect the environment. This question concerns the macro-level. Should we put land into the public trust by making it the property of the government along the lines of Yellowstone Park? Or should we encourage private ownership?
Americans tend to support the government option. Our stable society run by the rule of law has demonstrated the effectiveness of this approach for almost 100 years. In Africa, private owners appears to achieve more secure environmental results. Understandable given the levels of corruption that is apparently endemic in so many African governments.
What is ironic is that many environmentalists see capitalism, of which private ownership is a cardinal doctrine, as evil. They contend that the desire of profit, particularly the maximization of profit, causes people to exploit their resources in harmful and unsustainable ways. There is no doubt that short-term desire for profitability can have negative environmental results. I think this kind of harm is most likely to occur when owners are more distant from the effects. For example, stock holders will usually not be aware of what the office manager is doing at the job site hundreds of miles away. As a stockholder myself, I can tell you that companies regularly do what I don’t want them to do as a shareholder (CEO pay is one of the most irritating; I believe that the company can find someone else who is just as incompetent for half the salary).
But what about owners who live in the area where they work? I suspect that they would maintain long-term goals providing that government regulations and taxes don’t create economic conditions that diminish the value of long-term thinking.
Bottom line, it is too simplistic to call capitalism as the problem for environmental degradation. A more nuanced approach and treatment of capitalism is in order.
Stephen Vantassel is a tutor at King’s Evangelical Divinity School
Doomsday environmentalists and various futurists regularly link environmental problems to population numbers. The argument goes, such and such country is having trouble because its birth rate is too high. If the West hopes to help these countries we must fund various forms of the euphemism “family planning.” The question for Christians is simply this? How do we harmonize Scripture’s positive view of children (i.e. be fruitful and multiply, Gen 1) with the apparently common sense notion that more people means more environmental and economic problems?
Some suggest scripture’s optimism regarding children flows from its high mortality experience and agricultural sitz im leben. Those comments simply don’t apply to a post industrialist age. Others contend that environmental problems flow not so much from population but from morals. Dr. John MacArthur of the Master’s Seminary argues God blesses nations that follow his commands. This doesn’t mean that prosperous countries are defacto moral, it means that solutions for environmental problems (i.e. feeding their people, jobs, etc.) start by repentance of sin. One only need to think of many poor countries whose corrupt governments mean that millions of dollars in aid never get to the problems they were meant to solve.
So what do you think? Are children an environmental curse?
Stephen M. Vantassel is a tutor at King’s Evangelical Divinity School
Copyright 2010 Stephen M. Vantassel