Christianity and environmental ethics

Christianity And Environmental Ethics

Introduction

            According to the Christian faith, in the beginning God created the Heavens and Earth. God later created Man and Woman in his own image, blessed them and ordered them to multiply and subdue the Earth. Over time, Humans in pursuit of a better life have degraded the Earth. Increase in population has adversely strained Earths resources. After the demise of Christ, the Church embarked on Evangelization, aimed at preaching the Christian doctrine to the whole world.

The initial paragraphs of this paper will focus on Africa where the spread of Christianity though based on moral and spiritual enlightenment, brought about economic and technologic advances, the root of Earths Environmental crisis. Man, having dominated the entire Earth, has the Ethical obligation to preserve the environment for future generations. This paper will discuss, Christian Evangelization; Its Impact on the Environment.

At the dawn of the 20th century Christian missionaries embarked on rapid evangelization of Africa; then viewed as the ‘dark’ continent. Africa was rich in both flora and fauna. As a leading scholar once aptly put it; – Missionary enterprise is so intimately related to the political movement on the one hand and to the commercial undertaking on the other, that its history cannot be accurately traced without continued reference to both (Du Pleisis, 1929). The Christian missions in Africa though sincere in their endeavors for spiritual nourishment introduced new farming methods and crops, all aspiring to develop the new lands.

 Large tracts of land were cleared which was detrimental to the existing ecosystems. Unknown to the Christian evangelists the indigenous African tribes had co-existed harmoniously with their environment. According to an observant Italian Missionary writing on the Kikuyu tribe in East Africa; – Belief in ‘Ngai’ (God), the Ancestors, the spirit of God in the world of the living and the unborn, in the animal, vegetation and inanimate world was paramount to the well being of the entire community(Bottignole, 1984-p34).

It is well to note from the above discourse that massive de-forestation in Africa occurred at the advent of Christianity. The doctrine of the church during the colonization period heavily borrowed from the New Testament ;( Mark 16:15) – Go into the world and preach the Gospel to the whole creation. During this period the different Christian denominations were scrambling for new converts and many were won through baptism. Evangelism missions were only aimed at the people and this was at the expense of the ecosystems. In West Africa, it emerged that; – the missionaries encouraged their adherents to openly disobey the laws of the Land which did not conform to Christian ethics (Ekechi, 1972-p36).

Today the African continent lays bare and broken after decades of dire environmental exploitation by Western Countries, who invaded the continent through the protection of Christian Evangelism. A Cleric and writer warns us before it is too late; – Countries must agree together on a ceiling to the material standard of living that is possible if we are to keep some kind of ecological balance which is compatible with the well-being of the human species (Montefiore, 1969-p62). It is humans who can tame nature as witnessed in an African community which believes;-All creation is at the service of man: the Earth and its fruits, the animals, the Sun and the rain, the rocks and the rivers (Bottignole, 1984).

The words from the Old Testament (Genesis 1:28);-fill the Earth and subdue it, rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground; seem to echo the words of the African Sages as recorded by the writer Silvana Bottignole. Anthropologist Monica Wilson after studying communities in Southern Africa was also of the following opinion; – In Africa, there has been a keen awareness that the sin of the Fathers are visited on the Children, and that a breach of obligations may bring disaster on all (Wilson, 1971-p138).

The African beliefs and the words from the Old Testament places Man as the supreme caretaker of Earths resources, Man is also created in the image of God, so it is appropriate to say; Man is God on Earth. Nevertheless, it is written, Man was created after Heaven and Earth were in place, thus we might as well conclude; the purpose of Humans is to steward the Earth and preserve it in its original form; which is; as it is written in Genesis 1:31;- God saw all that he had made, and it was very Good.

The fall of Man in the third Chapter of Genesis, was due to disobedience in the management of the Garden of Eden. A breach of obligations brought banishment from the Garden which was sacred to God. As a Good Creation of God, the Earth is also sacred and its desecration would be catastrophic to man. Accordingly, God awarded Man the privilege of Dominion over other creations but the onus to steward the Earth in the desired direction lies solely at our peril. The Old Testament has served Christianity well as a good reference point on environmental ethics.

In the 21st century Christian evangelization has not withered, the New Testament Gospels are the sources of modern indoctrination. In the book of Luke 12:23, it is written; -life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. This sounds reassuring to Environmentalists who might feel Man has exhausted the available Earths resources. This dogma also eases the stress of those aspiring for materialism. Research today indicates the changing needs of people; individual emphasis is on the quality of life, a shift from personal economic growth and consumption (Inglehart, 1996).

  Saint Francis of Assisi, canonized by the Catholic Church and who lived in the 10th century embraced the presence of God in both animals and vegetation. In a popular homily he said; -If you have men who will exclude any of God’s creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity, you will have men who deal likewise with their fellow men. Treating nature with empathy as Francis of Assisi did, definitely brings Man closer to creation, thus saving us from the wrath of God’s ire.

Contemporary Christian evangelists should borrow a leaf from Saint Francis of Assisi and enlarge the boundaries of the community to incorporate flora, fauna and other natural features. Humans will henceforth be obliged to treat other communal members with respect. Others will beg to differ and feel offended to be equated to plants and animals for as Luke 12:24 states; And how much more valuable you are than birds!

Christianity should hence accommodate the divergent views as concerns the environment for as one scholar wrote; – The Church must always and everywhere set before Man the highest standard she knows in conducting the truest forms of worship and creed. But she must be very slow indeed to enforce them even by the threat of confining her worship to those who comply (Kirk, 1932-.p469)

Modern evangelism should shepherd believers to be responsible stewards of our environment. The greatest threat to our environment comes from pollution. Today pollution can be found in the air, water, soil which all gradually trickles to our human bodies, often causing both short term and long-term irreversible devastating effects. This did not escape the attention of Hugh Montefoire who lamented; – Technological revolution has enabled Humans to exploit the resources of the World as never before; and this has been done on the basis of profitability without regard for posterity. The drive has been, comfort and convenience, health and happiness all accompanied by terrifying waste (Montefoire, 1969.-p19)

As the economic toil and grave for economic prosperity abates. Human are tempted to fully exploit the environment. This exploitation that has been going on over the centuries has had adverse environmental side-effects. Many pressure groups around the globe have been formed to assert pressure on their governments to take preemptive steps to stop this massive exploitation. Though, the dissenting voices on environmental issues have been gaining popularity and momentum over the decades- as people witness the effects of climate, and the future projections painting a gloomy picture.

The book of Revelation has provided contemporary Christian evangelism with the impetus to root for environmental ethics. In Revelation 16, this chapter paints a gloomy picture of God’s wrath against humans. The verses in light of our environment’s future have a terrible and immediate relevance. Man can redeem the consequences of environmental desecration for reading through a collection of essays edited by A.J.Ayer Pemberton there is still hope, for he reckons; – If the capacity for evil is human nature, so also is the capacity for good ( Pemberton, 1968).

Population explosion worldwide is a major stain on the existing resources. Science has offered choices on ways to limit population increases, some of which have been vehemently opposed by Christian communities. Revisiting the words of Montefoire; – The population of the world needs to be brought to a level which reduces psychological strain and physical malnutrition (Montefoire, 1969-p62)

 To many Christians, artificial birth control is singled out as contrary to natural law since it prohibits and inhibits the natural function of human production. It has been noted that; – Worldwide, evangelical Christians are more often than not in the front position of dissent against sex education in public school systems, and are highly critical of the global family planning pressure groups (Palmer 1993).

For Christianity to harmonize with modern trends, the Church needs to accommodate new methods of placing a check on Human birth rate. It is a theology scholar who aptly wrote; – The shepherd’s staff and not the tyrant’s sword must be Christianity’s true weapon. The whole flock is to be led into the fold, not the few rushed into it whist the many are left at their fate (Kirk 1932-p469). It is without doubt that Humans today form their ethical opinions based on religious justification. Christian evangelism conducted with zeal can mobilize adherents to steward nature in a desirable direction.

            The influence of Christian evangelism to achieve environmental ethical reforms is the most practical tool of all, even if not seen as such. Max Oelschlaeger commenting on the social scene in the US wrote; -The idea that religion might give environmentalism political potency should not be dismissed out of hand. Religion has played a crucial role in national affairs time after time. The black civil rights movement was a development of the stories of Sinai and the Promised Land, of American slavery and liberation, of suffering and triumph, of evil surroundings and potential virtue in the activities of the black community and its allies (Oelschlaeger, 1991).

            Different Christian denominations have approached the environmental ethics debate in diverse ways. In his book Donald Worster asserts; – Protestantism has in fact provided an important spawning ground for environmental reform movements, historically individuals with Protestant backgrounds did play a critical role in shaping America’s mode of environmentalism. There are also a number of suggestive affinities between Protestantism and aspects of, ever green environmental ethic (Worster, 1993).

           Protestantism and Environmentalist can be said to share a relatively pessimistic view of the world, one in which man is wicked and has committed multiple sins. For Protestants, the sins are against God and for ‘ever green’ environmentalists they are against nature. For the former, the aftermath of this sin is eternal torment; for the latter it is the impending destruction of the ecosystem.

           Both share a fundamentally apocalyptic visualization. Thus if we maintain our present behaviors and values we are doomed. It is only by radically changing our ways which include both our behaviors and our ethics – that we can probably be redeemed. The perception by Protestant reformers that we live in a depraved world filled with sinners bent on their own destruction is echoed in much of contemporary ‘ever green’ environmental rhetoric.

            The model of abstinent restraint in Protestantism emerged as a reaction to the luxurious extravagance seeking ways of the Medieval Church, a deep suspicion of self- indulgence and excessive spending and a strong bias in favor of self-discipline. This sensibility proved conducive to commercial accumulation, but it can equally be made to serve an environmental ethic. It finds one contemporary expression in recycling – an essentially ascetic activity which requires continual vigilance and considerable self discipline. For many citizens recycling represents a quasi-religious ritual, one which expresses one’s virtue and comforts the soul (Bailey, 1995).

            Research conducted in the mainly Protestant countries of UK, US and Germany revealed that; -the claim that preserving limited resources is a moral duty, the ecologists’ attack on laying up earthy riches, may indeed be a residue of the Puritan ethics that once dominated much of this heartland. And whatever the degree of internationalization of environmental issues, it is these countries that have been foremost in seeing problems, proposing solutions, reaching accords (Bramwell, 1994).

 The Protestant faith is said to be a morally rigorous religion, one which places a high significance on steadiness: thus if something is morally incorrect, one should not do it. Its all-encompassing sense of morals relates it to the ‘ever green’ environmentalism, namely the belief of individual moral liability. For both Protestantism and ever green environmentalism, the common person bears some responsibility for the destiny of the human race.

The Protestant concept of stewardship finds its contemporary expression in an environmental politics which makes each person answerable for both nature and the fate of the earth. This has witnessed a committed indulgence on environmental issues in ever green countries coupled by a high level of public interest. The three western countries are resolved on nature protection and the global dimensions of environmental ethics.

         A leading American politician now-turned to spearheading the ‘ever green’ crusade worldwide, Al Gore, roots for the environment to be the principle theme in all aspects during the 21st century. In his best selling book, Earth in the Balance, Gore documents the ills of pollution, global warming, and deforestation and states; – Unless we find a way to dramatically change our civilization and our way of thinking about the relationship between humankind and the earth, our children will inherit a wasteland ( Gore, 1992).

          Mr. Gore highlights his basic Christian thinking and outlines an eco-theology concept, which he develops to embrace all of the world’s faiths in pointing to the necessity for a moral change to weather the environmental crisis.

As the name of the Christian denomination spells; – Protestant, it is widely viewed as a moderately egalitarian faith, founded on the correlation between God and self. This religious democracy elucidates the sturdy relation between the Protestant faith and democracy (Hadenius, 1992). We thus can conclusively say the foundation of the democratic ideals of society can be readily stretched out to include the theory of the rights of the environment: if people are equal in God’s eye, then so are natural features like trees and rivers.

Within the Protestant Churches they are devoid of rituals and symbols, it holds that Protestantism may aptly favor the idea that nature ought to hold spiritual importance. Recalling from the pages of Worster’s book; -God’s excellence, his wisdom, his purity and love appear in everything, in the sun, moon, and stars; in the clouds and blue sky; in the grass, flowers, and trees; in the water, and all nature (Worster, 1993). Maybe nature can provide us with a spiritual awakening.

Evidence presented in this discussion shows that Christianity has played a defining position in environmental ethics. Alternatively, Christian evangelism is an appropriate scapegoat for problems associated with environmental degradation. The most famous piece of writing linking Christianity to environmental ruin is by Lynn White who in 1967 wrote; – The Historical Roots of Our Ecological Crisis, which was published in Science Magazine. Lynn White, a Historian of the medieval era argued that the influence of Judeo-Christian theology encouraged the domination of humans over the earth. He pointed out the advances in European agriculture methods which exploited nature for the worse.

             In recent times the biggest setback environmentally dynamic Christians have had with their fellow believers is lethargy towards conservation and that continues to be the most serious problem. Apathy towards environmental concerns is also typical of the society in general, and so it is not astonishing to find it alive and well in Christian thinking and practice.

            However, there is a rising Christian anti-environmentalism, which also claims to have biblical support for their ideals. Within the Evangelical realm the most vocal proponent of anti-environmentalism is E.C. Beisner who cites bible verses encouraging procreation and dismissing population explosion as a problem, he writes;- countries should not discourage fertility and Christians count it as a blessing to be fruitful while multiplying (Beisner, 1990).

            The anti-environmentalist’s take on natural resources is summarized by Beisner’s assertion; – Man, never the environment, is primary. If the environment is to be protected, such protection is for the sake of man, not for its own sake otherwise all else is idolatry of nature (Beisner, 1990).In the US mainstream social scene, The Wise Use Movement is an American organization which is vehemently anti-environmental and can be said to support Beisner’s views. The movement is financially supported by the American Freedom Coalition an affiliate of Sun Myung Moon’s Unification Church.

            It is significant to review the findings of various researchers on Christianity and their relation to the environment issues. In Great Britain’s social attitudes survey, it was revealed that atheists are more likely to be domineering towards nature as opposed to Judeo-Christians (Hayes, 2001).

            Conservative faiths have also been found to be most prone to preach the dominion doctrine while the liberal denominations demonstrated a weak positive connection between church attendance and environmental concern.

Conclusion

            The impact of Christian evangelization across continents has defined the way humans relate to the environment. In Africa, evangelization did adversely affect the existing flora and fauna. Before the arrival of missionaries, indigenous people had co-existed harmoniously with their habitat. It is apt to borrow the words of Calvin B. Dewitt who said; -Planning and control of resource use should be left to the owners of the resources. This assertion proves evangelization in Africa is the cause for the depletion of the once abundant natural resources.

            The scriptures of the Bible can support divergent views on the subject of Christianity and Environmental ethics. God’s dominion mandate in the book Genesis 1:26-28, can be argued to mean everything in the world was created to serve Humans. Other schools of thought will beg to differ and quote Genesis 2:15, where Man was directed to care of the Garden of Eden and alternatively all of God’s, good creations.

            Science reports today have painted a depressing portrait on the future of Human civilization and our environment. In the Third world countries population growth has topped alarming proportions, straining the available resources. The developed world though with negative birth rates has not fared better. Western economies are in the forefront of depleting the ozone layer. The major emitters of greenhouse gases are located in the developed nations.

            After creation was complete, the onus to name all the animal species was bestowed on Man. Unfortunately the beautiful and vast array of animal species placed on earth have virtually been wiped out due to encroachment of their habitat by Humans. Domesticated animals are reared to serve Humans and to earn profit, while land has been cleared to make way for Cities and Agriculture. Future generations will only read of the splendor which was once present on Earth. Christians should stand out and preserve the Environment for posterity.

            Christian Evangelism should formulate a unique theological theme which will bear a biblical truth to all aspects of the Environment in relation to the role of Humans. The variance between Christian Environmentalists and anti-environmentalists is a sad reflection of Human beings spiritual decadence.

 Biblical canons have obviously conferred Humans with the responsibility of; – Steward of God’s Good Creations. Arguments contradicting stewardship as the role of Man can only be termed as; -Disobedience. Contemporary Christian Evangelism will serve Humans well, when it impacts positively to Environmental Ethics.

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