Present Day Justice Issues: The Environment

EarthDay
From talentedidea.com/earth-day-2016/

(Preface: it is gorgeous outside. This morning after my only class my friends Taylor and Bridget and I rolled the windows down in my car, jammed out to “Beautiful Day” by U2 and The Lion King soundtrack, and simply enjoyed our life, this day, and donuts from the best little donut shop in town. It was wonderful. I hope that you and I are always able to cherish and enjoy days like today. Now, on to our regularly scheduled blog post.)

I’ve thought long and hard about how I wanted to present this topic. It would be easy to go over the science (as much as I can… even though I’m not much of a scientist), or share John Oliver’s solid segment on global warming from a couple months ago. But, I mean, you can also simply do that yourself (though I’d still highly recommend it).

But at the same time, I realized that a lot of the time I don’t give a flying rat’s patootie about what the science says. All I know and care about is that leading climate scientists say that human-caused climate change is a serious issue, and that’s good enough for me. (It’s going to take a lot more than an angry Senator bringing a snowball into the Senate house to convince me otherwise. You are not a scientist, sir, you are a confused, albeit passionate, politician.)

Basically, what I’m saying is that we should stick with what we know. And while the science, politics, and economics involved in this issue all go well above my head, if there is anything that I do know that can offer any sort of voice, it is theology and the Bible. And I firmly believe that taking care of the earth is not only an issue facing this world today, but it is also a matter of justice and a commandment from God. So putting all other perspectives aside, here is why I believe Christians today should care about climate change taking care of the earth, regardless of whether you think there’s anything wrong with it or not.

 

IN THE BEGINNING

A common verse that many Christian environmentalists turn to in order to support the notion of earth/creation care comes, believe it or not, in the very first chapter of Genesis. In verse 28 (both the ESV and the NRSV say this verbatim, but the NRSV has more commas), God says to the first humans (there are no name specifications),

Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.

Now, most biblical commentators and theologians, regardless of their ecological views, will be quick to point out that environmentalists often use this verse and the notion of “dominion” out of context. There are clearly no specific commands regarding environmental care in this verse, only that humans have dominion over the animals.

However, many of these same commentators will also add that this does not mean that care for the environment is excluded from this command. Rather, by extension, environmental care is essential for the well-being of animals and humans alike. It is a matter of considering care from a more holistic aspect.

If God commanded human beings to rule over the earth while God dealt with “heavenly matters”, for lack of a better term, would that not mean it is our responsibility to abide with that command regardless of what it meant in the first place? Simply put, ecological issues were never an issue in Biblical times. They did not use fossil fuels (which are nonrenewable resources, anyway) like we do today, and the population of the earth thousands, even hundreds of years ago was nowhere near as drastic as it is today. The fact that there is no commandment in the Bible regarding overuse of one’s iPhone or overindulging oneself in Bluebell ice cream does not mean that we should not abuse ourselves in those ways, either. These are new problems, and the Bible should be used as a way to help us understand how we can implement common biblical themes such as love and stewardship in any manner that applies.

 

IN THE END

The way that one views environmental justice, or really any kind of justice, is greatly dependent on one’s eschatology, or, in other words, the way one views the “end of time.”

In his book Surprised By Hope, world-renowned theologian N.T. Wright discusses the dire lack of emphasis that much of the Western Church places on matters of justice. He says,

I use this word [justice] as a shorthand for the intention of God, expressed from Genesis to Revelation, to set the whole world right…. We cannot get off the hook of present responsibility… by declaring that the world is currently in such a mess and there’s nothing that can be done about it until the Lord returns (pg. 213, emphasis mine).

Throughout the book Wright talks about how early Christians saw the end of the world (I understand that that’s a lofty phrase) as being expressed through God bringing heaven down to earth. Rather than humans (or, specifically, “saved Christians”)  escaping Earth and being brought up to heaven, God is working to prepare Earth to be the home of the “New Jerusalem” as described in Revelation 21-22, specifically 21:1-6. The Christian story is that of redemption and renewal; while the notion of a bad, physical Earth and a good, spiritual heaven was a belief aligned more with followers of Plato and the Gnostics, who early Christians thought to be heretics.

Therefore, creation care is essential because it is humankind’s way of preparing the way for the new heaven and the new earth. This is not to say that this is something we do without God’s involvement; rather, as N.T. Wright would say, we are working as God’s agents in anticipation for the coming age of renewal and redemption. By doing certain things such as recycling, driving our cars less, and seeking alternate forms of energy, we are working together to make sure the earth is able to sustain itself (or rather, sustain itself as a place for people, plants, and animals to live).

It is more than just a political agenda; rather, it something deeply rooted in stewardship and love for the gifts that God has given us, and it is not something to be complacent or careless about. The earth is not invincible, it is a vulnerable creation of God just as we are, and just as we are called to love our neighbors, we are called to love our common home.

 

IN CONCLUSION (IN THE MEANTIME)

As much as I would love to go into more depth on this topic, this is as far as I will go for this particular post. However, given the nature of the blog (no pun intended), there’s a very likely chance that I will be taking time in other blog posts to discuss theological groundings for justice, be it environmental or otherwise. I certainly agree with N.T. Wright that the church is not doing a good enough job establishing justice in our world, and, as always, I want to provide readers with good and plentiful resources to help develop a deeper understanding of matters of injustice in the world. So, for anyone interested, here are some resources for anyone wanting to learn more about theological support for environmental care.

Websites:
https://creationcare.org/
http://www.blessedearth.org/
http://operationnoah.org/

Books:
The Creation: An Appeal to Save Life on Earth 
by E.O. Wilson
Diversity and Dominion: Dialogues in Ecology, Ethics, and Theology edited by Kyle S. Van Houtan and Michael S. Northcott
How to Rescue the Earth without Worshiping Nature: A Christian’s Call to Save Creation by Tony Campolo
Our Only World: Ten Essays and The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture by Wendell Berry

Thanks for reading. Until next time. Now go outside and celebrate this beautiful home that God has given to us to live on!

To Understand and to be Understood (Or Polarize and Pulverize)

tumblr_inline_nboumj5ZO61qersu1A few months ago, President Obama spoke on free speech at a town hall meeting in Des Moines, Iowa, talking about how frustrating it was to him that people are getting more and more uncomfortable with encountering people who disagree with them (you can find the story with a video of his talk, which was specifically geared toward colleges and college students, here).

He said,

I don’t agree that… you have to be coddled and protected from different points of view. Anybody who comes to speak to you and you disagree with, you should have an argument with them, but you shouldn’t silence them by saying… “I’m too sensitive to hear what you have to say.” That’s not how we learn.

Apparently, people seemed surprised that he said that (and Janell Ross of the Washington Post seemed just as surprised as I was). I, personally, am actually more surprised that I found the story on a blatantly partisan news[-ish] site.

But I digress.

I bring this up because I cannot help but think about how true this statement is. In our present day, we are encountering a presidential race that might actually be the craziest one in recent memory (going far beyond the few that I’ve “experienced” in my 22 years here on earth), and tensions are running high in regards to issues of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, and gender identity. We live in a post-9/11, post-Ferguson, post-Obergefell v. Hodges, post-Caitlyn Jenner world.

We have become divided: society is calling us to take sides, to pitch tents around those whose ideas line up best with our own.

“Liberals are ruining our values and our way of life.”

“Conservatives are too caught up in a fantasy world where gay people and Muslims don’t exist and guns solve more problems than they create.”

Polarize and Pulverize. And then do it all again.

But in my experience (again, 22 years is practically an eternity and a half), no one can truly be broken down into a caricature. We are wrong if we assume that this black woman is a flame-throwing feminist, or this white man is a Donald Trump supporter, and seek to go no further. Even if they are, is that how they should be defined? Reduced down to? Dismissed as?

You can call me naive, and perhaps I am a little, but I like to believe that people generally have a purpose behind their perspectives. Maybe it’s ignorance, as their adversaries oftentimes suggest, but maybe it’s something else. The beautiful thing about our country and our world is that we do have different points of view. And if we continue to deny someone else’s understanding of the world, then our own ignorance is only perpetuated. Nothing changes, and nothing is improved.

This is not to say that we should accept someone’s opinions if they have a differing worldview; rather, we should share with them our own, and seek to understand each other. Maybe then we can learn from one another. Maybe then we can grow as a society and as individuals.

If all we do is categorize each other as “them” and “us,” soon the latter is bound to disappear forever.

So what I hope to do with this blog is offer a platform from which people can safely and intuitively seek to understand those who they don’t agree with. Through a common desire to understand and to be understood, I want you, the reader, to pose questions and offer your viewpoints on the topic in a manner that I can post on this blog (though, for the nature of this blog and my standing as its sole operator, I would prefer the topics be limited to cultural, theological, or social topics).

For example, someone could write a post entitled, “What I Don’t Understand about Christians Who are Pro-Choice,” or “5 Questions I Have for People Who Still Deny Climate Change,” and then talk about how you see the topic and why you believe what you believe. Then, hopefully, if all goes well, I will do my best to find someone who has a different perspective and have them offer their own point of view in an equally humble and graceful way, and then post their response here, as well. (Also, you can absolutely remain anonymous if you so choose.)

The goal is not to attack or to change one’s mind, but simply to expand our own perspectives through conversation and, dare I say, civility. It’s messy, it’s awkward, it’s uncomfortable, and it might even be a little risky. But what I hope is that through this, we can see the true beauty found in the complexity and diversity in the world, and from that we can create bonds and connections with each other in spite of our differences, like liberal Leslie Knope and libertarian Ron Swanson from the TV show Parks and Recreation (an incredible video commentary on their relationship can be found in this video); or Charles Xavier and Magneto from The X-Men (again, a good video commentary on their relationship can be found here, and you can watch this chilling scene from the first X-Men movie played by Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen, who are themselves best friends, right here); or Supreme Court Justices Antonin Scalia and Ruth Bader Ginsburg in real life (sorry, you have to actually read their story).

So I invite you to join me on my quest to understand and be understood, to know and be known, to love and be loved in return (all the Moulin Rouge fans shouted together, with Nat King Cole fans singing along). May we have a conversation with our transgender neighbor instead of scrunching our face at the sight of them. May we approach our neighbor who hosts NRA meetings in his house with an open heart and an open mind. May we seek not to tear each other down but rather to build each other up. It is only then that true growth and change can occur.

Thanks for reading. Until next time.

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P.S. Comedian duo Key and Peele offer a painfully hilarious example of misunderstanding and misinterpretation with text messages, so take a minute and bask in this brilliant satirical take on reality (warning: explicit).