Religion and Environmental Ethics

Religion and Environmental Ethics

RELS5149 Religion and Envirnomental Ethics Student#1155012742 – Li Wai Tat, Victor Does Christianity have a “Burden of Guilt” in our Ecological Crisis? Introduction and Methods In 1967, Lynn White Jr. , published a paper in Science (Vol 155, 1967, pp 1203-1207) “The Historical Roots of Our Ecological Crisis”, which was to become a seminal work on the relationship of Ecology and Christianity and had since then provoked enumerous debates on the topic.

In the paper he wrote “Christianity bears a huge burden of guilt” and concludes that “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. ” White depicted Western Christianity as seeing the world existing primarily for the benefit of man, and man, bearing God’s image and sharing in great measure God’s transcendence of nature, exploit nature for his proper ends according to God’s will.

This thesis of White shall be referred to as “Dominion Hypothesis” for ease of identification in this paper. But are the claims in his Dominion Hypothesis valid? Does Christianity bear a burden of guilt for the ecological crisis of the world? The purpose of this paper is to assess the strength of his thesis by firstly analysing what the biblical scriptures and theologians have to say with regard to the relationship of God, man and the environment.

Next the symptoms and origins of our ecological crisis are examined, after which their ties with Western Christianity are assessed to determine whether the later has causal relationship with the former. Finally, after arriving at the conclusion, some recommendations are presented. 1 White’s Thesis White’s thesis can briefly be summarized as: “All forms of life modify their contexts, and the human race has in one sense simply done this more than others. However, the human impact on the environment, whilst frequently detrimental in the past, was given an added impetus by Christianity in its Westernized form.

Western society, as a product of Westernized Christianity, inherits an exploitative attitude to the natural world which is the key to our present ecological crisis. ” (Richardson, 1998) . White depicted Western Christianity as seeing the world existing primarily for the benefit of man, and it is according to God’s will that man exploit nature for his proper ends. Biblical verses that align to the Dominion Hypothesis Arguably the following passages from the Bible are aligned to the Dominion Hypothesis and are most frequently cited by ecology critics of the Bible. Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of trhe air, and over the the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thinng that creeps upon the earth’ So god created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them, and God said to them ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over every living thing that moves upon the earth. And God said, ‘Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. ‘ ” (Gen. 1:26-29) “Yet thou has made him little less than God, and dost crown him with glory and honor. Thous hast given him dominion over the works of thy hands; thous hast put all things under his feet; all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the sea. ” (Ps. 8:5-8) 2 And God blessed Noah and his sons, and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth. The fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth, and upon every bird of the air, upon everything that creeps on the ground and all the fish of the sea; into your hand they are delivered. Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you; and as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything. ” (Gen. 9:1-3) “You have made them to be a kingdom and priests serving our God, and they will reign on earth” (Rev. 5:10).

According to exegeses by theology scholar (Hiebert, 1996), “the term ‘dominion,’ from the Hebrew verb “radah”, implies that it grants humans the right and responsibility to rule, to govern the rest of creation. It connotes a hierarchy of power and authority in which the human race is positioned above the rest of the natural world, although the verb radah does not itself define how this dominion is to be exercised, whether benevolently or malevolently. The laws of Leviticus, when they stipulate that household servants are not to be *ruled* harshly (Lev. 25:43, 46, 53), imply that this kind of dominion may be kind and humane.

Yet the use of radah in the context of international relations, where it is more commonly employed, carries a decidedly more antagonistic tinge, since it signifies rule over one*s enemies. It occurs frequently in descriptions of military conquest, where it is paired with such verbs as *destroy* (Num. 24:19) and *strike down* (Lev. 26:17; Isa. 14:6). When used of the Israelite king, radah always refers to dominion over his enemies, not to rule over his own Israelite subjects, for which the verb malak, *reign,* is the usual term. Similar conclusions may be drawn about the phrase *subdue the earth* in Gen. :28. The verb *subdue,* from the Hebrew kavash, depicts a hierarchical relationship in which humans are positioned above the earth and are granted power and control over it. The verb kavash is even more forceful than radah, describing the actual act of subjugation, of forcing another into a subordinate position. It is used for military conquest, where the same phrase used in Gen. 1:28, *subdue the earth/land,* can be employed to depict the destruction and occupation of conquered territory (Num. 32:22, 29). It is also used of the king*s forcing his people into slavery against God*s wishes (Jer. 4:11, 16), and of rape (Esther 7:8; Neh. 5:5). In many of these cases, the abuse {19} of power is patently obvious. ” 3 Biblical verses that align to the Eco-Friendly perspective On the other hand, the following verses can be interpreted as being aligned to an EcoFriendly view:”Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice; let the sea roar, and all that fills it; let the field exult, and everything in it! Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy before the LORD, for he comes, for he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness, and the peoples in his faithfulness. (Psalm 96:11-13) “Praise the LORD! Praise the LORD from the heavens; praise him in the heights! Praise him, all his angels; praise him, all his hosts! Praise him, sun and moon, praise him, all you shining stars! Praise him, you highest heavens, and you waters above the heavens! Let them praise the name of the LORD! For he commanded and they were created. And he established them forever and ever; he gave a decree, and it shall not pass away. a Praise the LORD from the earth, you great sea creatures and all deeps, fire and hail, snow and mist, stormy wind fulfilling his word! Mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars! Beasts and all livestock, creeping things and flying birds! Kings of the earth and all peoples, princes and all rulers of the earth! Young men and maidens together, old men and children! Let them praise the name of the LORD, for his name alone is exalted; his majesty is above earth and heaven. ” (Psalm 148:1-13) *When you besiege a city a long time, to make war against it in order to capture it, you shall not destroy its trees by swinging an axe against them; for you may eat from them, and you shall not cut them down.

For is the tree of the field a man, that it should [m]be besieged by you? Only the trees which you known are not fruit trees you shall destroy and cut down, that you may construct siegeworks against the city that is making war with you until it falls. ” (Deuteronomy 20:19-20) *When you enter the land and plant any kind of fruit tree, regard its fruit as forbidden. For three years you are to consider it forbidden; it must not be eaten. In the fourth year all its fruit will be holy, an offering of praise to the Lord. But in the fifth year you may eat its fruit.

In this way your harvest will be increased. I am the Lord your God. ” (Leviticus 19:2325) “You shall not let your cattle breed with a different kind; you shall not sow your field with two kinds of seed; nor shall there come upon you a garment of cloth made of two kinds of stuff. ” (Leviticus 19:19) “For six years you shall sow your land and gather in its yield; but the seventh year you shall let it rest and lie fallow, that the poor of your people may eat; and what they leave the wild beasts may eat. ” (Exodus 23: 10-11) 5 “The nations were angry, and your wrath has come.

The time has come for judging the dead, and for rewarding your servants the prophets and your people who revere your name, both great and small * and for destroying those who destroy the earth. * (Rev 11:18) “For true and righteous are his judgments: for he hath judged the great whore, which did corrupt the earth with her fornication, and hath avenged the blood of his servants at her hand. ” (Rev 19:2) “They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. (Isaiah 11:9) “The wolf and the lamb will feed together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox, but dust will be the serpent’s food. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain,” says the LORD. ” (Isaiah 65:25) Theology scholars commenting on this view of nature of the Old Testament wrote : “… It is therefore fair to conclude that nature is far from ‘de-animated’ in Biblical thought. ” (Wybrow, 1990), “The natural world may not be seen as sacred or divine in the Bible, but it is certainly not dead, lifeless, and outside the divine moral framework… here are no scriptures suggesting that nature was viewed as dead matter to be manipulated by man.. ” (Kinsley, 1995). Referring to the theme of the kingdom of God running through the New Testament, Zerbe (1992) argues that the New Testament has significant ecological implications, he explained: “Isaiah*s vision of restored humanity and nature climaxes with the statement that there will no longer be any hurt or destruction in creation (Isa. 11:9; 65:25). And John*s vision of judgment states that those who destroy the earth will themselves be destroyed (Rev. 11:18; 19:2).

It is noteworthy that the prophetic critique of Rome in Rev. 17:1-19:4 closely connects greed and the earth*s destruction: the insatiable desire for consumption and wealth is what results in the destruction of people and the earth. ” The corresponding passages are as quoted above. 6 Alternative view: Dominion Theology in Genesis 1 vs. Dependence Theology in Genesis 2 And lastly, but most importantly, consider the following two verses, both from Genesis 2:”Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being. (Genesis 2:7) “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. ” (Genesis 2:15) What is very important to the discussion in this paper is that according to Hiebert (1996), as evident in the above verses, Genesis 2 presents an alternative to the dominion theology of Genesis 1, which he calls dependence theology. His thesis being that the first human is made of the same arable soil as are all of other forms of life; and the divine breath into which his nostrils blown is the same with which all the animals live and breathe (Gen. :7; 7:22). The role of the human in the earth described is not that of mastery but of servanthood. In this account of creation, the theology of the human place in creation is not a theology of dominion but a theology of dependence (Hiebert, 1996). This theology is evident in other parts of Scripture, examples including Psalm 104 and the Book of Job (McKibben,1994). According to Hiebert: “… In this tradition (Genesis 2), the human being is positioned very differently within the world of nature.

Here the archetypal human is made not in the image of God but out of topsoil, out of the arable land that was cultivated by Israelite farmers (Gen. 2:7). As a result of this kind of creation, humans hold no distinctive position among living beings, since plants and animals also were produced from this same arable soil (2:9, 19). Moreover, the role assigned humans within creation in this story is not to rule (radah) and to subdue (kavash) but rather to {23} *serve* (avad; Gen. 2:15; 3:23). The Hebrew term avad is properly translated *till* in these verses (NRSV), since it clearly refers to the cultivation of arable land.

But avad is in fact the ordinary Hebrew verb *serve,* used of slaves serving masters and of humans serving God (Gen. 12:16; Exod. 4:23). “, the conflicts of Genesis I and Genesis 2 notwithstanding, there are lots of thesis arguing that there is no inconsistency between the two chapters and the ouvert differences are due to different ways in recapitulation only . (Young, 1960),(Archer, 1964),(Kitchen,1966) On another plane of our discussion, we shall now turn to a brief discussion of the historical origins of our ecological crisis. 7 The Historical Origins of our Ecological Crisis

There is general consensus that the planet earth is heading towards environmental catastrophe due to alarming development at different fronts: the green house effect, acid rain, damage to ozone layer, deforestation, loss of biodiversity, chemical pollution, freshwater shortage, etc. , amongst others. (Magdoff & Foster, 2011).. But how did all these pollutions started? according to Thorsheim (2006), in his book “The Invention of Pollution”, it all started with the use of fossil energy, which was conducive to the Industrial Revolution.

The first largescale commercial use of fossil energy was coal in Britain in the 1800’s, which he referred to as a “Faustian bargain” for Britain, since on the one hand it helped to bring tremendous wealth, advance and power to the country, whilst on the other coal also filled the air with immense smoke and acidic vapors, which was one of the origins of what we now call the “green house effect” and “acid rain”. Fossil oil as energy had also been popularized ever since Edwin L. Drake drilled the first oil well in 1853, but the impact on the environment is equally as detrimental as Coal, if not more so.

The fossil energy application was conducive to the Industrial Revolution, and the Industrial Revolution had led to the advance in comfort, convenience and enjoyment, from dwelling comfort to transport convenience to material needs, leading to the abundance and later overabundance in supply of products. Consumerism in the past decades had eventually been invented in order to “help” us to recognize our needs, and due to the needs for growth of enterprises, some products have also began to be designed with “built-in obsolescence”.

All these initiatives had contributed to the generation of ever more wastes than in the centuries before the industrial revolution, much more than can be “sinked” by the earth, which contributed to the chemical pollution of soil, water, which has also altered the bio-diversity of the Earth. 8 Ever since the Industrial Revolution, the consumption of energy has experienced exponential growth (see figure 1. 1). Concomitantly, different kind of detrimental impacts had been inflicted upon the ecology of the earth (see figure 1. 2).

As an in-depth analysis of our ecological crisis is out of the scope of this paper, focus is now centred on the “origin” of the crisis, viz. the advent of fossil energy application, which shall be discussed below. Some key developments relating to fossil energy application:1665 Invention of the first modern industrial steam engine by English inventor Edward Somerset which can use wood or coal as fuel 1794 First produce of Coal Gas by William Murdoch 1853 First refinement of Kerosene by Abraham Gesner 1859 Drilling of first Oil Well by Edwin Drake 1859 Building of the first practical self-combustion engine by Etienne Lenoir Religious Background of the Inventors / Innovators Astonishingly, what the above key developments have in common, according to research by the author, is that all the inventors / innovators were Judeao-Christian in religious belief, as can be listed below according to extant data. Inventor/Innovator Place of Birth Religion Edward Somerset (1601-67) Monmouthshire, Britain Roman Catholic William Murdoch (1754 – 1839) Cumnock, Scotland Roman Catholic Abraham Gesner (1797-1864) Nova Scotia, Canada Protestant Christian Edwin Drake (1819-1880) New York, U. S. A. Jewish Jean-Joseph-Etienne Lenoir (1822-1900)

Mussy-la-Ville, Belgium Roman Catholic However, just as one cannot say that the inventions or innovations in fossil energy application has been due to Western Christianity, as otherwise one will fall into the “post-hoc ergo procter hoc” fallacy, it is likewise not valid to attribute the ecological crisis directly to Western Christianity. However, If we put the question conversely by asking that if the inventors/innovators were pantheistic, believing that the nature is sacred in itself and should be reverred, then it is highly unlikely that the inventions/innnovations had been conjured and accomplished by them.

Science and Christianity It has been argued that science and christianity are coherent to each other, A British Scientist, Robert Clark, once said “… we may interpret the fact scientific development has only occurred in a Christian culture. The ancients had brains as good as ours. In all civilizations, Babylonia, Egypt, Greece, India, Rome, Persia, China and so on, science developed to a certain point and then stopped. It is easy to argue speculatively that science might have been able to develop in the absence of Christianity, but in fact, it never did. And no wonder.

For the non*Christian world felt there was something ethically wrong about science. In Greece, this conviction was enshrined in the legend of Prometheus, the fire*bearer and prototype scientist who stole fire from heaven thus incurring the wrath of the Gods. ” 10 Consider also these statements from renowned scientists; William Thomson: “Do not be afraid to be free thinkers. If you think strongly enough, you will be forced by science to the belief in God. ” Isaac Newton: “This most beautiful system of the sun, planets and comets could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent and powerful Being… , Stephen Hawking:”In fact, if one considers the possible constants and laws that could have emerged, the odds against a universe that produced life like ours are immense. ” Conclusion This paper has attempted to examine the hypothesis of Lynn White’s that Christianity bears significant responsibility for the earth’s ecological crisis. The author has attempted to typologize and quote verses from the scriptures, exegeses and writings of theologians on the Biblical scriptures depicting the relationship of God, man and nature.

Whilst according to the Dominion theological perspective as discussed above, the hierarchal relationship of God->Man->Nature (see figure 1. 3) is apparent, in the Dependence theological perspective, the hierarchal relationship of God->Man ; God -> Nature (see figure 1. 4) is also evident. God God Man Man Nature Nature Figure 1. 3 The Dominion Perspective Figure 1. 4 The Dependence Perspective Other verses as listed under the section “Passages that echo Eco-Friendly” also act as a counter-argument for the Dominion hypothesis.

It would seem therefore that White’s hypothesis that “… Western Christianity sees the world existing primarily for the benefit of man” and therefore “Christianity bears a huge burden of guilt” is not grounded solidly, because as mentioned above, there are many verses which encourage man to be benign to our environment, and conversely, there is no single passage asking man to abuse nature for his primarily benefit only. However, if White argued that “Christians bears a burden of guilt”, then it is less reputable, as explained in the next paragraph. 11

If one concurs that scientific thinking is coherent to Christian belief, as discussed above, and like White argues in his paper, Western Christianity has been contributory in promoting modern science and technological advance, and from the standpoint of the analysing of advent of fossil energy as the origin of our ecological crisis, which does have tremendous detrimental impacts to our environment, it seems evident that Christians do have a direct linkage to the inventions and innovations leading to the mass scale use of fossil energy, the detrimental origin to our ecological system. Recommendations

It can be said that with subtlety in the Biblical scriptures, interpretations are often contingent upon the context and the wisdom of the readers, as inspired at different times. What can be said is that given the state of development before the advent of sciences, man had been under the perpetual threats of nature, from attacks by animals, storms, sickness to famines and other disasters. The Dominion theological perspective no doubt inspired man to develop creative thinking about mastering the nature for the betterment of his lifelihood and survival, lacking which man might still be living rather primitively.

The advent of sciences and most notably the Industrial Revolution can be depicted as the epitome of this mentality. As our civilization, technology and wisdom progresses, we should now be in a position to recognize that a Dominion mentality to the nature is detrimental to our environment and it is time that we revisit the scriptures to investigate whether we have overlooked an alternative theology in the Bible for seeing our relationship with nature-the Dependence approach, treating the nature as equals of ours, in which we serve god to ensure its goodness, and ensuring its long term sustainability to prepare for the “Kingdom of God”. 2 Bibliography Lynne White Jr (1967), ‘The Historical Roots of Our Ecological Crisis’, reproduced in John Barr (ed), The Environmental Handbook (London: Ballantine/Friends of the Earth, 1971) pp 3-16. David Kinsley, Ecology and Religion: Ecological Spirituality in Cross-Cultural Perspective (Englewood Cliffs, N. J. : Prentice Hall, 1995) Richard Cameron Wybrow “The Bible, Baconism, and Mastery over Nature: The Old Testament and Its Moderrn Misreading” (Ph.

D disserrtation, McMaster University, Hamillton Ont. Canada, 1990) p. 206 Theodore Hiebert, Professor of Old Testament at McCormick Theological Seminary, Chicago, Illinois. , Direction (Winnipeg, MB), 1996 Gordon Zerbe, Assistant Professor of New Testament at Canadian Mennonite Bible College, Winnipeg, Manitoba. , Direction (Winnipeg, MB), 1992 Howard Snyder, Liberating the Church: The Ecology of Church and Kingdom (Downers Grove: Inter-Varsity Press, 1983) 45-51.

Young, Edward J. (1960) An Introduction to the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Co. ). Archer, Gleason (1964), A Survey of Old Testament Introduction (Chicago: Moody Press). Kitchen, Kenneth (1966), Ancient Orient and Old Testament (London: Tyndale Press). Thorsheim, Peter (2006), Inventing Pollution: Coal, Smoke and Culture in Britain since 1800 13