Growing up, environmentalism was met with criticism ranging from claims that climate change emerged from poor experimentation and bad logic to those who think of environmental work as some vast conspiracy to make things more difficult in the first world and shift labor to the third world. Christianity of course has claims to an environmentalism that negates those concerns not by directly confronting them but by shifting the frame work with which we approach environmentalism.
Christian environmentalism is rooted in the understanding of what a human being is – i.e. part of the environment around us. In Genesis we’re made from mud or the land produced us depending on which part of the passage you are reading. Either way, we are made up of what’s underneath our feet. As such we have a relationship with the land that is rooted in our relationship with God and broken in sin. Subjugation of the Earth in Genesis comes as part of our self control in relationship with God and provides us with a role as God’s representative, God’s image, on Earth.
To claim sinfulness is to claim brokenness in our relationship with the environment.
It takes little to imagine human beings as globally trashing their environment just like a kid trashes their room. Or you know an adult trashes their room.
Rationalizing the objections to environmentalism that we hear seems to be a case of the smoker denying the damage or having know concern over the damage that their habit causes to themselves and others. The habits we have are destructive, the habits I have are destructive. But change is more difficult than remaining the same for now. The concern about the economics of environmentalism is not unfounded, but not always as realistic an evaluation as we can imagine.
In general Christians should be seeking transformation for themselves and the world. Although we don’t always articulate it well, we know we are causing damage to ourselves and our neighbors but perhaps tying that back to what we do to the land is difficult. It’s hard to see or determine what environmental consequences there are for agriculture and human habitation when the consequences are not immediate. But I do see hope here. Christians are waking up to there task, Norman Wirzba and Ellen Davis are both writing great works now, but we’ve had several generations of Christian scholars writing books about our relationship with the land, the covenant we are under with the land, and the consequences for the people Israel when they violated the land economically or agriculturally.
But outside the academy there’s hope too: Ranchers and farmers are very conscious of how their land is being used or abused by policies decided in areas of the country that cannot fully appreciate the difficulties of local agriculture. These long term residents seek to truly use their land in ways that it will last for generations, and even now some young people are following the footsteps of their parents or their neighbors and going into agriculture.
I find that from both academic and local sources great insights are coming out on our interaction with the land and our relationship with God.
But for us who aren’t ranchers or farmers or academics? We can garden. The Benedictine focus on manual labor teaches that without manual labor we are left unconnected with the world around us. We live in smaller houses with less waste. We can eat food that does not have a true cost different from the price tag. We can buy fewer disposable items, fewer items in general. Buy biodegradable.
To love our neighbor as our selves is to remember what the Wesley House campus ministry bathroom had on a sign: “This is a self cleaning bathroom, you make a mess, you clean it yourself!” Replace bathroom with world, and remember the mess we make in trash is what we have to live with in the future or that others have to live with.
All in all, Christian Environmentalism is a call to simplicity of living, responsibility of living, and living in a just way. It is a following of the command in Micah 6:8 to “Love mercy, act justly, and walk humbly with our God”.