Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Religion and global warming: part 2 -- Jews and Christians

The importance and the urgency of my survey in this new series of the views of the world's major religions on the environment is illustrated by the recent report that places Canada dead last on the list of what developed countries are doing in order to protect the environment.

I am ashamed of my country and its leaders. I blame the Harper government for its clear lack of concern for the environment in general and global warming in particular. Harper calls himself a Christian, but his Christian faith is not evident in his government's policies.

While I doubt that these posts on religion and global warming will ever reach, much less influence, the Canadian government, I nevertheless will try to do what I can to oppose these wrong-headed policies.

According to recent polls, most Americans accept the reality of global warming (see chart). Polls in Canada who similar results. But they have to get the message out to their politicians, who seem to be more interested in advancing the interests of corporations rather than the environment. They must inform their leaders that this is not the stewardship that the Bible demands.

Jews and Christians share parts of their respective scriptures. Genesis, the first book of the Bible, and accepted by both , tells the story of the creation. Chapter 1 teaches us that God created the world. But it does not describe how he accomplished this. That is where science comes to our aid by uncovering the laws that govern creation.

Genesis 1:28 teaches us what our task as human beings is in relation to the world that God has made. This governs the whole world, and thus includes the environment:

God blessed them and said to them, "Be fruitful and increase in number; 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."

The next verse informs us that God provides food: seed-bearing plants and trees. Only later does the Bible add animals to the food supply. This provision should be understood in the context of the role that God has assigned to humanity.

The word "rule" in verse 28 has too often been misinterpreted. Some translations use the word "dominion" to describe that role. But there is a better interpretation that is expressed in the next chapter of Genesis.

Chapter 2 provides another creation account, where God has placed human beings in the Garden of Eden and commands them to care for the garden. Their task is that of gardeners, who do not own the the garden but merely take care of it, although that is an enormous responsibility, nevertheless.

Human beings are stewards or managers. They do not own the earth, but have been asked manage it for the owner, who is God. When people lose sight of our managerial task and usurp the role of owner, they get into trouble and misuse God's marvelous creation.

The environment is there to be taken care of properly; thus it must not be misused. The "dominion" part was rejected. This happens to be the interpretation I grew up with. Many Jews and Christians agree.

Jews and Christians are commanded to love God. This also means to love the creation.  The whole earth belongs to God (Exodus 19:5; Psalm 24:1). Believers are called to live in harmony with their neighbor and the rest of creation. This mandate has been ignored by many people today, even those who call themselves the children of God.

Humanity, when it has lost its connections with God, thinks that it owns the world and is therefore free to do whatever it wants. Today that even means to plunder and rape the earth.

Jews and Christians have protested this misuse in several notable statements. As mentioned in the last post, they have affirmed their position (together with people from other faiths in the Interfaith Declaration on Climate Change:  http://www.interfaithdeclaration.org/.

Jews have done so similarly in the Jewish Community Priorities for Climate and Energy Policy: http://coejl.org/resources/jewish-community-priorities-for-climate-and-energy-policy-2008/.

Roman Catholics have also issued a number of statements: Global Climate Change: A Plea for Dialogue, Prudence, and the Common Good (A Statement of the the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops): http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/human-life-and-dignity/environment/global-climate-change-a-plea-for-dialogue-prudence-and-the-common-good.cfm; and: Catholics and Climate Change (from the Yale Climate Project)http://www.yaleclimatemediaforum.org/2012/02/the-catholic-church-and-climate-change/.

The National Council of Churches in the U.S.A. provides a list of of these and other statements in Faith Statements & Resolutions on Climate Change: http://nccecojustice.org/climate/climatestatement.php.

Evangelical Christians, not the be outdone, have issued: Climate Change: An Evangelical Call to Action: http://christiansandclimate.org/statement/.

Other religions have also produced statements on the environment. A long list of these statements is provided by the Forum on Religion and Ecology at Yale. I will examine several of them in future posts on this topic:

Secularists disregard these statements at their peril. There are secularists who are concerned with climate change, but some do not. Largely because of their denigration of religion, they have no use for the idea of stewardship, even though they are concerned about the environment.

Thankfully, there are many people of faith who are calling governments to action in the name of stewardship. Governments everywhere need to warned about the consequences of global warming.

Jews and Christians are in the forefront of such calls to action in many parts of the world. Motivated by God's command to be good stewards of the earth, they urge leaders in the respective countries to be more concerned about the environment and to fight global warming. 

Stewardship is fundamental to the faith of Jews and Christians, as it should be for everyone who lives on this world. It is the only world we have, and thus we must take good care if it.

I am trying to do my little bit to get this message out. If you agree, please do what you can to help spread the good word. Together, whether Jews or Christians, people of faith or of no faith, God commands us to be good stewards of the creation and to  prevent further damage to the environment.

1 comment:

  1. What is competitive stewardship ? Why profit ? Competition and profit-making are bad. They drive human made climate change. Competition and profit-making is the root cause of damage to nature, the environment and the climate. And directly harmful to human beings also. Competition drives people on the one hand to try to earn more and more and get more material stuff. Trying to climb the ladder of success. On the other hand it means trying to sell more and more to survive in competition, to make more profit and earn more. With absolute necessity. Producing and selling more and more without any regard for anything besides bigger profit. And then even worse: profit means not to share equally. Competition and profit do mean necessarily inequality. Inequality drives more competition. It is the death spiral we are in in the global economy. And all this material stuff produced and sold for profit, for being superior, in business and privately, means more global warming. Greenhouse gases are created by the production of wealth, affluence, luxury. And the system of competition and profit needs endless growth. That is the problem. Competition is an archaic trait and means: to be stronger, better, be on top, be the winner. These are the brutal forces behind so called modern economy. However Jesus Christ told us of sharing and having community. Competition and profit is just the opposite. Only communal sharing makes possible sustainability. And that then means: everybody should get an equal share of produced goods on a low sufficient level that makes one feel good. Not more. No SUV. No Trump palaces. No casinos and golf-courses. No endless shopping. And so on. Instead a smaller house, but sufficient. A small car or even better a bicycle. And so on. To solve the climate problem is to change the economy and change our life-style. No other way. And beware: competition is something else than creative work and improvement. But economic theory still today confuses willfully these two realities. So the theory has to be changed first, then the economic system. I am from Germany. Since the seventies I drive more or less a bicycle only or use trains. Formerly I also hitch-hiked. Means less cars. Just think of the amount of greenhouse gases that are created by the global car production and the global car traffic. Probably it is the biggest part of all. But the present system of the economy needs this. Germany produces every year more cars. The oil and car industries worldwide and all industries related to them are the biggest drivers to climate change. But you cannot change it in this present economic system of profit and competition. Just think of employment. No solution for climate change. That is the predicament. Jesus Christ told us to change the world, to leave old ways of living and working and producing. He said: follow me but do not stick to the old ways. That is the task ahead.