Two recent newspaper articles highlight the one-sided way that contemporary religious authorities have come to view environmental issues. The first article is ‘Fracking risks God’s creation, says Church’ by James Kirkup, which appeared in The Daily Telegraph (14 August 2013, p. 1). According to this article, a leaflet published by the Church of England Diocese of Blackburn states that “Fracking causes a range of environmental problems” and that believers should consider their Christian duty to act as “stewards of the Earth” in order to protect “God’s glorious creation” from fracking. The leaflet also states that “succeeding generations” will suffer if “the Church remain[s]
uninformed and silent” on the issue.
uninformed and silent” on the issue.
The second article is ‘Reduce impact on climate or we disinvest, CofE warns companies’ by Sam Jones, which appeared in The Guardian (13 February 2014, p. 11). According to this article:
The Church of England has said that it will, as a last resort, pull its investments from companies that fail to do enough to fight the “great demon” of climate change and ignore the church’s theological, moral and social priorities.
… the Rev Canon Professor Richard Burridge, told the General Synod that… “Pointing the finger at the extractive industries avoids the fundamental problem which is our selfishness and our way of life, which has been fuelled by plentiful, cheap
I will explain why this way of looking at environmental issues is one-sided. These assertions are based on the assumption that the Destroyer Worldview is true. This assumption gives rise to a particular interpretation of what it means for humans to be “stewards of the Earth”. This assumption (that the Destroyer Worldview is true) is widespread in contemporary society, but one might have expected religious authorities to explore a different view, given that central to all religions is the importance of the human species, the specialness of the human species. That humans rightly have dominion over the resources of the Earth, that such dominion, such domination (a side-effect of which is the environmental impacts that it creates) is a good thing, is central to most religions. This is explicitly stated in the Bible and in many other religious texts. Such a view of rightful human domination leads to the Saviour Worldview, which is the opposite of the Destroyer Worldview.
Surely, one would think, religions such as the Church of England should be “informed” by their historical religious texts, rather than being “informed” by a particular contemporary social construction which is peddled by the scientists, environmentalists, politicians and activists of the day. Yet, when it comes to environmental issues it seems, based on the newspaper articles quoted above, that the religious texts have either been cast aside or reinterpreted in accordance with the dominant contemporary worldview (the Destroyer Worldview). In this case, the Church’s desire to be “informed” seems to mean listening to what scientists and activists/protesters are saying, and giving this priority over what is said in their religious texts relating to the rightful dominion/domination of humanity.
If one initially approaches environmental issues not from the scientific/activist approach (the Destroyer Worldview), but from the theological/religious approach, then one can see things differently. However, the religious authorities seem happy to simply unquestioningly go along with the scientific/activist approach. In other words, they simply accept that human environmental perturbations and human stewardship of the planet are polar opposites rather than complementary.
If you look at many ancient religious texts for insight into the nature of the human/non-human relationship then the key phrase is ‘human stewardship of the Earth’/‘human dominion over the non-human life-forms of the Earth’. The scientific/activist interpretation of stewardship is that human technology is an evil, an encroachment on nature, an offence to (God’s) creation/life. Contemporary religious authorities seem to have simply bought into this view. However, they need not, and they surely should not.
The religious texts offer a more compelling view of ‘human stewardship’; a view according to which human technology is actually a ‘gift from God’. Indeed, in this view, technology is the most precious part of God’s creation, and humans, as the bringers forth of technology, are the most precious part of the Earth. God is the original creator, the bringer forth of the Universe; on Earth humans are the creators, the bringers forth of technology. So, humans have a special relationship with God and a special place on the planet.
If you look at the Bible, you will find that humans are special because of their technological abilities. When you read about Noah’s Ark you will realise that the human technological ability to create, to bring forth The Ark, was a wondrous event which enabled humans to save the non-technological life-forms of the Earth. Technology is the saviour of life. I believe Noah’s Ark to be a prophetic account. The human purpose on the Earth is to develop technology for the benefit of life on Earth. This is what ‘human stewardship’ entails.
What this means is that the development and deployment of technology is a fundamental part of human stewardship. Only certain technologies are required to fulfil God’s purpose, but when the technological genie is released its development leads into all sorts of creations (nuclear power, fracking, airplanes, cars, submarines). Environmental problems are simply a deleterious side-effect of this purpose, this greater good, this bringing forth, this epoch of foretold human stewardship. In other words, environmental problems are a fundamental part of the human stewardship of the Earth; they are not antithetical to it.
I would urge religious authorities to consider the various interpretations of ‘human stewardship’ that exist; I would urge them to consider how the view that I have just outlined is supported by their religious texts. This would surely be much more fruitful than getting “informed” through the limited and skewed assumptions of scientists, politicians and environmental activists.