First Steps: A Christian’s Perspective on Ecotheology

Everyone knows about dinosaurs.

I mean, dinosaurs are cool. For a species of animal that hasn’t been around several million years, they have quite the legacy. We still go to see them in museums. Kids play with figurines. They are even the stars of several different movie franchises.  Dinosaurs live in the zeitgeist of culture in a way that few other animal species have managed. Of course, this is likely because as cool as dinosaurs are, what really fascinates us about them is their complete disappearance.

The theories about what led the dinosaurs to their ultimate fate abound, but one word always remains the same: extinct. At some point, a sweeping change occurred, causing a major extinction event that laid waste to the life forms that had been ruling the planet for sixty-six million years. The mystery of an entire epoch in biological history being wiped out continues to fascinate us to this day – which is ironic, considering that it is happening again.

Most scientists agree that we are currently in the throes of another mass extinction event. The climate is changing, and at this point, we can only hope to ease the effects, not stop them. Three weeks ago, people marched for climate change in New York City. Meanwhile, world leaders met at the U.N. Climate Change Summit, where President Obama gave a speech that, while not perfect, said two very interesting things. First, he pointed out that no nation is immune to climate change. Obviously, the events over recent years bear witness to this. Perhaps more importantly, he pointed to the United States and, in a way that was surprisingly straight forward for a politician, admitted our own culpability in the current situation. While it is true that the U.S. has been making strides in cutting carbon emissions, the truth remains that until 2005, we had been the largest carbon polluters for decades.[1] Even now, with all of the efforts of the current administration, we remain the second highest.

This action struck me not because it introduced any new information, but because it had the courtesy to own up to basic facts. It made me wonder: how much more could we do if religions in general and Christianity specifically were willing to do the same?

As a Christian, I must own that my faith has not always and sadly, still does not always, have the most helpful views with regards to climate change. As Thomas Berry puts it, “So far, Christians have not distinguished themselves by their concern for the Earth.”[2] Rather, we tend to get so caught up in the afterlife that what we do in this life often seems of little consequence. Christians happily acknowledge that God gave us the Earth, but are less reliable about taking care of it the way God intended.

We have certainly done our best to test this theory throughout the years, and are now experiencing the consequences. Just a glance at our country right now shows us that the East Coast is flooding, California is on fire, and there were two hurricanes following one another across the Pacific ocean.[3] Meanwhile, we pray for those affected and their eternal souls, when maybe we should be worried about our own. While I am not saying that Christianity or Christians are solely responsible for climate change, I am saying that particularly in the United States, religion and capitalism have long banded together in a way that is both financially productive and ecologically destructive.

In Matthew 22:39, Jesus said that the second greatest commandment was to love our neighbor as ourselves. Sometimes, love means owning up to one’s own failings. In his speech, Present Obama showed a certain amount of love, admitting to the historical failing of the United States and pushing us to do better. Likewise, ecologically responsible Christians need to do the same. Ameliorating the effects of climate change is a worldwide challenge that is going to require people from all faiths to band together. However, as just shy of a third of the globe still identifies as Christian, perhaps the best way for us to begin this conversation is by admitting where we have failed. We have failed to care for the Earth in a sustainable way. We have failed to love our neighbor enough to curb our own need for immediate gratification. We have failed to see past our own mortality and into the lives of those that will come long after us.

President Obama argued that as two of the largest countries in the world, China and the United States have a special responsibility to lead on the issue of climate change. As the largest religion of the world, I would argue the same for Christianity. Sometimes, leadership begins by owning up to one’s failures. By admitting our own role in the climate change crisis, Christians could stop being a roadblock in the struggle to address climate change and instead become an asset. With the aide of the other major world faiths, we can articulate a healthier, more sustainable way of living together on this planet. We can learn from the ecologically friendly practices of Buddhists, Native Americans, and innumerable other traditions that cultivate a long term respect for the earth within their philosophies. By beginning to articulate a Christian eco-theology, our faith could remain relevant to the harsh realities of today’s world, leading us to a belief system that is both spiritually as well as literally life giving. Hopefully, we can address this issue with enough effectiveness that humanity will not be the next major extinct species.

 

[1] Climate Data Information, “CO2,” http://www.climatedata.info/Forcing/Emissions/Emissions/CO2.html

[2] Thomas Berry, The Christian Future and the Fate of the Earth, Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2011.

[3] The Huffington Post, “Natural Disasters,” http://www.huffingtonpost.com/news/natural-disasters/

 

Image source: Mike Shaver (Attribution via Creative Commons: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/)

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One thought on “First Steps: A Christian’s Perspective on Ecotheology

  1. Thanks for a great article. The most impact we can have on environmental issues is to GO VEGAN. I’d love to see more people talking about this. For example, the average meat-eater’s diet uses 4000 gallons of water per day. The average vegan’s diet only use 333 gallons per day. If we want to make a big difference and be kinder to Mother Earth, Veganism is the first step. It even says in Genesis that we’re supposed to eat plants. http://www.veganoutreach.org/whyvegan/environment.html

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