This I Believe

Jeff - Yellow Springs, Ohio
Entered on February 24, 2007


Recently in Federal Way, Washington, a school board banned the showing of Al Gore’s film “An Inconvenient Truth” in a 7th grade science class after an angry parent protested on the grounds that the film conflicted with his religious views. In a nutshell, the parent believes that it’s wrong to “blame our nation for global warming,” and that planetary warming is just one of the signs of Jesus’ iminent return to Earth, which he believes to be about 14,000 years old. The story led me to question what place, if any, religion should have in science. Because like it or not, these two worlds seem to be colliding with increasing frequency. In short, just what would Jesus do about global warming? After all, the scientific community has pretty much reached a consensus that global warming is real, and largely caused by human activity. Over 2500 of the world’s foremost scientific experts came to this consensus at the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change last week. The findings of this international group of leading climatologists are somewhat disconcerting and leave us with only two major questions: how bad will this get and what in the world can we do about it?

As a person who is both A) a lover of nature, and B) spiritually minded with a religious background, I couldn’t help but feel that we as humans have hardly been good “keepers of the Earth” when it comes to our environmental policies. After all, the Bible clearly commands mankind to “be fruitful and multiply” (in the book of Genesis), and it also commands us to “work and take care of it” (also in Genesis). In fact, the Bible is full of examples of God commanding Man to tend the garden: In Matthew 24, God orders man to be a steward of the creation placed in his care, in what’s known as the Parable of the Servant. The Book of Psalms states that while the Earth belongs to God, we are it’s appointed caretakers, and that indeed this is one of the most basic relationships we’ll ever have with God. In one of the Bible’s most famous tales, God commands Noah to save a pair of every species, lest they become extinct in the flood. Such a command understates the preciousness of nature, at least to it’s Creator.

It has long been convenient to dismiss global warming because it’s hard to predict, and it’s implications are sometimes confusing. The Religious community has tended to focus more on social ills over the last 25 years like poverty, drug use, and what is seen as a breakdown of the traditional American family. However, recently there has been a sea change in attitudes of many in the religious community over the issue of global warming. A problem that many evangelicals used to view as “in God’s hands” is now increasingly seen as a matter of personal virtue. If we are stewards of the Earth, they argue, then we must have a moral responsibility to protect God’s creation from the ravages of nuclear war, international terrorism, and global warming. For the first time, 86 major evangelical leaders like Rick Warren have signed on to the “Evangelical Climate Initiative,” because “millions could die this century as a result of global warming, most of them our poorest global neighbors.”

Traditionally, it has been the tenet of fundamentalist belief to focus on human life above nature. A commandment such as “Thou Shalt not Kill” clearly pertains to one’s next door neighbor, his wife, and the Bazaar-keeper down the street. However, it has not always meant the wild goats roaming the countryside, the Ash trees on the edge of town, or the coral reefs just beyond the harbor. For others, “Thou Shalt not Kill” has always been about man, but also about the birds, the beasts, and the wilderness. And not just for today, but for the future as well. A future when the grandchildren of today’s Americans could face crippling heat waves, massive droughts, and regular Katrina-like hurricanes. Shouldn’t “family values” be about the next generation as well as ours? Shouldn’t the sanctity of life also involve living conditions for tomorrow’s Earthlings? Shouldn’t conservatism be about conserving our natural treasures along with our national ones?

So, like anyone, I can’t say with authority what Jesus would do about global warming. All I can say is what I will do, which is to continue thinking and talking about ecological issues, trying to support marketplace solutions in the technology sector, and voting for progressive leaders who will take the initiative on this most grave of human challenges for the 21st century. Because while I feel the Bible commands us to take on this challenge, I also feel the Earth does too. And like it or not, these problems are not caused by some abstract entity; it is us who build biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons; along with coal-burning power plants and gas guzzling SUVs. So let’s not blame God or the Devil for our ecological problems, or pretend we’re not capable of wreaking tremendous havoc on this planet all by ourselves. Indeed, the human race has indirectly caused the extinction of more species in the last few hundred years than we’re even aware of.

So, what’s the good news? Well, in the words of John Lennon: “Where there’s life, there’s hope.” The same scientific genius’ that built the cotton gin, steam-powered train, and thermonuclear reactor are also capable of perfecting the biodiesel engine, the clean-burning fusion reactor, and the biodegradeable plastic water bottle. That is, assuming the people demand it of their industries and of their governments. This I Believe.