Friday, May 09, 2014

Capacity focus, 85a: The church and sound stewardship of the environment vs. the "it's the Christians' fault" accusation

For many years, the Christian Churches have -- in aggregate -- been the largest single voluntary social activity in the Caribbean region . . . perhaps, the largest single activity, period.

Also, the Churches, collectively, are the guardians and primary transmitters of the Judaeo-Christian ethical tradition, which has decisively shaped our civilisation, overwhelmingly for the good.

That is why it was so disturbing to observe the following in the Tellus report on Environment management in the Pacific region: 
The Church plays a central role in the lives of Pacific islanders. 
More than 80% of Pacific islanders resource owners are devout Christians. This is the source of considerable (but often invisible) conflict between environmental organizations and Pacific islanders. People in governmental, international, and non-governmental environmental organizations in Australia, New Zealand, and the United States are often not Christian, and sometimes are overtly anti-Christian. This schism prevents communication on critical issues of morality that are the heart of all environmental problems. There is a total lack of the word God in almost every governmental or intergovernmental document on the environment or resource use. The word Church does not appear in Agenda 21. Spiritual appears only three times (Chapters 11,15, and 36) but not in reference to a motivation for sustainability or environmental protection. 

Government agencies co-opted environment when the concept emerged from concerned natural scientists and public health and natural resource departments. They went on to formulate legislation within political and economic contexts. 

The Church paid little attention to the whole affair as it was, after all, a governmental matter, linked to water and sanitation. In addition, the environmental movement was full of "naturalists" who damned the Christian ethic as a major cause of environmental abuse . . . 
Environmental concerns often come to us in the guise of the lab coat of science, which is what lends concerns and issues raised by advocates and activists a degree of plausibility and credibility. However, too often, that is coloured by the underlying commitment to naturalism and evolutionary materialism, and associated "progressivist" (or, "liberal" . . . in the contemporary, not the classical, sense) ideologies.

Obviously, one so indoctrinated will tend to be dismissive of or outright hostile to the Christian faith and its message, including its ethical principles. And, from that it is but a step to project blame that it is the Christian message that one should dominate the Earth that feeds the environmental insensitivity of Western Civilisation. 

So, it is no surprise to see (for one instance) Steven Bouma-Prediger, of Hope College, summarise the radical secularist Environmentalist's complaint on the way to composing a response:
Nature, the world, has no value, no interest for Christians.
The Christian thinks only of himself and the salvation of his soul.1
The epigraph above, from prominent mid-nineteenth century writer [--> and philosophical atheist] Ludwig Feuerbach, indicates one common answer to the question of why we are in eco-crisis: Christianity is to blame.

If nature has no value for Christians, who think only about the salvation of their souls, then it is no surprise that the earth is in such sorry shape, given the influence Christianity has had and continues to have around the world. Updated versions of this argument go something like this:

To the extent that man fulfills the command to be fruitful and multiply, his assault on this planet will continue. Religions assume that whatever sacrifices may be necessary to accommodate more of humanity should be made by species other than us. Having created God in man's own image, Western religion has adopted an anthropocentric mythology that separates God from Creation, soul from body, and man from Earth. It is this dualism that prevents us from relating not only to the
natural world, but to ourselves.
These responses -- in an issue of Sierra, the official publication of the Sierra Club -- were given in answer to the question of whether organized religion has benefited or harmed the planet.2

1] Ludwig Feuerbach,The Essence of Christianity (New York: Harper and Row, 1957), 287
2] Sierra (May - June 1993): 112.
The main clue in this is the assertion "[h]aving created God in man's own image . . . " and the dismissive assertion that the Christian Faith is effectively a "mythology."

In short, we are dealing with expressions of evolutionary materialism-driven atheistical thought, wearing the lab coat of science (presumed to be the true prophet on the nature of reality) and then expressing ecological and linked concerns as a part of one particular movement that has risen to prominence in recent decades. Thus, it is utterly unsurprising to see that there is an alienation from the Christian faith and a tendency to project blame and cast it as a scapegoat, as was hinted at by Tellus.

So also, unless the root of the hostility is sufficiently addressed, any attempt to approach "Faith leaders" or adherents, will forever be tainted by the question of co-optation and manipulation driven by implicit contempt.

As a quick, first "clear the air" point of basic facts, we should recognise that the ecological disasters of the Soviet bloc and Communist China -- officially atheistical, evolutionary materialist ideologies -- should serve to show any reasonable person that there is no necessary connexion between atheism or secularism or evolutionary materialism on the one hand and support for environmental concerns on the other. An organisation like the Sierra Club should have been well aware of that even a decade before the Iron Curtain fell and revealed the mess to one and all. So, there is no proper excuse of blameless ignorance there. 

Likewise, given that the Bible views the Earth as "good" and as the Creation of the Good God, who is its Lord, and of whom we are stewards who were originally placed in a garden to tend it, should show that (while indeed many Christians have been and to this day are insensitive to credible environmental issues) there is a basis for a Christian concern for environment and sustainability. 

And given widespread polarisation in our civilisation over evolutionary materialism and secularist progressivism, secularists -- who have had ever so many of their leading spokesmen speak of Christians and the Christian Faith with utter contempt that in some cases verges on unbridled hate -- should understand why many Christians will be very wary of their claims and agendas indeed.

The playing field needs to be levelled a bit, before genuine progress can be made.

As a second step, let us therefore note a second facet to Tellus' remarks:
The environmental mobilization of the world's churches began in 1992 [the year of the Rio Summit that issued Agenda 21] with a summit meeting between scientific and church leaders in Washington DC. Prominent scientists openly asked church leaders for help, explaining that environmental problems were basically spiritual and moral issues, not scientific problems . . .
Given the polarisation we have just outlined, even this statement may not be as innocent as it appears. 

That, sadly, is how tainted the matters now are.

However, it has in it a grain of key truth, for the sustainability principle is in the end an ethical one, it addresses values and ought-ness:
  •  as valuable creatures in ourselves with an inherent dignity that gives us rights, we ought to be able to meet our needs adequately, so
  • in cases where there is conflict over scarce resources and competing demands or desires, we ought to meet our needs fairly, with a particular focus on helping the poor and marginalised to meet their needs, then also
  • we ought to reflect on and leave room for . . . and even speak up for  . . . the needs of others of God's creatures, and -- as well --
  • we ought to be concerned for posterity and the state of the world it will inherit from us in the course of time. Which entails that
  • we ought to have a posterity*, i.e. we should multiply and fill the world, within reason.
(*Plainly, too, being fruitful and so having descendants is not reasonably to be equated to "assault[ing] " our home world. That phrasing used by Sierra Club is troubling, as it strongly points to a hostility and contempt to people that should give us pause.)
This surfaces deep challenges to the evolutionary materialist worldview.

First, let us observe noted spokesman Richard Dawkins:
Nature is not cruel, only pitilessly indifferent. This lesson is one of the hardest for humans to learn. We cannot accept that things might be neither good nor evil, neither cruel nor kind, but simply callous: indifferent to all suffering, lacking all purpose . . . . In a universe of electrons and selfish genes, blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but pitiless indifference . . . . DNA neither cares nor knows. DNA just is. And we dance to its music. [ “God’s Utility Function,” Sci. Am. Aug 1995, pp. 80 - 85. Emphases added.]
Similarly, on "you won't find any rhyme or reason," we can note a point long since emphasised by noted evolutionary thinker J B S Haldane:
"It seems to me immensely unlikely that mind is a mere by-product of matter. For if my mental processes are determined wholly by the motions of atoms in my brain I have no reason to suppose that my beliefs are true. They may be sound chemically, but that does not make them sound logically. And hence I have no reason for supposing my brain to be composed of atoms. In order to escape from this necessity of sawing away the branch on which I am sitting, so to speak, I am compelled to believe that mind is not wholly conditioned by matter.” ["When I am dead," in Possible Worlds: And Other Essays [1927], Chatto and Windus: London, 1932, reprint, p.209. (Highlight and emphases added.)]
In short, there is a serious question as to whether evolutionary materialism can adequately ground the knowing, reasoning mind, and morals. This last reflects the IS-OUGHT gap issue that Hume and others have highlighted, such that only if there is a grounding IS in the basis of a given worldview, can that view support OUGHT as more than in the end, wishes, feelings and desires -- perhaps backed up by might and/or manipulation: might and manipulation make 'right' in effect. 

Where, in a worldview founded on matter and energy interacting through blind chance and mechanical necessity across space and time, there plainly will be no such IS.

Arguably, then, evolutionary materialism is inherently amoral and radically relativist or even subjectivist, so that for instance Ruse and Wilson went on record:
Morality, or more strictly our belief in morality, is merely an adaptation put in place to further our reproductive ends. Hence the basis of ethics does not lie in God’s will  . . . In an important sense, ethics as we understand it is an illusion fobbed off on us by our genes to get us to cooperate. It is without external groundingEthics is illusory inasmuch as it persuades us that it has an objective reference. This is the crux of the biological position. [Michael Ruse & E. O. Wilson, “The Evolution of Ethics,” Religion and the Natural Sciences: The Range of Engagement, , ed. J. E. Hutchingson, Orlando, Fl.:Harcourt and Brace, 1991.]
That will of course immediately raise serious concerns among Christians, but it should also be of deep concern to secularist environmentalists. If we -- rightly -- sense that we OUGHT to care the environment, does that not point to a need for a framework for the world that grounds OUGHT?

And, in case someone thinks that there is no genuine objectivity to ethics, consider that it is self-evidently true that it is wrong to kidnap, torture, rape and murder a child, so much so that if we see such happening we will naturally do what we can to stop the monster.  And one who denies that he or she would have such a duty towards the victimised child simply reveals ethical blindness. rights are real, and a right to life etc means that others have a duty to respect and protect persons with such rights.

So, we have to ask: what adequately grounds OUGHT?

(Something must.)

Where, across time, the only IS that has shown capability to so ground OUGHT is the inherently good creator God, of whom we are stewards responsible for our home planet as well as our souls.

So, it looks like the shoe is now on the other foot.

Yes, people of all sorts of stripes of worldview have been environmentally irresponsible. Yes, it is proper to be concerned over that, and to see how we can make a positive difference. Yes, in so doing, we should seek to better, more fairly meet our needs, so husbanding our common world that our children will also be able to adequately meet their needs.

But to do so, we need a solid basis for OUGHT. 

And a Creation -based ethical theistic view can do that. Where also, if one is concerned tha the Christian Faith is an empty myth, then it may be helpful to watch this following video (as a start):

(Also cf here.)

The time for contempt towards Christians is over.

And, there is no good reason why good Christians cannot at the same time have concern to be good stewards of our common home world, and for reaching out to the poor, the voiceless and the marginalised. END