Earth Day 2014 — Conservative environmentalism — seeking balance

Today was Earth Day, 2014. For many, it was a day to celebrate the Earth, to give thanks for its fruitfulness, and to express concern about threats to both the planet and we humans that inhabit it. As a Christian, I also rejoice on Earth Day in the Creator, who has graciously placed us both in and over the creation.

Because we are within the creation–in Genesis it is emphasized that humans are made of the same stuff as the rest of creation–we are subject to the rules of the created order. The planet can be cultivated with care to the benefit of all creatures, including ourselves, or it can be exploited with greed for the benefit of a few people. We can make it better, or we can make it worse. We can live in it as if we are responsible only to ourselves, or as if our ultimate responsibilities are to our Maker.

Being that we humans are embedded in the creation, we have to be concerned about two closely related sciences: ecology and economics. Ecology is all about the relationships between organisms and their surroundings. Economics is concerned with the generation and allocation of wealth among human beings. Human economies would utterly collapse without the resources of the Earth, such as plants, minerals, and fuels, and so economics is dependent on ecology. Ecology, on the other hand, can function without human economics, as it did until sometime in the midst of Day 6 of creation in Genesis 1. But now that people are in the creation, ecology is affected by human economic activities; in some places more strongly than others. There is nothing inherently wrong with this; our influence on ecosystems can be bad, but it was intended in Genesis 1-2 to be good.

One can broadly divide economic systems into capitalist/free market systems, and socialist/communist systems. Many political conservatives–and I am a conservative–like to point out that ecological degradation was more serious and widespread in the communist world than in the capitalist West. I lived in Eastern Europe for over five years, and saw some of this up close. We had to filter our tap water because of its high heavy metal content, and once went through Copşa Mică, the Romanian “black village” infamous for being coated in soot in the communist period due to the production of carbon black.

It is difficult to dispute that communist countries had atrocious environmental records. There were a number of factors involved in this, but I would like to highlight what I think are a few reasons for the ecological catastrophes of the communist bloc:

1. The economy always trumped ecology. The communists had their five-year plans with production goals that had to be met, and “luxuries” like clean air and clean water stood in the way.

2. Short-term goals always trumped long-range goals. Siphoning water out of rivers for massive irrigation projects in Central Asia boosted cotton production, but with grave long-term costs for the Aral Sea, the ecosystems for hundreds of miles around, and the people of the region.

3. The earth was looked at as a commodity or resource for human use, not as God’s good creation that had intrinsic worth.

4. There was no avenue for protest. One didn’t want to stand up to Stalin or Ceaușescu–or to the local party thugs–and say “This is wrong.”

Of these four points, the first three can happen just as easily in a market economy as in a socialist economy.

1. To many “conservatives,” the economy always trumps ecology. This perspective is no different than that of the communist functionaries whose five-year plans ignored environmental issues. If the economy is bad, we need to loosen up on environmental regulations to prompt growth. If the economy is good, we still need to loosen up on environmental restrictions so they won’t drag the economy down.

2. There are plenty of free-market capitalists who are out to earn a quick buck with no thoughts of the consequences for the Earth (or for other people), just as the five-year planners of the U.S.S.R. were eager to meet their quotas. Both are evil.

3. There are plenty of political conservatives–Evangelical Christian conservatives–who effectively deny that the creation has intrisic value, in and of itself. To them, landscapes, ecosystems, or biological communities do not have any true value except in relation to humans. Unmined coal, for example, is worthless, because it is looked at purely from an instrumental (what’s in it for us) viewpoint. Some even go so far as to say that we are insulting God if we don’t use all parts of creation for ourselves. This is an overly-anthropocentric (man-centered) perspective on nature, and ignores the goodness of creation that existed in Genesis 1 even before the appearance of the first humans.

This leaves us with point number four. The main thing we had going for us in the West was the freedom to protest and advocate. Corporations didn’t do anything about the fact that the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland used to catch on fire from the pollutants that were dumped in it until they were forced to, and they weren’t forced to until people raised a stink about it. The same goes for the mining waste at places like Butte, Montana (once called “America’s ugliest city”).

What I want to advocate is a conservativism that is actually interested in conserving the Earth. This includes protecting air, water, land, and biological communities. It means looking for long-term solutions to long-term problems. It also includes a perspective that growth isn’t always a conservative value, and a recognition that limits exist in the world God has placed us in. The key word, in my mind, is “balance.” There are those on the left who have a very unbalanced view of the environment. There are also those on the right who have a very unbalanced view of the environment.

Some of what we see in the conservative movement right now is an over-reaction to some of the pantheist, socialist, and anti-human extremes of the environmental movement. Certainly there are dangerous ideologies on the left, and those need to be assertively resisted. But the solution is not to mine all the coal, shoot all the wolves, eat spotted owls for dinner, drill-baby-drill, or shut down the Environmental Protection Agency.

Grace and Peace

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NOTES:

This article is an expansion of a comment I made on my post There is more than one way to be really wrong about the environment, which was about the then-upcoming documentary “Axed: The End of Green” (which has been re-named Blue).

When I refer to “some conservatives,” I am specifically thinking of many Tea Party conservatives (and those who follow the Acton Institute) who advocate things like abolishing the EPA. Does the EPA need reform? Yes. But those who believe it is in our society’s interest to gut or even eliminate environmental regulations are foolish. Cleaner air and cleaner water did not come about in our society by relaxing environmental regulations. I am not really sure what in the natural world some of these conservatives want to conserve.

Calvin Beisner, perhaps Evangelicalism’s best known anti-environmental crusader, is one who claims we insult God if we don’t use the coal God has given us. My thoughts: 1) This is a great example of the anthropocentrism that is pervasive in this sort of conservatism. 2)Maybe God buried the coal for a reason.

I recognize that free markets generate the wealth that we need to combat genuine environmental problems. My point, however, is that it is not unrestrained, laissez-faire capitalism that accomplishes this. Environmental regulation is necessary in order to restrain sin (Romans 13); in this case the sin of wilfully destroying God’s good Earth. We need balance. Free markets, yes. But not completely free.

I started to write a paragraph about the parallels between elements of the conservative movement (the libertarian types) and liberation theology (which was/is an attempt to blend Christianity with Marxism). Basically, as others have pointed out, there is a liberation theology of the left, and there is a liberation theology of the right. Both are wrong.

Around the web 3/3/2013

I’m enjoying a good thundersnow (or some call it a snunderstorm); the first blizzard thunderstorm I have experienced in Montana (I have seen it happen in Utah, Colorado, and I think Missouri). The temperature dropped from 59°F to 32° in less than thirty minutes, and it started to snow and blow really hard. I love Montana.

The Billings Gazette has some good pictures of the storm as it approached Billings.

What’s going on in the wider world of the world wide web?

JUST MAYBE PERHAPS THERE COULD POSSIBLY BE SOMETHING WRONG WITH YOUNG-EARTH CREATIONISM — Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis is concerned that much of the criticism of his young-Earth ministry comes from Christians. Count me in — there are plenty of good reasons why Bible-believing Christians criticize Answers in Genesis. YEC organizations like AiG teach secondary doctrines as primary, take a my-way-or-the-highway approach to these secondary issues, insist on a hyper-literal reading of the inspired Word of God, publish massive amounts of really bad science, and set our young people up for a fall. YEC isn’t Biblically necessary, nor is it scientifically feasible.

“Ham has made it clear that AiG’s main thrust is not “young Earth” but simply biblical authority.”

No, it is not about biblical authority. I, like many old-Earth Christians, do believe the Bible. I just don’t believe much of what comes out of the YEC community. And there is a big difference.

JUST MAYBE PERHAPS THERE COULD POSSIBLY BE SOMETHING WRONG WITH THE TEA PARTY WING OF THE G.O.P. — On top of the radical anti-environmentalism and xenophobia that pervades the Tea Party, there are plenty of Tea Partiers like the chairwoman of the Yellowstone County Republican Party, who posted what most of us would view as a racist anti-Obama picture on her Facebook page. From the Billings Gazette: Local GOP leader criticized for Facebook post. A screenshot can be seen at Daily Kos and MT Cowgirl (left wing equivalents of the right wing Tea Party).

THE BIBLE AS REALITY TV — A new Bible miniseries is coming to the History Channel. One of their consultants appears to be TV prosperity preacher Joel Osteen:

Osteen said much of his work was confirming if the extrabiblical material stayed true to the Bible.

Ummmmm, I’d prefer if he go back to some of his books to double-check how well they stayed true to the Bible. The message of Christianity is not salvation from unhappiness by doing our best.

DOMINION IS THE OPPOSITE OF DOMINATION — The Ecologist has an article about the growth of the “Creation Care” movement, especially among younger Evangelicals.

“As Christians we’re called to care for creation, because God created it, and saw it was good, and loved it,” [Wheaton biology student Erik Swanson] explains. “Also I think we have a responsibility to care for all of God’s people, and I don’t think you can say you love people if you’re destroying the environment they depend on.”

WALKING AWAY FROM CHRISTIANITY — From Marc5Solas — Top 10 Reasons Our Kids Leave Church.

The statistics are jaw-droppingly horrific: 70% of youth stop attending church when they graduate from High School. Nearly a decade later, about half return to church.

Let’s just be honest, most of our churches are sending youth into the world embarrassingly ignorant of our faith. How could we not? We’ve jettisoned catechesis, sold them on “deeds not creeds” and encouraged them to start the quest to find “God’s plan for their life”.

The solution, however, is not to give them more young-Earth creationism, as Answers in Genesis is pushing in their Already Gone book. YEC is part of the problem, not part of the solution. I would put it in the “They got smart” category of the top 10 reasons. When they see that it just doesn’t work, our young people throw away their Christianity along with their Dr. Dino DVDs.

EKALAKASAURUS — The Carter County Museum (in the GeoChristian ancestral home of Ekalaka, Montana) has an excellent fossil collection, and is getting some help from Montana State University (The GeoChristian alma mater). From the Billings Gazette: A FOSSIL MECCA – MSU students revitalizing Carter County Museum.

I haven’t been to Ekalaka for a few decades; it might be time for a road trip. I hope they still have the two-headed calf.

A WORLD OF PERSECUTION OF CHRISTIANS — In Egypt: Islam or death? Egypt’s Christians targeted by new terror group. In Saudi Arabia: Saudi religious police arrest Ethiopian workers for practicing Christianity. In the Middle East as a whole: Religious Change in the Middle East.

In my previous “Around the Web” post, I linked to a story in Christianity Today about the persecution of house churches in China. CT has two followup stories: China Isn’t Trying to Wipe Out Christianity and Persecution in China Is Very Real.

And to be fair: Atheists around world suffer persecution, discrimination (though the report could not point to a single person who had been executed in the world in the past year for being an atheist).

A GOOD PLACE — The Today Show lists my home town, Billings, Montana, as the third best place in the United States to raise a family. If only we had a Chick-fil-A.

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Well, that took two hours. The thundersnow has ended and it has all turned to slush, which will turn to ice. I blame it on global warming.

Around the Web — 5/19/2012

Mitt Romney’s Environmental Platform — Ummm, Mitt Romney doesn’t seem to have an environmental platform. The menu at mittromney.com doesn’t have “Environment” as an option.

There isn’t anything substantial about the environment that I could find on the site. I am a conservative, and will vote for Romney in November. But why can’t we have a conservative presidential candidate who would actually be interested in conserving?

Richard Dawkins’ sloppy scholarship — Jay Wile does a good job of exposing militant atheist Richard Dawkins’ poor use of quotations. “This situation is very interesting, because creationists are often accused of quote mining, but here is a clear case where one of the greatest evolutionary evangelists of our time is doing it.”

The “Planet Debate” renewed? — A few years back, Pluto was demoted, so now we have only eight planets in the solar system. The debate is certain to be renewed at same point, not only about Pluto, but also about a couple of asteroids. The NASA article NASA Dawn Spacecraft Reveals Secrets of Large Asteroid refers a number of times to the planet-like qualities of the asteroid Vesta, such as having an interior differentiated into layers, including an iron core.

N.T. Wright sings about Genesis — sung to the tune of “Yesterday” by the Beatles. Watch it at the Internet Monk. Wright isn’t the world’s greatest musician, but he inserts a lot of theological issues into a few verses.

Why they had to fall, I don’t know, it doesn’t say
They did something wrong, and we’ve longed for God’s new day-ay-ay-ay

Grace and Peace

Around the web 5/12/2012

YEC and Dispensationalism — The discussion on my 1000th post has been interesting: the relationship between young-Earth creationism and dispensationalism. Dispensationalism is the theological system that divides salvation history into “dispensations” or periods of time in which God relates to humans in distinct ways. Usually, the last dispensation—that is, the End Times—is just around the corner. Popular dispensationalist authors have included Hal Lindsey (The Late Great Planet Earth), Tim LaHaye (Left Behind), and Charles Ryrie (The Ryrie Study Bible). I was a member of a dispensationalist YEC church in college, and was greatly blessed by the teaching and people, but I am now neither YEC nor dispensationalist.

Catastrophic Plate Tectonics — I have made a few comments on Jay Wile’s post Those Plates, They Are A-Movin’ on his Proslogion blog. Most YECs now accept that the evidence for plate movement is overwhelming, so they have proposed various models for hyper-rapid plate movement during Noah’s flood. The most popular explanation among mainstream YECs right now is something called Catastrophic Plate Tectonics. Of course, to them CPT explains everything, and problems with CO2 and SO2 production; cooling rates, the structure of oceanic crust, hot-spot volcanism (e.g. Hawaii-Emperor Seamounts), guyot formation, and differentiation of subduction-related magmas are inconsequential.

No room in the middle — Veteran Indiana senator Richard Lugar was defeated in the primary election by a Tea Partier. Lugar’s comments after his defeat point to the divisiveness that characterizes modern American politics:

Too often bipartisanship is equated with centrism or deal cutting. Bipartisanship is not the opposite of principle. One can be very conservative or very liberal and still have a bipartisan mindset. Such a mindset acknowledges that the other party is also patriotic and may have some good ideas. It acknowledges that national unity is important, and that aggressive partisanship deepens cynicism, sharpens political vendettas, and depletes the national reserve of good will that is critical to our survival in hard times….

I don’t remember a time when so many topics have become politically unmentionable in one party or the other. Republicans cannot admit to any nuance in policy on climate change. Republican members are now expected to take pledges against any tax increases. For two consecutive Presidential nomination cycles, GOP candidates competed with one another to express the most strident anti-immigration view, even at the risk of alienating a huge voting bloc. Similarly, most Democrats are constrained when talking about such issues as entitlement cuts, tort reform, and trade agreements. Our political system is losing its ability to even explore alternatives. If fealty to these pledges continues to expand, legislators may pledge their way into irrelevance. Voters will be electing a slate of inflexible positions rather than a leader.

I got this quote from Internet Monk.

Paper napkins — Lazyhippiemama informs us that the average American uses 2200 paper napkins per year. If each of us used one less paper napkin per day, that would reduce our paper napkin use by 313,000,000 paper napkins per day. [That comes out to a reduction of 114,245,000,000 paper napkins per year].

Canada doesn’t make cents — Canada is not only eliminating the one-cent coin, they are changing the appearance and composition of the loonie and toonie ($1 and $2 coins) to save money and make them more difficult to counterfeit. The Canadian cent was eliminated primarily as a cost-saving measure. United States cents are also expensive to produce (it costs more than two cents to make a cent), but so far the only thing the U.S. government has done about it is to criminalize the melting or export of pennies (and nickels).

Culture Wars

Ronald Reagan was the antichrist.

Barack Obama is conducting a war against Christianity.

Anyone who believes humans are causing global warming is a left-wing, socialist, environmental wacko.

Anyone who doesn’t believe humans are causing global warming is an ignoramus.

Christians who accept an old Earth or evolution are either dangerous compromisors, or maybe not Christians at all.

Young-Earth creationists are just plain stupid.

I’ve heard all of these, and much more, from Christians.

I get weary of the “culture wars” that pervade much of our society and the Christian church, whether in politics, the environment, origins (creation and evolution), or even theology.

What I get tired of is not the debate—I have strong thoughts on some of these issues—but the level of acrimony and demonization that characterizes much of the debate, even among Christians.

It is good to be passionate and zealous, as long as we are passionate and zealous about things that are primary, rather than secondary or tertiary in importance, and that we play by Biblical rules of integrity, love, and humility.

C. John Collins has a good section on “culture wars” in Chapter 20 of Science & Faith: Friends or Foes:

 It’s pretty common to hear that we’re in a culture war—the traditionalists and the secularists are fighting over who will control the culture. There is a sense in which the image is right: as we will see in the next chapter, there are worldviews that are at odds with each other, and therefore it’s no surprise that we find conflict. The image is a dangerous one, though, because it can lead us to look at everything in combatant terms: people who disagree with us become our enemies, and we have to defeat them. If you are my enemy, and I am a Christian, then—even if you’re a Christian too—you must be morally defective.

Three further dangers follow from this warfare imagery. The first is that we can forget that worldviews involve not just philosophical positions but also moral commitments; and that back behind unbelief there lies a demonic enslaver. As Paul put it in Ephesians 6,

12For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm… 18[Pray] at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints…

There is a spiritual component to this battle; and therefore, all our intellectual efforts must express our faithfulness to Christ and must be bathed in prayer. We must never use the weapons of unbelief—dishonesty, slander, name-calling, and so on. The second danger, related to the first, is that we can forget that the unbeliever is not the person we’re fighting against; rather, he is the person we are fighting for: that is, the purpose of all this is to free people from their slavery to the Devil. The third danger that arises is that we can forget that any Christian—and any Christian church—always has only a partial grasp of a fully Christian worldview; and even those parts that we grasp rightly, we practice only partly. So some of our “warfare” ought to be against our own imperfections!

The warfare image is a biblical one, to be sure; but we will do well to be careful how we use it.

[bold emphasis added]

I will be passionate and zealous about things that I believe are both true and of supreme importance, such as the existence of God, the sinfulness of Man, and in Jesus Christ as the only bridge between man and God. Many of these “primary” things of life are expressed in the ancient creeds of the Church.

I will also be passionate and zealous about some secondary issues—such as the age of the Earth, the importance of good stewardship of the Earth, political conservatism that embraces things worth conserving (Earth, family) rather than propping up greed—though my level of enthusiasm will vary from topic to topic.

I will try to discern what is primary, and what is secondary. I will fail at this sometimes.

I will not demonize you or hate you if you differ from me. In fact, I cherish diversity in these areas, and am enriched not only by those with whom I agree, but also by those with whom I differ.

Grace and Peace.

Ronald Reagan on the role of government in environmental protection

“I’m proud of having been one of the first to recognize that States and the Federal Government have a duty to protect our natural resources from the damaging effects of pollution that can accompany industrial development.” — Ronald Reagan

The quote is taken from It’s conservative to conserve by Rob Sisson, president of Republicans for Environmental Protection, which was in the Washington Times on Monday. Sisson wrote in response to Steve Milloy’s editorial in the Washington Times the week before, Republicans green with Democrat envy: GOP activists pursue a liberal eco-agenda. Milloy is the publisher of JunkScience.com.

I’ll side with Reagan rather than Milloy on this one.

Grace and Peace

A liberation theology of the right

Arrrrgh. I’m writing about politics again. Or am I writing about religion? Here is a section from “God, the Gospel, and Glenn Beck” by Southern Baptist pastor/seminary professor Russell Moore:

It’s taken us a long time to get here, in this plummet from Francis Schaeffer to Glenn Beck. In order to be this gullible, American Christians have had to endure years of vacuous talk about undefined “revival” and “turning America back to God” that was less about anything uniquely Christian than about, at best, a generically theistic civil religion and, at worst, some partisan political movement.

Rather than cultivating a Christian vision of justice and the common good (which would have, by necessity, been nuanced enough to put us sometimes at odds with our political allies), we’ve relied on populist God-and-country sloganeering and outrage-generating talking heads. We’ve tolerated heresy and buffoonery in our leadership as long as with it there is sufficient political “conservatism” and a sufficient commercial venue to sell our books and products.

Too often, and for too long, American “Christianity” has been a political agenda in search of a gospel useful enough to accommodate it. There is a liberation theology of the Left, and there is also a liberation theology of the Right, and both are at heart mammon worship. The liberation theology of the Left often wants a Barabbas, to fight off the oppressors as though our ultimate problem were the reign of Rome and not the reign of death. The liberation theology of the Right wants a golden calf, to represent religion and to remind us of all the economic security we had in Egypt. Both want a Caesar or a Pharaoh, not a Messiah.

He hit the nail on the head. This rally was a quasi-religious and nationalistic call to morality and civil religion, but not a call to follow Jesus Christ. Many in the crowd didn’t seem to know the difference.

HT: Cranach (the blog of Gene Edward Veith)

Grace and Peace