There have been several occasions on this site when I’ve taken the opportunity to express a bit of disgust or alarm with environmentalism. When I do that, I typically get an email or comment asking why I am opposed to protecting the environment. Because I usually only mention these things in the A La Carte section I have never taken the opportunity to explain myself. I want to do that today, even if only briefly.
Let it be known I am not opposed to protecting the environment. In fact, I think it would be wonderful if we saw Christians taking a leading role in protecting the environment and in promoting faithful stewardship of this earth. God created this earth for us to enjoy and expects that we will rule and subdue it. But He does not desire that we destroy it through mismanagement or a lack of care and concern. He has entrusted it to us and we would do well to take note of this.
Sadly, though, the environmental movement is dominated by unbelievers. In fact, environmentalism is fast becoming a religion in its own right. It has many of the elements of a religion, many of which even bear a passing resemblance to aspects of Christianity. Here are a few of the ways environmentalism has religious overtones: there is a deity (most often the earth itself), a heavenly state (the earth in its natural state before humans came along), a fall into sin (when man began to destroy the earth, particularly through industrialization), sinners (human beings), penance (carbon offsets and credits), redemption (a return to the earth’s heavenly or natural state when man finally gets it right or when man is eradicated). It has its leaders and sages, men like Al Gore (or in Canada, David Suzuki). It demands full adherence and scorns those who disagree, even suggesting that such people do not deserve a voice in public discourse. It is becoming a worldview unto itself and a worldview built upon a Darwinian understanding of the world’s origins. It may acknowledge some kind of deity beyond the earth itself, but certainly not the God of the Bible. In short, it is a religion and, like all false religions, an idolatrous one. It is the religion of choice for many and perhaps even most people in our culture today.
It is for this reason that while I respect those who want to protect the environment, I often cannot support those who do so from within this environmentalist worldview. These people understand that we are the greatest problem on the earth (which, actually, is something I have to agree with) but also believe that we can fix our own problems. Some propose that, because we are the problem, we should deliberately eradicate ourselves for the good of the earth, though none of these people have the courage to lead the way as trailblazers for their ideology. But most environmentalists propose legislation and other measures that can, they feel, save the world. As they do this, though, they ignore the far greater peril of the pollution within their own souls. They do not learn that the cause of the world’s problems is the human problem of sin. Even in their proposed measures to save the earth they further corrupt their souls and further show their sinful hearts.
I am all for tending to the earth. I know that God entrusted it to us and did not give us a world that is merely habitable, but a world that is stunningly, breathtakingly beautiful and one that was absolutely perfect for us. Sadly, we ruined the perfection and continue to do so. As Christians we should have the highest view of the earth, seeing it as a gracious and generous gift of God. We should be first in line to protect it, to tend to it, and to attempt to reverse whatever damage we have done to it. Yet we must not fool ourselves into believing that we can save it in and of ourselves. The earth is not neutral or inherently good. Not anymore. We ruined it and have to be prepared for it to continue to decay, just as you and I will do. As our bodies rot and decay, so too does the earth. So while we tend to it, we do so from a perspective that realizes that this earth is only our temporary home. When the Lord returns He will redeem it, He will rebuild it, and restore it to its original perfection.
In all our actions to preserve the beauty of creation, we must ensure that we point to the real problem, which is the sin that humans brought into the world. We would be remiss if we attempt to save the earth but all the while neglect souls. Tending the earth can be a powerful metaphor for tending the human soul. The decay of the earth is caused by the decay of the heart. So as we tend to the earth, let’s use it as an opportunity to point others to their own hearts. And all the while, let’s heed Russell Moore’s admonition: “Let’s take care of the earth, protect the natural order. But let’s remember that the world is not ultimately rescued by politicians or musicians or filmmakers or scientists. The world is saved by blood, not Gore.” If we point people to Gore but not to the blood, we have made, at best, only temporary rather than eternal gain.