Tomorrow is Earth Day. Coincidentally, I will also be preaching in the chapel communion service at my church tomorrow. Not coincidentally, in the chapel tomorrow, on Earth Day, I will be preaching on the tricky relationship between the Christian faith and the modern ecological crisis.
As a college senior I had the privilege and pleasure of doing an independent study comparing and contrasting Christian and Buddhist approaches to environmental ethics. For my sermon tomorrow I will be drawing on the research that I did for that independent study, arguing that our faith has a complicated relationship with the natural environment. While our creation myths call us to be good stewards of the natural environment, they also can be read as placing us outside, and above, the natural environment. Instead of seeing us as a part of a complex, interconnected and interdependent ecosystem, our mythos removes us from the ecosystem, a move which, while intended to carry with it a charge to act in a God given role as protector of the planet, in history has paved the way for the kind of domination over and subsuming of the ecosystem that is the root of the present ecological crisis.
I won't make that whole case here - at least not yet. As of this moment I haven't actually composed the sermon yet, so I can't post it here. However, I am posting here a link to what may still be the best exploration of the influence of Christianity on the ecosystem, Lynn White's "The Historical Roots of Our Ecological Crisis," published in the journal Science in 1967. You can find a pdf version of it here.
Critics of White's essay have argued persuasively that his reading of Genesis is not the best possible reading. It is quite possible, in fact, to read God's charge to humanity in the two creation myths as one to protect and preserve, not dominate and subsume, the natural environment. But White's strength is in his ability to explain not the best reading, but the most problematic reading, the reading that has, as a matter of historical fact, carried the day for far, far too long. I read his essay not as a condemnation of Christianity or of the creation myths in Genesis, but as a call to repentance for the ways in which Christian-dominated cultures have set humans in opposition to the ecosystem.
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