He claimed that we have convinced ourselves that all the creation-damaging activities we do each day are necessary or inescapable and hence acceptable. We think that our low-cost holiday flights, overheated homes, cheap food, two or even three cars and all the other trappings of a consumer-focused 21st-century society are necessary for a fulfilled Christian life. Thanks for saying this, Tom. I believe you’re right. And here’s why.
In all my reading about Christians and the environment I have not once read about sin. I realise the difficulties — people don’t like it. Even many Christians don’t like it. The social norms of individualism and relativism discourage making judgments — at least in certain areas of our lives. We are comfortable saying that things like prostitution, exploitation of children and murder are sinful, to name just three, but when it comes to topics such as consumerism and the environment we are much less happy about making similar judgments. In mitigation, there is also a vigorous debate questioning the reality impact of humankind on the environment especially over climate change.
Of course I recognise that humans are damaging the earth and as Christians we are encouraged to try to ‘do something about it’. As with many others, we are happy to go along with that. Christians buy fair trade coffee, recycle as much as we can, use the bus to go here or there, buy solar panels if we can afford them and forgo strawberries out of season. But if, for some reason, we don’t follow this slightly simpler lifestyle then it’s not likely that anyone will say anything. No one will suggest that maybe we shouldn’t do this, that or the other. There will be no visit from the church leaders suggesting that perhaps that luxury holiday to the Far East is out of order.
Using different words
It is as if lifestyles that lead to environmental destruction fall into some kind of behavioural limbo. Some behaviour is obviously not good. In fact, it is clearly bad, but we resist saying that it’s sinful. Instead we use different words and create patterns of thinking and ways of behaviour that allow us to continue doing just what we want to do! In the developed countries we benefit from a high impact consumerist lifestyle which the remaining two-thirds of the world’s population aspires to match. Our challenge is not to return to a subsistence farming Stone Age but to engage our technological capability to create sustainable, improving standards of life for the whole world.
The predictable result of this debate and complexity is that generally Christians have been weak in tackling the ecological crisis we are facing.
Surely we have been lulled into a false sense of what is right and wrong when it comes to ecological lifestyle issues and that’s why I agree with my son Tom that we have fallen into a number of areas of complacency. I have described some below — there may be more!
The first is that we don’t think that the impact of our lifestyles have on God’s creation is really that important. It’s sometimes not a case of wilful neglect. It’s just that caring for creation in a meaningful way is not something that Christians have traditionally thought about, other than to marvel at God’s creation, power and nature’s beauty.
But now we know the huge damage that humankind is doing and there are no excuses these days for not knowing about the effect we have on creation. There is plenty of information around and an increasing amount of Christian writing, but despite this the majority of Christians don’t think seriously about our responsibility to live lives that demonstrate care for creation. Our role should be to act ourselves and alert the wider world to the desperate issues we all face.
The second complacency is that as Christians we have convinced ourselves that we are doing enough already. It’s true that our lives are much more ecologically minded these days. No thanks to Christians though — most of us are just doing what most other people do, aren’t we? But that’s exactly the problem! We somehow convince ourselves that, because we have made a relatively small number of creation care efforts — recycling, eating some organic food and cycling to church now and then, all this is enough. Of course these are all necessary things to do but not at all sufficient to demonstrate real obedience and creation care. I wonder, in what other areas of our life would we be happy with such low standards? In what other areas of our life would be happy knowing that actually those who are not Christians are probably doing much better than we are at caring for creation?
Perhaps the enormity of the challenge has caused Christians to lose the radical edge that should be changing our lifestyles and convincing the world. As one non-Christian author has said: ‘Being less bad is not the same as being good’.
Can’t help it?
A third area of complacency is that as Christians we seem to have convinced ourselves that we can’t help our behaviours with negative environmental impacts It is true that life in the 21st century is incredibly complex and to some extent it is true that it impossible not to commit creation care sins in normal day-to-day life. It’s the way our economy and society have been designed. Life is complicated, but that is no reason for not trying to do something about the behaviours we do know are harmful. God will forgive us if we have no choice or don’t know about our creation care sin. But what about when we sin knowingly and could easily avoid that sin?
Even in our complex lives there are lots of things we do know about and can avoid and avoid easily without reducing the quality of our lives one little bit. In some areas of our lives it is so easy not to sin! We have choices and we don’t always make the right ones because we are afraid of calling these behaviours what they really are.
A final complacency is that is that we forget to ask key questions about our creation care lifestyles — questions we ask about other aspects of our lives. When someone approached Jesus and asked what he must do to inherit eternal life he was told: ‘“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind.” This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: “Love your neighbour as yourself”’ (Matthew 22.37-39).
So the questions we should be asking ourselves are:
* How does my lifestyle reflect my love for God and his creation?
* How does my lifestyle reflect my love for my neighbour?
These are simple but quite radical questions in relation to creation care. When we love somebody it means a whole range of emotions and actions, but, basically, it means wanting the best for that person — making their lives better in some way through our actions. Why is it, therefore, that when we think about our creation care behaviour we sometimes seem to accept that, as long as we ‘do no harm’, that’s acceptable? Surely, if we are meant to love and care for God’s creation as he does, then ‘doing no harm’ is not an option — we should actually be doing good!
Love your neighbour
Creation care behaviour for our neighbours is even more radical. In a very real sense our lifestyles in the richer Western countries of the world have a direct impact throughout the whole earth. Climate change is possibly the best example: rising sea level flooding communities, changing weather patterns causing droughts and rising temperatures causing biodiversity loss are just three examples that affect not only God’s creation but God’s people — usually already very poor people at that.
So there we have it, Tom! Christians may be complacent about creation care and thanks for highlighting the dangers. But, being positive, we can through God’s strength do something about them now we know, so that hopefully Christians in the 21st century will be remembered for our actions on creation care, much as those in the 19th century are remembered as leading social reform not just by reforming their own homes and factories but by tirelessly working to change the whole society. As Christians we have to take up the same challenge to be salt and light in care of our God-given world.
James Hindson is a member of Shrewsbury Baptist Church, a part-time teacher and runs his own small organisation called ‘Sense&Sustainability’ —http://www.senseandsustainability.co.uk — working with different groups looking at sustainability issues.
This article was first published in the September 2013 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information.
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