Sunday, May 25, 2014

Creation Care Part 4: Where do we go from here?

There have been scholarly discussions over the purpose/value/potential impact that the creation care movement might have. It is tempting to be pessimistic in a political culture that seems to be stuck in the constant polarization between affirmation and denial instead of focusing on efficacy to action. I see some potential in the creation care movement, however. Although the loudest voices we hear are focused on denialism and their detractors who try to debate them, most Americans lie in the middle. I am not concerned with convincing the denialists, but with changing the debate. Creation care could potentially be an avenue to speak the (religious) language of many Americans and people around the globe. The movement shifts the conversation from quibbling over scientific data, undermining science as a field of inquiry, and valuing money over people, to intergenerational arguments about charity, and a deep concern for the poor and nature.

Though I agree that too much optimism will only lead to disappointment, I feel that there are positive steps being taken and creation care messages being presented in the media. Recently, Pope Francis I made a strong statement in support of creation care. This was perhaps his most prominent and widely covered statement directly about the environment. Francis has repeatedly spoken out about the values of charity, has decried the poverty specifically relative to the wealth of some priests. It may come as no surprise, then, that Francis links these values to caring for the environment “because if we destroy Creation, Creation will destroy us.” The full remarks can be heard here, which outline Francis’s emphasis on balance between humans, humans and the environment, and humans and their spirituality.

St. Francis of Assisi, retrieved from this site
Referencing his namesake (St. Francis of Assisi), Francis encouraged his followers, and indeed all of humanity, to be “custodians of creation.” This phrase is interchangeable with the “stewardship” of creation that reflects Genesis 2:15 which calls for humans to “work and take care of” the Garden of Eden (New International Version). The story of Genesis is often considered to be in contradiction with itself, as it contains phrases that seem to laud the role of humanity as having dominion over the world and also phrases that support taking care of cultivating the earth. This reflects a difference in interpretation, which Francis is trying to push towards the latter view where Creation is a gift rather than property to be exploited.

You can order Hayhoe's book on Amazon
Creation care has also been in the news with the works of Katharine Hayhoe, a climatologist from Texas Tech and an outspoken evangelical Christian. She was named to Time's 100 Pioneers list with an article written about her by Don Cheadle. They worked together on Years of Living Dangerously, a Showtime TV series that used celebrities as correspondents to investigate issues surrounding climate change. The episode "Preacher's Daughter," specifically addresses creation care as a movement that could impact policies and public opinion about the environment. At an event with Ian Somerhalder (a correspondent in the Preacher's Daughter episode), he noted that the more people who watch the show, the more the media networks will understand that this is an important issue that real people want real answers to, instead of just pundits and talking heads.

There is certainly language a plenty to indicate despair, irreparable damage, and apathy. But, there is also hope. Hope may live in the gaps of these contradictions, between science and religion as incompatible frameworks, comfort and sacrifice as dichotomous values, and the future versus the end of the world as motivating eschatologies.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Creation Care Part 3: Where Bible Verses Intersect

To continue the discussion of creation care, I will discuss the fluidity of Bible verses. There are many, ongoing discussions about interpretations of certain phrases with sometimes a wide range of translations based on different versions of the Bible. Concerns over contradictions in the Bible can lead to difficulties in creating a coherent picture of one's religious beliefs and identity. McCammack (2007) argued that the differing interpretations of the Bible are not trivial, for adherence to biblical accuracy is of the utmost importance for evangelicals, who make up a growing percentage of the creation care movement, "green evangelicals." 

Retrieved from this blog

A few prominent phrases that appear to contradict one another are Genesis 1:26 and Genesis 2:15. Genesis 1:26 reads, "Then God said, 'Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground'" (New International Version). This verse makes use of "rule over," an equivalent of Genesis 1:28's "dominion" or "subdue", to place humanity in a hierarchical position over that of animals and others living creatures in the world. If humanity (Adam and Eve) were God's most important creations, then it may logically follow that everything else in the world is not worthy of protection or keeping.

On the other hand, Genesis 2:15 reads "The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it" (NIV). Other versions swap out these verbs for "tend and watch over it" (New Living Translation), "cultivate it and keep it" (New American Standard Bible), "work it and guard it" (International Standard Version), and "care for it and maintain it" (NET Bible). These verse, only a few after the ones above, appear to place humanity within its scene, not over it. Humanity has been given the divine charge of maintaining and caring for the Earth as another of God's creations. There are many more verses that address the relationship of humanity to nature, but these might be the best known.
Retrieved from this blog
Another respondent noted that "dominion is so often misinterpreted as carte blanche permission to do what we want with creation." Dominion implies "that we will be held to account by God for how we manage his creation." Humans will thus be judged for their treatment of the Earth and how kind they were as rulers as one might expect God to be. These responses further support the ability of creation care members to fill in gaps and overcome contradictions where others may perceive them.

Respondents were asked about the apparent contradictions between these two verses in the study and to describe their meaning and compatibility. A frequent response was that people took "rule over" and other verbs of domination too literally, and it might better be translated as calling for stewardship, a kind and tender position of power that cares for the Earth. One respondent noted, "God has created us in His image, and it is this image we are to reflect in our dominion. The second verse describes what this Godly dominion can look like, tending and keeping a garden." For this respondent, the phrases are not contradictory, but complementary. Humanity can rule over animals but also tend to and take care of the Earth; a position of power does not have to be an oppressive one.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Creation Care Part 2: Where Apocalypse and Action Intersect

This post is part 2 of my discussion of a survey I performed of creation care members. Last week's post focused on the compatibility of science and religion and this week will discuss apocalypticism. Before analyzing answers about member's beliefs, I will describe the phenomenon of eschatology and human belief in end times.

Kenneth Burke discusses the immense importance of beginnings and endings as creating the coherent drama of one's life. Similar to a novel or a poem, the ending makes sense because of the beginning and every beginning implies its ending. Oftentimes, there are clues, patterns, and events along one's life that provide insight into its potential endings. Looking back, people want to have their life make sense, justify choices, and being they took the road less traveled. People have always been interested in human origins even to the point of intense controversy and debate. Endings as well, have been of great interest of public concern. It seems, that people are more interested in the far past and the far future, instead of what's right in front of them.

Looking forward and backward, but not at the present. Retrieved from this blog.
Creation care members, however, do not often focus on the future. They certainly believe in the apocalypse, but they do not have an established eschatology (or vision of how the world will end) that occupies their time or attention. One respondent noted, "speculations about an apocalyptic war and all the rest of this only detract us from the real issues of the world in which we have been placed by God." Nearly half of respondents discussed the purposeful vagueness of the Bible in leaving out specifics. Many responses referenced Matthew 24:36 which reads "But about about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, only the Father." "That day" references the day of apocalypse, or the day of revelation when the return of Christ will occur. This verse is often used when apocalyptic prophecies are unconfirmed.

Billboard after Camping's May 21, 2011 predicted rapture did not happen. Retrieved from this blog.

These respondents noted discomfort in discussing the details of their beliefs. One respondent said, "I don't like to speculate on this. I believe Jesus will return, and He will renew all things. That's all I'm comfortable saying." They all, however, expressed that they had a personal eschatology and were trusting in God to save them. One respondent noted, "I have no idea and Scripture calls on me not to worry or guess when it will end." These responses indicate a shared commitment to the present and an awareness but lack of concern for the future. This appreciation of apocalypse may be in part how creation care members can unite religious belief in (potentially environmental) apocalypse and motivation for action. One respondent argued that thinking about the apocalypse is wasted time: " I'd rather spend my energy trying to make it a better place--a place where life can flourish, rather than focusing on an end that seems unclear."

A few respondents directly linked climate change with the apocalypse. "I do wonder whether climate change will be the physical change to the earth that will usher in Christ's return, simply because it has the potential to make the planet uninhabitable for humans and many other things," said one respondent. Another responded, "I think the climate crisis could end the world as we know it, with life reduced to a much more basic level in various parts of the world, and with great loss of life." A few respondents argued that the Rapture would occur and Christ would judge his followers based on how they treated the world. One noted, "I am committed to the idea that if or when Jesus comes back, there will be plenty of clean power technology around for helping humanity here on earth." This respondent believes in the rapture, but wants to leave the earth in a better environmental condition for those that are left behind.

Cartoon retrieved from the Huffington Post.
Creation care members have somehow captured the idea of apocalypse and used it as motivation to act. Not only do they believe that Christ may judge them, but they are also concerned with those who will not be raptured to Heaven. Although belief in apocalypse is often associated with a lack of action or even the welcoming of climate change, creation care members appear to fall in a unique category. As discussed last week, creation care members have found a way to unite science and religion in a modern natural theology. Now, it appears that they have also managed to unite a belief in the apocalypse with an urge to mobilize and act.