Did Jesus Wear Birkenstocks?

The concept of “stewardship” as described in the Bible: “We are not owners of creation, but its stewards, summoned by God to ‘watch over and care for it’ (Gen. 2:15).”

Position on the environment of some of the most extreme anti-environmentalists of the religious right: “The truth is,” writes Carter [author of a widely circulated paper warning against the lure of creation care], “the whole of nature has been delivered over to man for him to use as he sees fit. Man is not simply the head of the natural order, rather, that order was made for him.”

The Bible supports environmentally sound thinking, so the first step in encouraging pro-environment Christianity is dismantling the James Watt-derived notion that Jesus would actually want us to milk dry the earth (“After the last tree is felled, Christ will come back”). [Update: A commenter points out that this widely-circulated quote was not actually made by James Watt, but attributed to him by Grist.] There are still many Christians who believe that Rapture is imminent, and that there is therefore no need to take care of the earth.

Nice piece at AlterNet on the greening of the Christian Right.

Conservative evangelical Christians are getting worried about the fate of God’s creation. Can the greening of the GOP base happen fast enough to derail the party’s scorched-earth plans for Bush II?

Despite the efforts of old-guard religious conservatives like Carter to squash the growing Christian environmental movement, many national Christian groups, such as the National Association of Evangelicals, are working to teach churches that you don’t have to sleep with hippies to care about your world. The memes are slowly changing.

Roosevelt had it right:

Today’s GOP likes to toss around the name Teddy Roosevelt, but it has no use for the party philosophy expressed by T.R. when he declared, “[S]hort of the actual preservation of its existence in a great war, there is none which compares in importance with the great central task of leaving this land even a better land for our descendents than it is for us.”

Baby steps.

Music: Modest Mouse :: Beach Side Property

9 Replies to “Did Jesus Wear Birkenstocks?”

  1. There’s an interview in the Chronicle today with Sister Susannah Malarkey (apparently that’s her real name) about the late Pope has this interesting Q&A on environmentalism that really sums up the two sides of the Christian take on the environment:

    I know that protecting the environment is one of your major issues. Not all Christians feel that way. Some fundamentalists interpret the Bible as giving them a kind of control over the Earth that absolves them from environmental concerns. What do you think about that?

    I think fundamentalist Christians do have a different perspective on the world — a lot of it based upon their interpretation of the Bible such as, you know, in Genesis, that humans must take control of the Earth. And then the Book of Revelation says you’ll be snatched away from this Earth, and it will be a new heaven and a new Earth. If you take that literally, why should you worry about this planet, because there’s going to be a new one in which you will be happy forever after? But for nonfundamentalist Christians, I think on the whole, Christian theology has always directed attention toward the care of the Earth. Clearly, if we believe in a creator, then this creation is sacred. It’s our responsibility to guard it, and protect it, and to heal it where it’s wounded. If you care about the future of humanity, you have to care about the future of our world, because we are totally dependent upon the wise systems that are so threatened by environmental damage.


  2. I think you need to be careful about distinguishing between American Christian fundamentalists and older, more established, and more thoughtful sects.

    The idea of humans being stewards for God’s creation may be a “growing Christian environmental movement” taking “baby steps” among fundies, but it is hardly new for Roman Catholics or the Orthodoxy.

    Pope Paul VI in his apostolic letter of May, 14 1971 entitled Octogesima Adveniens devotes a section to the environment, saying:

    Man is suddenly becoming aware that by an ill-considered exploitation of nature he risks destroying it and becoming in his turn the victim of this degradation. Not only is the material environment becoming a permanent menace – pollution and refuse, new illness and absolute destructive capacity – but the human framework is no longer under man’s control, thus creating an environment for tomorrow which may well be intolerable. This is a wide-ranging social problem which concerns the entire human family.

    The Christian must turn to these new perceptions in order to take on responsibility, together with the rest of men, for a destiny which from now on is shared by all.

    That’s more than 30 years ago.

    The Orthodoxy is even more outspoken on the issue. The Ecumenical Patriarchate celebrates a yearly Creation Day, where members of the Orthodoxy are asked to give thanks to God for His creation and ask for His help and guidance in our stewardship and preservation of said creation. September 1 was set aside by the Orthodoxy as Creation Day.

    In his 1990 missive Orthodoxy and the Ecological Crisis the Ecumenical Patriarch Dimitrios I said to the Christian world at large:

    Therefore we invite, through this our Patriarchal Message, the entire Christian world to offer together with the Mother Church of Christ, the Ecumenical Patriarchate, every year on this day prayers and supplications to the Maker of all, both as thanksgiving for the great gift of creation and as petitions for its protection and salvation. At the same time we paternally urge on the one hand the faithful in the world to admonish themselves and their children to respect and protect the natural environment, and on the other hand all those who are entrusted with the responsibility of governing the nations to act without delay, taking all necessary measures for the protection and preservation of natural creation.

    More information on the position of the Orthodoxy and the and the environment can be found here.

    While I agree that there are factions in fundie churches with a narrow and short-sighted view of mankind’s need to preserve his only home, don’t paint all Christians with the same brush.

    Scot, I’m not saying you did. But I want to head off people thinking anyone wearing a crucifix is a Watt-lover. :)

  3. Ummm, one hazard of citing James Watt is using unreliable sources to attribute to him things he didn’t say, then using him as a straw man to make a point. You might want to check an article that has interesting input from … James Watt. (Scroll down to “Bill Moyers Smears A Better Man Than Himself”.)


    Incidentally, Bill Moyers apologized to James Watt over this very issue, and the Washington Post corrected an article that also attributed this quote to Mr. Watt. If people knew what James Watt actually said and believed, I’m sure many Christians wouldn’t be ashamed to be thought a Watt-lover.

    To pick a nit, my NIV Bible says in Gen 2:15, “…to work it and take care of it.” Subtle context difference, no?

  4. mneptok, I absolutely do not paint all Christians with the same brush (I know you didn’t say I did :); thanks for drawing this distinction. I consider the prevailing neo-Christian / fundamentalist anti-environment view (and I do think it’s prevailing) to be a perversion of all the church once stood for. I know that anti-environment views are not encoded in teachings of the Church, and that old-guard Catholics and Christians held the earth in reverence in a way that many modern Christians do not. I think that Biblical teachings could be a great path for huge swaths of humanity toward salvation of the earth as well as individual souls. But modern church leaders have to take the lead, take charge of turning the ship around. So much ill momentum has been developed. Christians need to acknowledge that if God is everywhere and everything is sacred, then wasting/desecrating the earth is not much different from desecrating one’s local chapel. The altar is everywhere!

  5. Dave, thanks much for the correction. I’ve updated the post to reflect this. However, there’s no question that Watt’s environmental record was abysmal and is even said to have inspired the modern the environmental movement (though it probably pales in comparison to Bush’s record on the environment).

    Not sure I follow your point about the context difference cited in your Genesis quote…

  6. Evironmentalist are basically secularists who abhor the use of scripture to reinforce their belief system. When confronted by questions of their scientific proof for their assertions , the environmentalists become more in search of allies in faith than scientific fact. It is evident that they and Fundamentalists Christians
    have a reluctant affiliation for this reason . I wonder who needs one more than the other? One thing is for sure, both movements are faith based and should not get federal funding.

  7. We’re not really talking about what environmentalists are or are not, but whether spiritualists are in ignorance of Jesus’ teachings when they don’t act as environmentalists.

    > Evironmentalist are basically secularists who abhor the use of scripture to reinforce their belief system.

    If a person doesn’t believe scripture is true, then *of course* they shouldn’t use it to reinforce any belief system. And certainly you would agree that there’s no reason to think that scripture is true.

    > the environmentalists become more in search of allies in faith than scientific fact.

    Sorry, I don’t understand this statement. Elaborate?

    > It is evident that they and Fundamentalists Christians
    have a reluctant affiliation for this reason .

    Still not understanding what you’re driving at here. What exactly is the affiliation you’re suggesting exists?

    > both movements are faith based and should not get federal funding.

    In what sense is environmentalism faith-based?

  8. I would like to propose the idea that Christians who believe our planet is precious and who realize human caused global warming will wreak major consequences to life on Earth including affecting millions of humans, utilize 12 Step for recovery from oil addiction.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *