*** This is a rough transcript of today’s show ***
It is the 25th of April 2022. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. I’m Dan van Voorhis.
Last week I got an email from Brian in Ogden, Utah, who was wondering about Earth Day, Christianity, and the Environment. Earth Day was last Friday- I decided to tell the story of Origen and give myself a little more time to read through some of the literature on the development of the holiday and its relationship to the Christian faith.
Interestingly, Time magazine ran an article a few years ago on the Christian roots of Environmentalism with the likes of Theodore Roosevelt. The story reads like a fairly standard explanation of “the left and right today are not always aligned with the left and right back in the day.” But it is interesting to see that moral crusaders- from abolitionists, prohibitionists, suffragists, and environmentalists were often Christians.
Lynne White and his “the Historical Roots of our Ecological Crisis” in Science magazine in the 1960s suggested the modern crisis was on account of Christianity and its anthropocentric model of salvation. White places the ultimate blame on the industrial revolution and industrialization but that it was a Western Christian society that laid the conditions necessary for it.
The connection between an economic system and a theological system is not new (the “Protestant Work Ethic” of Max Weber comes to mind). There are meaningful connections between what we say we believe and how we spend money.
This also fails to consider the theologians from Aquinas to Hildegard and Julian of Norwich, Francis, the Franciscans, etc. There is no shortage of Christians writing on the care of creation.
If I may- let me suggest three different threads in historical Christian theology that might help make White’s point and how we might think about it.
Christianity has long had a tension between seeing humanity as having dominion over the earth and being required to steward the earth’s resources. I get if Augustine doesn’t seem too concerned about deforestation and its effects, but not surprised that many 20th-century theologians are. The same distinction might take us between urban and rural centers throughout church history. But finding the sweet spot between dominion and stewardship might be one place to start.
Secondly, Christian theology has a dichotomy between the flesh and the spirit. And sure, the Gnostics go too far in rejecting anything physical, but this doesn’t get Christianity off the hook for tending to uphold the spiritual over the physical (even if we have arguments for why we shouldn’t!)
And lastly, Christianity is apocalyptic. The early church was convinced Jesus was coming back ASAP. We pray “come Lord Jesus” corporately. We sometimes emphasize the Christians’ final destination as some cloud-land called “heaven.” “I'm just a passin’ through” seems to be a typical response to a Christian’s time on earth.
It is a mailbag Monday, so if I might- let me suggest a way through-
- A re-sacralization of fleshly things.
- A re-enchantment of nature.
Whether your church has 7 Sacraments or 3 or 2, or maybe you call them “ordinances,”- ok. God gives us material things to signify spiritual realities. God uses our families, neighbors, and churches to care for our physical and spiritual needs.
And, this is for me- a suburban Orange County kid for life- the natural world is God’s handiwork. I could use more time in nature. I could learn from the psalmist who thinks we can worship God using His natural revelation. And it is a natural revelation- but a revelation nonetheless. Yes, I tend towards anthropocentrism (putting humans first), but this doesn’t mean I have become pro-whaling and dog-fighting. I might ask- when we degrade creation, what are we also doing to ourselves?
While I don’t find all of his stuff helpful, I think that Francis Schaeffer’s response to Lynee White Jr. is worth reading- check out his “Pollution and the Death of Man” for an interesting Christian approach to environmentalism.
Thanks, Brian. As always, if you send me a question, let me know something about your hometown so I can make a note of it. And if you send me your address, I’ve got a bunch of CHA EGBOK stickers I can send you.
Brian, of course, from Ogden, Utah knows that Nolan Bushnell is from Ogden- Bushnell gave us both Chuck E. Cheese and the Atari.
The last word for today comes from the daily lectionary- and a text that reminds us of the (at least partially) urban destiny of the people of God:
Jerusalem is built like a city
that is closely compacted together.
That is where the tribes go up—
the tribes of the Lord—
to praise the name of the Lord
according to the statute given to Israel.
There stand the thrones for judgment,
the thrones of the house of David.
Pray for the peace of Jerusalem:
“May those who love you be secure.
May there be peace within your walls
and security within your citadels.”
For the sake of my family and friends,
I will say, “Peace be within you.”
For the sake of the house of the Lord our God,
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 25th of April 2022, brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org.
The show is produced by a man who knows that the “E” in Chuck E. Cheese stands for “Entertainment.” He is Christopher Gillespie.
The show is written and read by a man who spent much of his early life with Berserk and Pitfall. I’m Dan van Voorhis
You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.