Towards Eco-Christianity

Towards Eco-Christianity

an essay on the Christian roots of environmentalism

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In the beginning of human history, Adam and Eve were naked in nature, immersed in an ecosystem that sheltered them absolutely.

When they tasted the Knowledge of Good and Evil they realized their separation from nature, and, without vacillation, separated themselves physically by screening their nakedness with foliages they took from a fig tree. This was possibly the first act of environmental development, the first usage of natural resources for non-natural—even anti-natural—purposes.

It is no admiration that when the environmental motion coalesced one of its first marks was Christianity.

J. Baird Callicott, in his aggregationIn Defense of the Land Ethic, shows this in clarifying the positions of alleged “eco-centrists” who see in the environmental crisis “a profound renunciation by the environment itself of modern Western civilization’s attitudes and values towards nature” [ Callicott, 1989, pg. 3 ]

Callicott subsequently clarifies this position, citing Ian McHarg, who “writes that ‘it requires small attempt to mobilise a sweeping indictment of the physical environment which is [ Western ] man’s creative activity [ and ] it takes little more to place the beginning of the value system which is the culprit.’ Harmonizing to McHarg, the perpetrator is “the Judeo-Christian-Humanist position which is so ignorant of nature and adult male, which has bred and sustained his simple-minded anthropocentrism.” [ Callicott, 1989, pg. 190 ]

Talking for himself, Callicott writes that “Orthodox Christian divinity, historically, lines up overpoweringly against the impression that nonhuman animals considered separately or jointly have any kind of value other than instrumental value or any function in creative activity other than to function man.” [ Callicott, 1989, pg. 137 ]

Callicott so quotes from Lynn White, Jr.’s “celebrated environmentalist review of the Judeo-christian universe position, ” as follows: “’Christianity is the most anthropocentric faith the universe has seen.” [ Callicott, 1989, pg. 137 ]

Bold words so, but what do they intend for environmentalism? If adult male is genuinely the Crown of creative activity, why would that needfully do him a defiler? Anthropocentrism, a manner of consciousness, may take to more than one sort of behavior.

Lynn White, Jr. , ill served by Callicott’s quotation mark, explores this more to the full in his facile essay “The Historical Roots of Our Ecologic Crisis.” Yes, White does state, “Man portions, in great step, God’s transcendency of nature. Christianity, in absolute contrast to ancient pagan religion… non merely established a dualism of adult male and nature but besides insisted that it is God’s will that adult male exploit nature for his proper ends.” [ White, 1968, pg. 86

The contrast with pagan religion is decisive: in more crude belief systems, every tree, every watercourse had its ain spirit, but “By destructing heathen animism, Christianity made it possible to work nature in a temper of indifference to the feelings of natural objects.” [ White, 1968, pg. 86 ] Then White concludes, “Man’s effectual monopoly on spirit in the universe was confirmed, and the old suppressions to the development of nature crumbled.” [ White, 1968, pg. 87 ]

What is interesting is that White does non halt at that place. His essay goes far beyond a waste “critique.” Having blamed the Christian man-nature duality for environmental development, White so issues a call for a new sort of morality. Religion got us into this muss, it seems, so faith must acquire us out of it. “What we do about ecology depends on our thoughts of the man-nature relationship. Mere scientific discipline and engineering are non traveling to acquire us out of the present ecologic crisis until we find a new faith, or re-think the old one.” [ White, 1968, pg. 91 ]

Here is White’s true decision, from the last paragraph of his essay: “Both our present scientific discipline and our present engineering are so tinctured with Orthodox Christian haughtiness toward nature that no solution for our ecologic crisis can be expected from them entirely. Since the roots of our problem are so mostly spiritual, the redress must besides be basically religious.” [ White, 1968, pg. 93 ]

White is devout, and he locates this spiritual redress within Christianity itself by raising St. Francis: “The greatest religious revolutionist in Western history, St. Francis, proposed what he thought was an alternate Christian position of nature and man’s relation to it.” [ White, 1968, pg. 93 ] This position was basically democratic, force outing adult male from his regulation over creative activity and giving regard to all animals.

The look “alternative Christian view” stands in crisp contrast to “orthodox Christian arrogance.” St. Francis was ab initio branded a heretic, though finally canonized, and it now appears that he was a prophet in front of his clip. He may hold been the first “eco-Christian.”

Christian religion may good hold its green side. Callicott himself, following his mention to “orthodox Christian theology” above, so draws out this ambivalency: “There is, nevertheless, a rip of thought strongly and discernibly running in the text of Genesis itself, nevertheless small representation it may hold enjoyed in subsequent divinity and popular Christianity. Within the general lineations of the traditional biblical universe position, nonhuman species may hold intrinsic value because they are parts of God’s creative activity and God has conferred intrinsic value upon them, either by making them or by a secondary fiat.” [ Callicott, 1989, pg. 137 ]

This is a measure towards Callicott’s “eco-centrism, ” which involves “a displacement in the venue of intrinsic value from persons to the ecosystem.” [ Callicott, 1989, pg. 3 ] Callicott, by turn uping eco-centrism in Genesis, shows a way towards eco-Christianity. The particular nature of worlds is surely a portion of Christian belief, but what White called “orthodox Christian arrogance” may non be a necessary portion.

Eco-Christianity radiances forth clearly in the authorship of Aldo Leopold, who closes his 1949 bookA Sand County Almanacwith an essay showing a “Land Ethic” which Callicott himself says “ … may be treated as… the paradigm instance… of what an environmental ethic is.“ [ Callicott, 1989, pg. 15 ]

What’s interesting is how Christian it is. Leopold says, “That land is a community is the basic construct of ecology, but that land is to be loved and respected is an extension of ethics.” [ Leopold, 1949, pg. eight ]

Leopold is an eco-Christian. Like White, he recognizes that the solution to our ecologic crisis is non to be solved with amoral scientific discipline and engineering. The solution lies in widening Christian love to the ecology. Leopold feels we need more Christianity, non less:

The first moralss dealt with the relation between persons ; The Mosaic Decalogue is an illustration. Later accumulations dealt with the relation between the person and society. The Golden Rule tries to incorporate the person to society ; democracy to incorporate societal organisation to the person.

There is as yet no ethic covering with man’s relation to land and to the animate beings and workss which grow upon it… . The land-relation is still purely economic, implying privileges but non duties.

The extension of moralss to this 3rd component in human environment is… an evolutionary possibility and an ecological necessity. It is the 3rd measure in a sequence… . Individual minds since the yearss of Ezekial and Isaiah have asserted that the spoil of land in non merely inexpedient but incorrect. Society, nevertheless, has non yet affirmed their belief.” [ Leopold, 1949, pg. 202-203 ]

This three measure sequence is a stepping-back from ego into spread outing rings of consciousness and regard. The Ten Commandments oblige a first going from pure opportunism in puting a model for man’s dealingss with God, household, and each other.

The Golden Rule so establishes a larger, more general footing for morality by promoting the person to see the other as like him.

Leopold sees the greater generalization of the Golden Rule as portion of an spread outing procedure of morality. He says following: “All moralss so far evolved rest upon a individual premiss: that the person is a member of a community of mutualist parts.” [ Leopold, 1949, pg. 203 ]

This is surely an ecological position. For Leopold, anthropocentric rule of nature isnona effect or merchandise of Christian philosophy, but instead a effect of a failure to let Christian philosophy to spread out beyond the human. In this, he follows St. Francis.

Hence following: “The land ethic merely enlarges the boundaries of the community to include dirts, Waterss, workss, and animate beings, or jointly: the land.” [ Leopold, 1949, 204 ] Leopold so speaks of love, and how we don’t love the dirt we despoil, the H2O we pollute. He calls, basically, for Christ’s instruction of love and compassion to flux Forth through all of God’s creative activity by spread outing the Christian community to include nature.

This enlargement of morality, making the “land ethic” that is a precursor of Callicott’s “environmental ethic, ” may be summed with a larger Aureate Rule: Make unto the ecosystem as you would hold the ecosystem do unto you.

Leopold does continue the differentiation between the human and the ecology. Man, yes, is portion of nature, but he’s a particular portion. Man is the portion with consciousness, with cognition of good and evil and the power of calculated action. Because of this, adult male non merely can be ethical, he has a responsibility to be ethical. Leopold so expands this ethical responsibility to include our actions towards our natural universe: “ … the job we face is the extension of the societal scruples from people to land.” [ Leopold, 1949, pg. 209 ]

As man’s consciousness expands, so does his morality. It is the eco-Christian who moves beyond mere self-interest and embraces an moral principle of love for the environment. Environmentalism so ascends into moralss, and finds Christianity waiting with unfastened weaponries.


Callicott, J. BairdIn Defense of the Land Ethic: Essaies in Environmental Philosophy

© 1989 State University of New York ISBN 0 88706 899 5

Leopold, AldoA Sand County Almanac© 1949 Oxford University Press

White Jr. , LynnMachina Ex Deo: Essaies in the Dynamism of Western Culture

The MIT Press © 1968 The Massachusetts Institute of Technology L.O.C. # 69-10843


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