Environment, Faith and Politics

This past weekend I read through the report on Creation Care. There is certainly enough ammunition for the conservatives here, but that’s not really the concern. What strikes me is that we cannot come to any clarity about what should be done. The document ends up being disappointingly vague. In the face of global climate change we all should do something, but what, exactly? And then on top of this, what makes this the Church’s business? What does the covenantal community bring to the table, as it were?

What is referred to as “Creation” perhaps is better thought of as three things:

Creation” — this is the gift of God. Even a degraded world, stripped of the cedars of Lebanon and arctic ice, remains a gift to people. Purposed, intentional, a world that will still yield its delights.

World” — this is the Creation as we know it, the world of science. it is the object of our wisdom, of the plumbing of secrets. When the Creation Care report walks through the science behind global warming, we are in this world.

Environment” — this is the Creation as the place of our stewardship, the world as the arena for our agency. When we talk about the environment we are talking about social goods and their use, in a word, politics. So Creation Care in this world is inevitably a matter of social decisions and ethics. While the Church can bring a set of ethical principles, these are not likely its best contribution — at least to date, such principles have been rather general, a common sensibility; descriptive, but not performative. The one thing the Church can bring to the discussion is an awareness of the various principalities and powers, the variety of ideologies at work. When we come to the Environment we can call attention to the easy privileging of economic self-interests; we can also note the role of deificiation of Creation (either by the direct route, or implicitly in the Conservative belief that Creation is fundamentally robust, i.e. eternal), then there is the temptation of pragmatism generated by Science, and underneath it all there is the paralyzing despair generated by the American Romanticism (think of every Nature calendar you ever had). If we are hesitant to name these false ideologies, we are unlikely to be able to offer any real spiritual counter to them, let alone shed light.

In terms of the Church can do, I would suggest going Trinitarian: we are to act in obedience to the caring of the world; faith, knowing that what we do is going to be proximate, coming up short (see Martin Luther — sin boldly); and we are to act in hope — one of the great evils with such a large problem, is to think that we don’t matter, our perceived insignificance leading us to acedia, a denial of our own agency in our lives.

The part that we can barely utter — and it is only hinted at in the report — is the lament. Or to ask it in biblical terms, “where are the cedars of Lebanon?” or for that matter the lions that prowl for the food, as recorded in Psalms?


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