Wednesday, December 03, 2003

The First Church of Environmentalism...

Powerline linked to a speech by author Michael Crichton to the Commonwealth Club in September of 2003. Crichton, besides being a graduate of Harvard Medical School, is also the author of books such as The Andromeda Strain, Coma, and Jurassic Park. In the speech Crichton addressed, "one of the most powerful religions in the Western World... environmentalism." Further setting the tone, he continued, "Environmentalism seems to be the religion of choice for urban atheists." Quick analysis of his speech: It's good... and it's bad. What's good: With regards to core environmental issues facing the world today, Crichton tells it like it is, which is not how it's been sold to the public. He demolishes the myth of some past harmony that we moderns have somehow destroyed. Although he does not present data to back up his claims, he point of fact claims to have access to said data. What's bad: Crichton makes logical and philosophical errors by essentially lumping all religions together. His statements about the core reasons to believe in religion are patently false, at least as applied to Christianity. "I have been asked to talk about what I consider the most important challenge facing mankind, and I have a fundamental answer. The greatest challenge facing mankind is the challenge of distinguishing reality from fantasy, truth from propaganda." That's a fine enough start and every Christian should at least agree that it is a big challenge indeed. "As an example of this challenge, I want to talk today about environmentalism. And in order not to be misunderstood, I want it perfectly clear that I believe it is incumbent on us to conduct our lives in a way that takes into account all the consequences of our actions... I believe it is important to act in ways that are sympathetic to the environment, and I believe this will always be a need, carrying into the future... I also think that deciding what constitutes responsible action is immensely difficult... I think our past record of environmental action is discouraging, to put it mildly, because even our best intended efforts often go awry. But I think we do not recognize our past failures, and face them squarely. And I think I know why." The Christian should still agree with him. We were commanded by God to subdue the earth (Gen. 1:28). Per the New English Translation (NET) Bible: "In Gen 1:28 one might paraphrase it as follows: "harness its potential and use its resources for your benefit." In an ancient Israelite context this would suggest cultivating its fields, mining its mineral riches, using its trees for construction, and domesticating its animals." Given our mandate to manage the earth's resources, the most intelligent, efficient, and Christian thing to do would be to manage such resources wisely. "I studied anthropology in college, and one of the things I learned was that certain human social structures always reappear. They can't be eliminated from society. One of those structures is religion. Today it is said... many people... the most enlightened people -do not believe in any religion. But I think that you cannot eliminate religion from the psyche of mankind... You can not believe in God, but you still have to believe in something that gives meaning to your life, and shapes your sense of the world. Such a belief is religious. Today, one of the most powerful religions in the Western World is environmentalism. Environmentalism seems to be the religion of choice for urban atheists. If you look carefully, you see that environmentalism is in fact a perfect 21st century remapping of traditional Judeo-Christian beliefs and myths. There's an initial Eden, a paradise, a state of grace and unity with nature, there's a fall from grace into a state of pollution as a result of eating from the tree of knowledge, and as a result of our actions there is a judgment day coming for us all... unless we seek salvation, which is now called sustainability. Sustainability is salvation in the church of the environment." Wow! One of the distinguishing features between humans and the animal kingdom, as believed by Christians, is the fact that humans have the Imago Dei - the Image of God (Gen. 1:26-27). What exactly is the Image of God? There are many aspects to the Image of God, but one of the defining characteristics is the capacity for Spirit Worship - i.e., Religion. You don't find any other species practicing religion. Sure, you may find artistic qualities in the way birds build nests, or you may find an instinctual ritual in the way elephants relate to their dead... but do you find any species desiring to worship? Without realizing it, Crichton hits the nail on the head with his remark that religion can't be eliminated from society. Interestingly enough, Crichton links the Environmentalist religion with the Judeo-Christian religion. With all his studies in anthropology, one wonders why he chose the religion of the West? Could it be that is just what his audience was most familiar with? Or could it be that, as C.S. Lewis used to point out, there are glimpses of truth breaking through? Crichton then tears in to the myth of, not a Biblical Eden on Earth, but the secular idea that, without modern humans to muck things up, Earth was an Eden. "There is no Eden. There never was. What was that Eden of the wonderful mythic past? Is it the time when infant mortality was 80%, when four children in five died of disease before the age of five? When one woman in six died in childbirth? When the average lifespan was 40, as it was in America a century ago. When plagues swept across the planet, killing millions in a stroke. Was it when millions starved to death? Is that when it was Eden? And what about indigenous peoples, living in a state of harmony with the Eden-like environment? Well, they never did. On this continent, the newly arrived people who crossed the land bridge almost immediately set about wiping out hundreds of species of large animals, and they did this several thousand years before the white man showed up. And what was the condition of life? Loving, peaceful, harmonious? Hardly: the early peoples of the New World lived in a state of constant warfare. Generations of hatred, tribal hatreds, constant battles. The warlike tribes of this continent are famous: the Comanche, Sioux, Apache, Mohawk, Aztecs, Toltec, Incas. Some of them practiced infanticide, and human sacrifice. And those tribes that were not fiercely warlike were exterminated, or learned to build their villages high in the cliffs to attain some measure of safety." Crichton is right. Any simple research will show this to be the case. As part of my leisure reading this year I read the journals of Lewis & Clark. The account, firsthand of course, was fascinating. But what was particularly enlightening was their descriptions of the various Indian (Native-American for you PC folk) tribes. Were they all vicious? Were they all benign? No. There was a mixture. While there were times that Clark loathed the presence of certain tribes, there were also times when he loathed having to leave "such honourable men." Fact is... they were people. People not living in an idyllic harmony with nature but usually living in a virtual state of survival. "If Eden is a fantasy that never existed, and mankind wasn't ever noble and kind and loving... What about salvation, sustainability, and judgment day? What about the coming environmental doom from fossil fuels and global warming, if we all don't get down on our knees and conserve every day? You may have noticed that something has been left off the doomsday list, lately. Although the preachers of environmentalism have been yelling about population for fifty years, over the last decade world population seems to be taking an unexpected turn. Fertility rates are falling almost everywhere. As a result, over the course of my lifetime the thoughtful predictions for total world population have gone from a high of 20 billion, to 15 billion, to 11 billion to now 9 billion... There are some who think that world population will peak in 2050 and then start to decline. Okay, so, the preachers made a mistake. They got one prediction wrong; they're human. So what. Unfortunately, it's not just one prediction. It's a whole slew of them. We are running out of oil. We are running out of all natural resources. 60 million Americans will die of starvation in the 1980s. Forty thousand species become extinct every year. Half of all species on the planet will be extinct by 2000. And on and on and on. ...I can tell you some facts. I know you haven't read any of what I am about to tell you in the newspaper, because newspapers literally don't report them. I can tell you that DDT is not a carcinogen and did not cause birds to die and should never have been banned. I can tell you that the people who banned it knew that it wasn't carcinogenic and banned it anyway. I can tell you that the DDT ban has caused the deaths of tens of millions of poor people, mostly children, whose deaths are directly attributable to a callous, technologically advanced western society that promoted the new cause of environmentalism by pushing a fantasy about a pesticide, and thus irrevocably harmed the third world. Banning DDT is one of the most disgraceful episodes in the twentieth century history of America. We knew better, and we did it anyway, and we let people around the world die and didn't give a damn." Crichton is upset, to say the least. But isn't it a righteous indignation? After all, he is surely upset about the misuse and downright censorship of pertinent data with regards to the condition of the environment of the earth. The data he presents needs to be heard. You know what? The problem of modern Christians in the U.S. caring more about experience than about the cost of discipleship is not limited to Christians! Crichton is explaining the same phenomenon among secular atheists! Yet, for all his good data he does make a big slip. "I can, with a lot of time, give you the factual basis for these views... But such references probably won't impact more than a handful of you, because the beliefs of a religion are not dependent on facts, but rather are matters of faith. Unshakeable belief. Most of us have had some experience interacting with religious fundamentalists, and we understand that one of the problems with fundamentalists is that they have no perspective on themselves. They never recognize that their way of thinking is just one of many other possible ways of thinking, which may be equally useful or good. On the contrary, they believe their way is the right way, everyone else is wrong; they are in the business of salvation, and they want to help you to see things the right way. They want to help you be saved. They are totally rigid and totally uninterested in opposing points of view. In our modern complex world, fundamentalism is dangerous because of its rigidity and its imperviousness to other ideas." Ouch! Michael!... Buddy! You blew it! If only he would sit down some time and read about concepts such as the Law of Non-contradiction, Absolute Truth, or even the definition of faith. It looks like Michael is equating any type religious faith (including Christian) with blind faith. Christian faith just ain't so. Faith - pistis (greek) - a conviction based upon hearing; a firm conviction, producing a full acknowledgement of God's revelation or truth. Paul commended the Galatians for confirming what he told them was what the scriptures had to say. We are also told to test everything and hold on to that which is good. Luke littered his works with verifiable data that would serve to authenticate the events he wrote about. The list could go on, but the point is that Christianity invites itself to be tested and not believed blindly. Now I have, and you probably have as well, met some fundamentalists who fit Crichton's description in one way or another. Yet we need to understand that Biblical Christianity does not fit into the model he structures for religion. Although we are certainly not pluralistic, we, as Christians, must be tolerant of other beliefs. In our openness we have the opportunity to give the reason for our Hope. Philosophical sloppiness aside, Crichton's speech provides us with some very potent Christian apologetic material.

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