Who owns the environment?

Posted on September 6, 2009 at 5:57 pm,

This post continues the series I started last weekend about the core principles that should lead Christians to care about the environment.

The question of how the universe came into being should have major implications for how we approach it. What we think of our place in the universe is vital to our understanding of how we relate to it. To take one example, a Young Earth Creationist should be far more concerned about the extinction of a species (as he or she believes it to be irreplaceable – apart from divine intervention), than somebody who believes we got here via evolution (as he or she believes that species extinctions are part of the way the world works).

As a Christian, my understanding of where everything came from begins with the first words of the Bible – “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the Earth”. For Christians, everything has – ultimately – been made by God. Those Christians who believe that God used evolution and those who believe in Intelligent Design or various forms of Creationism share this same perspective that God created it all.

This has two main consequences for the way Christians should think about the world around us. Both of which, ultimately, should lead us to be concerned about environmental issues.

The first consequence is that creation is not God. Unlike pagans, Christians do not consider the environment something to be worshipped. We can – and do – admire its wonders. We can – and should – fight to protect it from harm, but it is not something that we should make ourselves slaves slaves to.

The second consequence is that creation is not ours. Ultimately, the environment belongs to God and not to humanity. Therefore, we have a duty to take care of it. I currently live in a rented flat. That means that I do not have the freedom to do whatever I want with it. Yes, I can do whatever I like with the things in it that I do own. But I can’t change the carpet, knock down a wall, or put up shelving without my landlord’s permission. In fact, I am far more careful of the things owned by my landlord than I am of the things I own.

A Christian attitude to the environment should be similar. Because the environment is God’s and not ours, we should ensure that our lifestyles do the minimum possible damage to it. Just as I wouldn’t intentionally spill paint on my landlord’s carpet, Christians shouldn’t live the sort of lifestyle that causes large amounts of carbon emissions unless we absolutely have to. Wherever there is a practical and affordable eco-friendly alternative, we should take it. And if there isn’t, we should support efforts to create one or go without.

Although these two truths may seem at first glance to be in conflict, I believe that they both point us in the same direction. Most of the environmental damage we see today is driven by the ideologies of materialism and consumerism, both of which are – essentially – the worship of parts of creation. By rejecting the pursuit of more and more material goods and the drive to ever more excessive levels of affluence, all of us (Christian or not) will inevitably become more eco-friendly and act in a way that is more in keeping with the idea that the Earth is somewhere that we live as (hopefully responsible) tenants, rather than owners.

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  1. […] 1: Environment: Who Cares? Part 2: Environment: Who Owns it? Part 3: Environment: It is […]

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