Creation and Politics

Posted on February 14, 2013 at 11:27 am,

With this post, I am now resuming the series critiquing Wayne Grudem’s book Politics According to the Bible. In case you’ve forgotten in the gap between posts, the book so far outlines a religious right view of politics. Today we are starting to look at the chapter on the Environment. Today we’re looking at the beginning of the chapter, where Grudem lays out a basic theology of creation. This introduction is, by far, the best bit of the chapter – most of it is quite similar to what I covered in my series on Creation and Environment a couple of years ago.

Beginning and End

Grudem starts by pointing out that God originally made everything good (Genesis 1), but that the fall resulted in a curse on creation, meaning that it is now less than perfect (Genesis 3). Whilst there is still plenty of good in it, there are also things that are not good. He goes on to mention the future of creation, when it will be set free from its bondage to decay (Romans 8:21; Isaiah 11:6-9) and says that this redemption of creation need not completely wait until Christ’s return.

Grudem also expands on a verse that is often contentious – Genesis 1;28, in which God commands humanity to “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” He points out that this means humanity has a mandate to use and develop the earth’s resources wisely, that God views humanity as having greater value than other parts of creation (see passages like Matthew 6:26), that we have a responsibility to avoid animal cruelty (Proverbs 12:10), and that we have a responsibility to use the earth and its resources in a way that is not wasteful or destructive (although Grudem does not use the term, this last point is the principle of stewardship).

The Strawman Environmentalist

The problem with this section of the book is not the basic theology on which a Christian understanding of the environment rests, but the way Grudem tries to contrast this point of view with that of what he calls the “radical environmentalist” view. Judging by the examples he uses about what “radical environmentalists” think, he appears to be taking aim at the most extreme fringes of environmentalism, rather than any mainstream view that would be relevant to discussing politics.

The first way he tries to draw a contrast is when it comes to the question of what the “natural” world is. He claims that the ideal driving much of the environmental movement is to restore the planet to its “untouched natural state”. He claims that, for many environmentalists, the idea of humans developing the natural world is somehow wrong. Whilst there are certainly some people who take that point of view, my experience of the environmental movement is most of us are driven by what’s good for human beings. There is a massive overlap between the kind of people who get involved with environmental groups like Greenpeace or Friends of the Earth and those who get involved with anti-poverty ones like Oxfam or War on Want. Also, environmentalists are far more likely than the average person to be aware that what we think of as the “natural” environment is largely man-made. The only parts of the planet whose environment has not been shaped by human activity are the ones in which humans don’t live (e.g. Antarctica).

Grudem’s second line of attack on environmentalism is to protest that animal welfare should always come second to potential human benefit. He claims that the ideal of “untouched nature” is the motivation behind campaigns to save species from extinction, or opposition to things like animal testing. In fact, many people taking part in such campaigns are motivated by a desire to prevent animal cruelty and the need to be wise stewards of the earth’s resources.

His third attack against environmentalism is that it is based on fear that certain activities will damage the environment. Here, Grudem does have a point – if you campaign to protect the environment, you’re probably a little bit worried that whatever you’re campaigning against will damage the environment. However, the other side can also be driven by fear. For example, people who oppose efforts to reduce our carbon emissions are often afraid that this will force them to change their lifestyle. However, rather than acknowledging that sometimes environmentalists are right that the cost is greater than the benefit, Grudem dismisses pretty much every environmental concern out of hand. He writes as follows:

They are always emphasising the dangers (whether real or imagined) and never realistically evaluate an insignificant risk of danger in comparison to a certain promise of great benefit. (emphasis his)

Which suggests to me that he has pretty much abandoned the concept of stewardship when it comes to the environment. In applying this to the entire range of environmental concerns, he seems to be implying that, no matter how we treat the environment, we will never do so in a way that is wasteful or destructive. He has abandoned one of the principles he just laid out. And forgotten a fundamental principle of Christian belief – that human beings are sinners.

Finally, he goes and quotes a man called Paul Watson as an example of environmentalists who think the existence of human beings is the main problem with planet earth. However, it is somewhat disingenuous to cite a man who Greenpeace dismiss as a “violent extremist” as in any way representative of the environmental movement. In any grouping as large and diverse as the environmental movement, you will find some extremists who are not representative of the movement. Claiming that Watson is representative of environmentalists is like saying that Westborough Baptist Church (the people who picket funerals with “God hates fags” signs) are representative of Christians, or that Osama Bin Laden is representative of Muslims.

Grudem’s attempts to contrast a Christian worldview with an Environmentalist one are a blatant strawman. Earlier in the book, he said that the way Christians should engage with politics

does not mean angry, belligerent, intolerant, judgemental, red-faced, and hate-filled influence, but rather winsome, kind, thoughtful, loving, persuasive influence that is suitable to each circumstance and that always protects the other person’s right to disagree, but that is also uncompromising about the truthfulness and moral goodness of the teachings of God’s Word.

Quite frankly, the treatment he gives environmentalists in this chapter comes across as the complete opposite of this. You should be free to criticise the other side’s policies, positions, and beliefs. But if you are going to do so in a winsome, kind, thoughtful, loving, and persuasive way then you should at least try to represent their point of view fairly.

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