Should Christians Be Environmentalists?

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Should Christians Be Environmentalists?

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These days there is a lot of talk about being “good environmental citizens.” Media programming, educators and conservation organizations regularly remind us that Earth’s natural resources (the atmosphere, water, soil, minerals, fuels, plants and animals) are limited and subject to contamination and depletion, and that we must conserve these resources so that human beings and all life on this planet can benefit from them now and in the future.

We’re told that we should all do our part to protect the environment. That can involve everything from not littering and using ecologically-friendly household cleansers and lawncare products, to fixing leaky pipes and drippy faucets to conserve water, and turning off lights and electronics when we’re not using them to cut down on energy consumption. It might mean bringing reusable cloth shopping bags to the supermarket or drinking from refillable water bottles (instead of water in single-use plastic bottles) to limit the amount of plastic going to landfills, composting biodegradable food scraps and yard trimmings to enrich soils, or having regular maintenance done on our automobiles to decrease harmful vehicle emissions.

Truly, these are all measures that can be part of being good citizens. Even more important, we can find a lot of endorsement in the Bible to support these kinds of actions. This is not to say we absolutely must do everything just mentioned, but we should be wise in how we use the natural resources at our disposal.

After God created the Earth and everything in it, He gave mankind the responsibility to “tend and keep” the plant and animal life He created (Genesis 2:15). The Hebrew word translated as “tend” in this verse is abad, which can also be translated as “till” or “cultivate,” and the Hebrew word for “keep” is shamar, which implies “caring for” or “watching over” something and preserving it. Basically humanity was instructed to be responsible stewards over the natural world God created.

Genesis 1:26-28 does say that God gave mankind dominion over the earth and its creatures, and was commanded to subdue the planet, but this does not give human beings an excuse to exploit, plunder, misuse or destroy it.

In Creation Care (Zondervan, 2018), Douglas Moo and Jonathan Moo compare man’s dominion over nature to the way God desires kings to rule. They quote 1 Kings 10:9, which states that God appoints kings “to do justice and righteousness.” They explain that a king is meant to rule “first and foremost for the benefit of those under his care. He is not to use his position selfishly to accumulate things for himself, and he is to rule under God’s law as one subject to God, just as his fellow Israelites are (see Deuteronomy 17:18-20, Psalm 72:1-6). Such a biblical understanding of kingship makes impossible any interpretation of dominion in Genesis 1:26-28 as domination, and it rules out any notion that God’s entrusting other creatures into our care means that we may use them or the rest of creation however we like” (pp. 78-79).

Certainly “having dominion” implies being able to enjoy and use the planet’s natural resources for our benefit, but we must do so in a just manner. Too often mankind has allowed uncontrolled greed, haste or poor planning (all habits the Bible warns against) to lead to the deterioration of the natural environment—by way of massive deforestation, overhunting and overfishing, strip-mining hills, dumping chemicals into waterways, spreading sewage sludge on croplands, etc. We must remember that ultimately the entire creation belongs to God and is His property (Leviticus 25:23, Psalm 24:1), and human beings have simply been entrusted with its care (Psalm 8:6-8). This is a responsibility we should take seriously.

The Bible actually spells out some specific ways to manage our environment. Exodus 23:10-11 and Leviticus 25:1-7 delineate a land rest that should be planned for every seventh year, to allow nutrients to replenish in the soil. Instructions were given for how to properly dispose of human waste (Deuteronomy 23:12-13) and conserve fruit trees (Deuteronomy 20:19-20). We are told to show proper care and even a respect for our domestic animals and wildlife (Deuteronomy 25:4, 22:6-7, and Proverbs 12:10). Clearly God wants us to preserve His creation.

There are additional reasons to be good environmental stewards. Think about some of the wonders of nature—the rainforests with their abundant plant and animal life, the oceans’ brilliantly-hued coral reefs, the daffodils and tulips that bloom every spring, the cardinals singing in the trees, the colorful fall foliage, or even a winter scene with fir trees coated by freshly-fallen snow. God’s creation is majestic, and it points us to Him (Romans 1:20, Job 12:7-10). We should strive to do whatever we can to maintain and protect this beauty. By doing so, it can stir us to praise, thank and glorify our Creator. But if we abuse or neglect the environment, we are not showing respect or appreciation for what God has designed and provided for us.

We should also keep in mind that healthy human and animal life depends on having clean air and water and an untainted food supply. Not polluting or misusing natural resources is a way to show concern to our fellow human beings, and even the animals around us. Consider Philippians 2:4 in this regard, where the Apostle Paul admonishes us to not just look out for our own needs, but also “the interests of others.” In James 2:15-17, he characterizes a faith that does not provide clothes and daily food for the needy as a “dead” faith. Surely, maintaining a clean environment is a way to “look out” for others, and is as important as providing food and clothing.

Being good environmental stewards shows God that we are responsible and conscientious in fulfilling the duties He gave us to “tend and keep” the earth. While we may not be able to control what other people do that harms the environment, we CAN and SHOULD do what’s in our control personally. When we are properly taking care of God’s creation, it shapes who we are and becomes ingrained in our character—that we can be counted on to be careful stewards.

“Tending and keeping” versus environmentalism

But while we should “tend and keep” our own corner of the planet, that doesn’t necessarily mean we should get on the environmental movement bandwagon. That’s because what we’re seeing in the world today is a Green Revolution that is not just concerned about wildlife and having clean air and water, but seeks to radically transform our families, communities, economic systems and lifestyles (particularly the aspects of Western Society that just happen to reflect a biblical worldview). The truth is, much of what the eco-activists advocate is diametrically opposed to God and His truths.

That should not be a shocking statement, as the Bible warns us that Satan is “the god of this age” (2 Corinthians 4:4) and the “prince of the power of the air” (Ephesians 2:2). Satan is very adept at mixing truth with error, and good practices with destructive ones. He knows how to take a concept that is constructive, like caring for and preserving the creation, and twist it into something very different from what God intended, and then influence humanity into going along with his distorted thinking.

It is true that not all environmentalists are blatantly anti-establishment or anti-God (some might not even realize how much the Green Agenda conflicts with the Bible), and some are more “extreme” than others. Still, there are certain unbiblical views that permeate the larger environmental movement, and many of its followers hold onto these ideas, at least to some degree. Usually when Christian apologists voice concerns about the environmental movement, it relates to at least one of the following matters:

Evolution is usually embraced, while mankind is degraded

While the Bible tells us about the special role God gave to mankind to “tend and keep” His creation, environmentalists generally reject this understanding. That’s due to their acceptance of evolution—the theory that all the species we see today emerged from a common ancestor. To them, humanity is just another evolved animal—of no more value than the squirrels in a tree or the frogs in a pond. As evolutionists, they typically see no “reason” to believe in a Creator and therefore disregard the Bible, starting with the Creation account described in the book of Genesis.

Without a biblical understanding, all the rest of their thinking is skewed. This is something Steven Hayward elaborates on in Mere Environmentalism: A Biblical Perspective on Humans and the Natural World (AEI Press, 2011): “The beginning of Genesis makes clear…that the human species is part of nature, but that humans, being created in the image of God, hold an exalted place in the hierarchy of nature—below the angels but above the mute beasts of the field. This is a crucial point, as many forms of modern environmentalism either portray humans as simply another, equal part of nature (this is the premise of the animal rights movement, for example), or as a grotesque predator against the rest of the order of nature” (p. 22).

He notes that the more extreme forms of environmentalism often exhibit a deep hostility towards human civilization: “Sometimes humans are described as a plague on the planet, apart or separate or alien from the natural world rather than a part of it. Occasionally this self-loathing extends as far as hoping for humankind’s extinction, either from deliberate suicide or from a plague represented as the retribution of the rest of nature against humans” (p. 18).

Green activists rebuff the Genesis 1:28 mandate to “be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth,” as they do not consider Homo sapiens as anything special and see no reason to encourage the numbers of people on this planet. In fact, they generally perceive human overpopulation as a serious threat to our world ecosystems (this is often debated, as some believe the earth is nowhere near “overpopulated”). Hayward points out that a primary goal of the Green Revolution is actually to cull the human population, even if it means enacting drastic measures like forced sterilization programs, and even if it means humanity must be sacrificed to save the earth.

Nature is often venerated

Another unbiblical concept that conservationists have latched onto is nature worship. Now it may not be part of a formal “religious experience” for them. Still, they see themselves as dependent on the earth, and so in their minds, nature should have their total gratitude and reverence. This perspective is quite prevalent in our world today. A November 2022 study by Pew Research found that 70 percent of Americans consider the physical earth to be sacred (worthy of worship).

Then there are those in the environmental movement who venerate nature because they consider it divine. Typically, they conceive of the earth and its ecosystems as being a single, living entity, which they refer to as Mother Earth, Mother Nature, or Gaia (the name of the earth goddess in Greek mythology—a concept that has been adopted by the modern environmental movement), and believe “she” is the one who made and sustains all life on Earth.

In the minds of these environmentalists, writes Christian apologist and researcher, Carl Teicrib, “Earth is not a thing but a thou—a spirit infused in nature but not a personage…What is our expected role? In parlance of this ancient-future myth, our task is to serve the goddess by co-creatively tending to our divine garden, making Heaven on Earth” (Game of Gods: The Temple of Man in the Age of Re-Enchantment, Whitemud House, 2019, pp. 210-211).

Some environmentalists actually espouse pantheism—the neopagan religious view that everything in the natural world collectively comprises God. Paul Harrison, founder and president of the World Pantheist Movement, describes his belief system this way: “The statement ‘Nature is my god’ is perhaps the simplest way of summarizing the core pantheist belief, with the word ‘god’ here meaning not a supernatural being but the object of deepest personal reverence…Pantheists do not accept the idea of a designer separate from the universe. They believe that the universe ‘designed itself’ through evolution…The central object for pantheist reverence is the existing Universe. It is not a personal God; indeed, many scientific pantheists do not even use the word God. It is not a loving father, conscious of and caring for each one of us. It is simply the Reality of Being, just as it is. It is beyond personality, in any human sense” (Elements of Pantheism, Element Books, 2013, pp. 1, 38, 43).

Whatever the specific beliefs might be that motivate people to venerate nature, the definitive problem in doing so is that it can lead to what Romans 1:25 warns us of: worshipping and serving the creation rather than the Creator. We need to do just the opposite. Observing the intricate designs in nature should help prove to us that there IS a Master Designer (and that nature couldn’t have just “created itself” or come into existence by chance), and motivate us to praise God for all for all His wonderful works. We must always be grateful to God and dependent on Him—not direct our gratitude or praise to the physical world He created for us. Moreover, if we start venerating nature, we can start to develop a warped view of God—that He is just an impersonal spiritual force that pervades our physical world, rather than a very real, personal being who we can have a genuine relationship with.

The eco-measures and climate policies promoted often go far beyond “tending and keeping”

When environmentalists dismiss mankind’s God-given role as stewards of the earth or deify nature, what they identify as “ecological concerns” or solutions to perceived environmental problems can be misguided. That is exactly what is happening.

Today radical environmental groups advocate for using geoengineering to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere (to reverse what they believe is climate change), forced euthanasia and sterilization programs (to control human population growth), eating insects and lab-created meat instead of real beef (to shrink the cattle industry), banning the use of rainbarrels (to stop rainwater collection), imposing burdensome carbon taxes on fuels and products that use gas (to discourage energy usage) and outlawing gas-fueled cars and stoves (to limit the use of fossil fuels)—all of which go far beyond simply “tending and keeping” the natural environment.

The United Nations has established its own Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which it hopes to be fully-enacted globally by 2030. Patrick Wood goes over these SDGs in-depth in his book, Technocracy Rising: The Trojan Horse of Global Transformation (Coherent Publishing, 2016). The UN’s objectives include reducing agricultural acreage worldwide, destroying dams and water reservoirs, limiting or restricting ownership of private property, intentionally lowering standards of living (particularly in Western nations) to “pre-industrial” times, and reducing the global human population. Endeavors like harvesting timber, paving roads, hunting, owning livestock, allowing cattle to graze, fencing off pastures, and the “homesteading lifestyle” have all been deemed “unsustainable” by the UN. This is troubling, because these are all ways individuals might “have dominion” over the land.

“Sustainable Development is a Trojan horse that looks good on the outside but is filled with highly toxic and militant policies on the inside,” writes Wood. “It promises a utopian dream that it cannot possibly deliver. There is no economic growth if living standards and consumption patterns regress back to the 1800s, or if population is curtailed. There is no economic satisfaction if people cannot easily enjoy and transfer real property or accumulate wealth and savings. There is no personal satisfaction if people are constantly under a microscope for analysis of their sustainable activity, or the lack of it” (Technocracy Rising, p. 97).

The true environmental fix

It’s obvious that humanity has “mismanaged” the earth. Our polluted air and waterways, degradation of land and soils, and species extinction are all very real ecological problems. But when the Green movement veers as much as it has from biblically-based Earth stewardship, rallying behind it cannot be the answer.

Ultimately, the environmental problems that we see “are not simple matters of weighing tradeoffs between resource use and pollution versus human material wants,” observes Steven Haward in Mere Environmentalism, but “fundamentally a philosophical or spiritual problem, concerning basic questions of human nature itself and humankind’s relationship to the natural world” (p. 12).

We can have hope, because we know Christ will return. Then, not only will mankind’s spiritual problems be addressed, the physical earth will also be renewed. A big step towards this renewal will be the spiritual changes in the human population. People will learn to avoid the greedy, careless and self-serving practices that destroy nature. The Bible tells as that even the creation groans for Christ’s glorious return (Romans 8:21-22). This is the true utopia we can look forward to.

Until then, we should take good care of our immediate surroundings and any pets or farm animals that we own, not waste resources, and not pollute or act irresponsibly when we visit parks, lakes, rivers, etc. Everything we do in our daily lives should honor and glorify God (1 Corinthians 10:31). That includes how we use the natural resources God has provided. Truly, God is glorified when we seek to preserve His magnificent Creation.