from Humane Religion

Ecology and Christian Activists

The very limited understanding of many people who are promoting stewardship of the earth as a religious concern, needs to be confronted.

Among such activists the conservation of natural resources is given the highest priority while the treatment of non-endangered species of animals is not even a peripheral issue.

But even more ominous than this disregard of the biblical mandate which made man responsible for the animals, is the perversion of scripture regarding their treatment.   A book titled 50 Ways You can Help Save the Planet is a case in point. This book is published by InterVarsity Press which describes itself as "a division of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, a student movement active on campus at hundreds of colleges and a member of the International fellowship of Evangelical Students."

The first chapter of this book explains that the authors "want to encourage Christians whose relationship with Christ has led them to a sensitive concern for creation." But, predictably, that concern for creation does not include the animals. Nor does it discuss the fact that raising animals for food depletes the natural resources that otherwise could sustain life for millions of people. The book also falsifies the Genesis account of life in the garden of Eden.

It starts off well enough with the authors telling us that "the Creator must delight in plants and animals. Picture God walking through the garden, tending plants, petting animals and showing Adam and Eve the special care he gives.." This is a beautiful, pastoral image and those familiar with the Bible know that Eden was such a peaceful place because man had not yet begun to abuse the other creatures in the garden. That, in fact, he obeyed God's command to eat only the food that the earth produced: "God said, I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food." (Gen. 1:29. NIV)

But the same book that pictures God "petting the animals," and showing Adam and Eve "the special care" he gives them, goes on to contradict the Bible by claiming that God created the animals for man to eat. "Taking care of the garden is an act of gratitude for the One who...placed the birds, animals and fish for our delight and sustenance."

This combination of a call to worship God by taking responsibility for creation, while giving permission for the misuse of other creatures, is typical of those promoting Christian ecological issues.

Another publication, The Catholic Peace Voice, stated that it wanted to "explore ecology and spirituality" for its readers. The Voice is the official publication of Pax Christi, a peace group whose members are committed to rejecting "every form of violence and domination."

The editors of this publication are to be commended for their attempt to broaden a commitment to nonviolence to include all creation. But the person who wrote about the subject for them demonstrated the limited understanding of so many activists.

Although the author "conducts workshops and retreats linking ecology and spirituality," the article demonstrates the limits of her understanding. Typically, the subjects she addresses are "the increasing size of the ozone hole, the unremitting cutting of the rain forests, the extinction of species."

The author writes that people must take an alternative approach to the violent, anthropocentric, alienating, and destructive posture most of us presently take in relation to the rest of creation." But then she goes on to demonstrate a violent, anthropocentric and destructive posture towards animals, as she lists Earth's Ten Commandments.

The first two commandments, like the rest of the article, are "ecologically correct." They admonish the reader to "love and honor Earth for it blesses thy life" and to "keep each day sacred to Earth." But then there seems to be some hope for the animals. One of the commandments says "Thou shalt not kill" and another declares "Thou shalt not hold thyself above other living things nor drive them to extinction."

At last, there is good news for the animals: don't kill them and don't denigrate their rights. But there is no good news. The next commandment makes it clear that the prohibition against killing does not apply to animals. It portrays them as existing, not in their own right, but for human sustenance. This commandment says "Thou shalt give thanks for thy food to the creatures and plants that nourish thee."

In keeping with the "spiritual" nature of this article, the commandment does admonish us to thank the animals we are about to kill. But how does one fulfill this command to give thanks to them? Should the hunter yell out "thank-you" before he shoots his target? Do we arrange to have someone stand at the entrance to the slaughterhouse in order to bless and thank the frenzied creatures who are about to be killed? The article does not offer any suggestions on how to fulfil this commandment.

Another group is trying to "encourage churches to become centers of creation awareness and to teach reverence for God's creation" The North American Conference on Christianity and Ecology (NACCE), publishes a newsletter, Earthkeeping News. But after reading a number of its bi-monthly publications, it became apparent that NACCE's "reverence for God's creation" does not include responsibility for the animals. Emphasis is on issues such as the disposal of toxic materials, the danger of climate changes and the problem of air-control quality.

However, one of their newsletters seemed promising.  It contained an article titled "Church takes on Mega-Hog Farm." But the assumption that some church was dealing with the horrors of factory farming proved wrong. And worse than that, the story showed a complete insensitivity to animals. It defined Mega-hog farming as "the efficient, profitable industrialization of swine production", thereby reducing these animals to the category of cogs in an industrial machine.

Neither the church, nor the story reporting its activities, had anything to say about the abuse of animals. The article dealt only with the ways in which the quality of life in a suburban community would have been adversely affected by a large-scale pig farm. It characterized this mega/factory farming as "an environmental disaster...producing overpowering odors making outdoor activities impossible."

This church was able to block the establishment of such a facility in their area. The article ends with satisfaction in a job well done and a pleasant way of life preserved for the church community: "We are pleased that we were able to act on Christian convictions to preserve our community's air and water and to preserve the market share of a small hog farmer, somewhere."

This same lack of concern for the fate of animals is reflected in the description of the seminars and meetings that are advertised in various Christian publications. The sponsoring groups claim to be concerned with "stewardship of the Earth" and "creation theology" but their agendas are invariably directed to preserving natural resources for the benefit of human beings.

These groups have been successful in getting their churches to support recycling, conservation of resources, and respect for the earth. But they have not addressed the crucial issue of animal abuse. At their meetings they recite the Lord's prayer, asking that "God's will be done, on earth as it is in heaven." But the earthly paradise they envision seems to have more to do with freedom from pesticides and plastic packaging, rather than working to make the earth a place in which "all living creatures may lie down without fear." (Hosea 2:18 NEB)

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