Some of our earlier discussion on this blog about evangelicals and the environment prompted a email from my colleague Stephanos Bibas that may be of interest to those who are following this issue. The email argues that there is a connection between evangelicals' "uneasy relationship with environmentalism" and their relationship with the Republican party, and is informed throughout by Stephanos's Orthodox faith.
Rather than trying to restate his comments, no doubt much more poorly, I'll simply quote from his email:
"Christianity should naturally (excuse the pun) embrace environmentalism. The first few chapters of Genesis make it clear that while man is the crown of creation, he is also to be a steward of it, because all of creation bears God's imprint as His handiwork; as God created each thing, he saw that it was good. Francis of Assisi, St. Seraphim of Sarov, and many other holy men and women have been so attuned to creation that they befriended wild animals, reflecting their love for His creatures.
"But the Scholastics, following Aristotle, split the universe into distinct categories, radically separating God from His creation and man from nature. (Eastern Christians continued to see God's energies pervading all of creation, but the West came to see Him as more removed and inaccessible.) The Renaissance made man, not God, the measure of all things, in Bacon's famous phrase. That paved the way for the Scientific and Industrial Revolutions, which treated nature as a series of resources and commodities to exploit rather than as God's handiwork to treasure.
"Many environmentalists react against our society's indifference by embracing New Age beliefs, all the way to Gaia-worship as an alternative to traditional religion. Environmentalism became associated with the political left. And Christians, many of whom hold traditional moral values such as respect for unborn life and restraint of sexual license, react against libertinism by embracing the political right.
"Now, there clearly are affinities between many Republican positions on social values and the moral beliefs and teachings of many traditional Christians. And when environmentalism is premised on alarmist cries about ecological disaster, it becomes easier to reject if the alarms seem exaggerated. But I fear that many Christians are rejecting environmentalism ad hominem, disdaining the message because of disgust with the messenger. We have knee-jerk reactions against environmentalism because so many environmentalists seem like libertine lefties in other respects. Materialism, whether of the Wal-Mart or Lifestyles of the Rich & Famous variety, seems a natural aspiration.
"But materialism is at odds with stewardship for God's creation. Whether or not global warming is as bad and imminent as Al Gore says, we must use God's creation responsibly. Whether or not our resources are on the brink of exhaustion, we need to separate our true needs from our wants, to work on disciplining our fallen appetites and restoring them to the way God made them. Asceticism is about fixing ourselves and our out-of-control appetites, and limiting our wants while serving our genuine needs. One does not have to be a tree-hugging vegan to practice more self-denial, to trade in our SUVs for bikes and small cars and to reduce one's consumption of factory-farmed meat.
"I'm interested to hear your thoughts, particularly from an evangelical perspective. I know the Orthodox Ecumencial Patriarch Bartholomew has long spoken in favor of the green movement. I'm pleased to see Western Christians beginning to discuss the same concerns.