“God didn’t say that”

“Historian Blames Christianity for Nature’s Downfall.” A quick summary (lacking depth) of the article “The Historical Roots of Our Ecological Crisis,” written by historian Lynn White, Jr, published in Science magazine. Upon discovering that in the near future I was going to read an article about the subject above I felt two dominant emotions: curiosity and confusion. The notion that Lynn White Jr was going to lay the blame for the ecological crisis was both confusing and intriguing. As I always do before reading, I brainstormed what the text could contain, and I came up empty handed. I honestly had no idea how Lynn White, Jr was going to present his argument (though this lack of ideas could have been due to my lack of knowledge of Christianity and the Bible). And so I read, and was thoroughly impressed. Lynn White, Jr. presented his argument as such: science resulting in technological development have given the people a means to disrespect nature and harm the Earth. Christianity has given society a motivation or a reason to do so. In “The Historical Roots of Our Ecological Crisis,” Lynn White, Jr. focuses on a specific section of the Bible regarding how Christianity views the relationship between men and nature. White writes, “Man named all the animals, thus establishing his dominance over them. God planned all of this explicitly for man’s benefit and rule: no item in the physical creation had any purpose save to serve man’s purposes.” Lynn White, Jr. interprets the Bible as giving Christians permission to abuse the environment as they have dominion over it. Honestly, at the end of the article, I was impressed by Lynn White, Jr.’s main argument and his explanation. Lynn White, Jr. was thorough in providing evidence and examples. In the article, Lynn White, Jr. describes the invention of a plow that required eight oxen to pull. Lynn White, Jr. describes the relationship between man and nature as more harmonious before this invention. Man took only what he needed for subsistence from the land when he had to work harder for it. Now man could exploit nature because he had the means to do so. This technological innovation (among others) and Christian teachings and values is what Lynn White, Jr. argues caused this current ecological crisis. 

As instructed, I traded “The Historical Roots of Our Ecological Crisis,” by Lynn White for Laudato Si by Pope Francis. The relationship between the two pieces is solidified in the second chapter of Laudato Si, titled “The Gospel of Creation.” Pope Francis begins the chapter by contemplating why he has to discuss non-believers or those who criticize, but he ultimately comes to the conclusion that religion has an important place in society. Pope Francis argues that discussing religion and science together is beneficial. This chapter (in my opinion) seemed a little bit like an attempt to save face. While Pope Francis goes on to propose a somewhat valid argument, his writing seems circular as he always ends up in the same place (though this could be a tactic to reiterate his point). While Lynn White, Jr. argues that Christianity and its text are the cause of the ecological crisis  (or motivating factor for individuals to exploit nature), Pope Francis (surprisingly) argues the exact opposite. Pope Francis argues that Christian texts do not lead or encourage Christians to have “dominion” over nature. Instead Christian texts argue for a symbiotic relationship between man and nature. Men are supposed to get from nature what they need to survive. And in return for nature giving them what they need (not desire), man is supposed to give back to the earth and respect it. Pope Francis writes that God made all organisms on life equal and that they all deserve respect and life. When presented with the fact that some Christians do deviate from these values he explains that those who act in this manner have misinterpreted the Bibles teachings. Alienation or separation from God helped cause these behaviors. Pope Francis provides examples that the good Christians do, specifically when mentioning Sundays when everyone, even donkeys, get the day to rest. Pope Francis also describes times that must be taken off, when no one can reap harvest for profit, or pick all that has been grown. The leftovers go to the poor and the wanderers. 

It is Lynn White, Jr.’s interpretation of the Bible and Pope Francis’ interpretation of the Bible that lead these men to take these sides. This is where their argument stems. Lynn White, Jr reads the same text as Pope Francis and instead of coming to the conclusion that Christians and nature must work together, he comes to the conclusion that Christians are being encouraged to exploit nature. Ultimately, it is evident that both Lynn White, Jr and Pope Francis care about the ecological crisis, and both have kind words about Saint Francis of Assisi, who had great concern and respect for the environment. Both men realize that man can feel above nature, and that is a problem that needs to be fixed. It appears that the main difference lies in their interpretations of man’s motivation to exploit.

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