Climate crisis calls for a shift in human thinking

In the peak existence of science and technology, to deny the dangers of climate change is absurd. However, we live in a current time in which arguing about climate change becomes a “difference in opinion” and becomes associated with politics. The same science and technology which gave humankind their sense of superiority somehow no longer provides reliable information (in the eyes of climate change deniers) in regards to the climate crisis. In order to shift blame from the status quo, individual decisions (usage of plastic straws, not recycling, etc.) are highlighted as the causes of climate change. Although it’s imperative to make environmentally conscious decisions on a daily basis, the fact that 100 corporations are responsible for 71% of global carbon emissions often fails to be emphasized in local conversations. Why? Because, on a larger scale, society has accepted this is how the world works. We’re in the age of the Anthropocene; humans have decided our surroundings work for us. In reality, humans have harmed the balance of nature and have proved we cannot co-exist with other species— unless there’s a shift in ideologies. 

In Lynn White’s “The Historical Roots of our Economic Climate Crisis,” he argues Christianity serves as a foundation for the climate crisis. God intended nature to be at the disposal of humankind. White asserts that Christianity is, by far, the most anthropocentric religion. As colonialism and Western domination increased, so did the spread of Christianity— hence the large scale influence it has on climate change. In contrast to many Asian religions, White states Christian principles promote humankind and nature to be dichotomous, and not interconnected. In White’s eyes, the climate crisis serves as a reflection upon Christian values and calls for a shift in their religious interpretations.

Pope Francis’s “Laudato Si’” rejects the core claims made by White. He argues true followers of Christianity would find the exploitation of the environment to be a sin. Accepting Christ as your Savior and devoting yourself to God would lead you in a path of kindness, not destruction. However, Pope Francis agrees with White that humans are wrongfully manipulating their surroundings. He urges for new dialogue to occur for the preservation of the environment. 

Both White and Pope Francis blame the climate crisis on humans and our greed. A shift in ideologies is necessary for climate change action, whether this be regarding Christian values or the entitlement humans hold. Regardless of one’s views on the root causes of the climate crisis it’s crucial for policy and activism to take place to lessen the desensitization that’s already occurred. It’s beyond time that people set aside their differences, religious or political, to hold corporations, harmful practices, and ourselves accountable. There has to be a shift in ideologies— the environment doesn’t exist for our gain. 

They’re both wrong

This week we ponder the connections between Christianity and the environment, through two readings.

Lynn White claims that Christianity has set up Western culture to think nature exists for human exploitation, with man as master of nature, and that this has led to Western technological success as well as ecological misery.

Pope Francis, on the other hand, claims that the Bible shows that humans are the stewards of the Earth, using his influence as the Pope to advance the biblical cause for increased environmental mindfulness.

Both argue interesting ideas, and both are accomplished people. But they have something else in common, too – they’re both wrong.

Lynn White comes at history looking for a reason Western Europe had so much success, and he lands on Western Christianity, which was unique to Europe. What else was largely unique to Europe? Constant war. Nowhere on Earth was there such a close competition for power between so many nations, uniting to blunt a common enemy when one got too strong. In Asia, for instance, most countries were tributaries to China: they had a stable position in the world. Europe launched the age of exploration to finance their wars, and they had the best cannons because they had so much practice making them. Necessity is the mother of invention, and competing European powers had plenty of necessity with their survival on the line.

That aside, Lynn White’s argument is defeated by something the Pope brings up. In the encyclical, Pope Francis says “the same wretchedness which leads us to mistreat an animal will not be long in showing itself in our relationships with other people” (92). If exploitation of nature arises from Christianity, where does exploitation of humanity come from? Cultures all over the world have exploited people horribly, showing that exploitation is a universal human qualm. If exploitation has been a problem all over the world, I’m skeptical that non-European powers didn’t become technological leaders because they were too polite to hurt the Earth.

Pope Francis is advocating for environmentalism through the lens of the Bible and Catholicism, which I support him doing.

However what undermines Pope Francis’ point is the apparent mutability of the Bible. You can make the biblical case for anything if you look hard enough. For example, the Americans who say that same-sex marriage goes against their religion because of 1 or 2 verses that indirectly reference same-sex sex. Slavery was even justified through the Bible. So when Pope Francis claims that the Bible and Christianity are inherently and intentionally environmentalist, that is wrong as well. He’s just giving it that meaning.

What is the relationship between Christianity and the environment? Christianity is not the root cause of environmental degradation, nor it is inherently environmentalist. Christianity is a lens to view the world through, and hopefully Christians like Pope Francis can use their faith to make the world a better place.

How religios governing bodies could help

The argument that religion has destroyed the environment stands in some instances through the role it has played in the technological advancement of culture, technology, and society. With ecological downfall in sight, Pope Francis argues that part of the creation described in Christian faith is intertwined with nature meaning proper following of the Christianity requires that humans be stewards of the natural world.

Francis’s view does not agree with that of Lynn White. White’s message counters that of Francis in a way that is more directed at the Christianity itself. White points out the Franciscan way of viewing nature and conserving it glorifies the creator instead of conserving what is given. Another argument that White poses is that “No new set of basic values has been accepted in out society to displace those of Christianity,” meaning that religion is at the core of what society deems to be good and bad. Upon deeper consideration, that means that even those who have refuted dominant belief systems remain within their core values of good and bad, which in turn reflect on decisions concerning environmental stress. White believes that Christianity serves as a vehicle for self-prosperity in which the environment is the sacrifice in the name of the god which brings it.

Pope Francis brings to light an issue regarding Christianity and its power and how it could be used for change. Using his power on Christianity he hopes to highlight and bring a message to Christians to insight change in behaviors. In chapter two of Laodato Si, he covers topics that plague the protection of what all Christians call home. He begins by exploring throwaway culture and its costs on both the environment and human life in hopes of changing habits of his followers. Unless the word of the Church can be used for positive change in the ecological crisis faced today, messages and belief of its existence would be lost into the masses, as a major line of influence and communication would be closed.

WHO CAN WE BLAME?

Blame - Ways to Overcome Anger

Extreme weather, ocean acidification, habitat loss, rapid glacial melt, and pollution-who is to blame? On one extreme we have Lynn White who proposes that we can assign blame, and to him it’s not that complicated-Judeo-Christians. Paganism was replaced by Christianity during and before the middle ages. This loss of this fundamental belief in nature possessing spirits and existing on an equal level as humans has a very profound effect on the world. The first and most important is that scientists from the 13th century and all the way to Newton claimed to have religious motivation for their works. This is a very shaky claim because we know that people will say almost anything to be safe and accepted. Humans learn this early in life when just trying to make friends and be accepted as children.  Mr. White’s argument rests tenuously on this claim, but to give him a fighting chance we’ll accept it. If that is true we need to look deeper and analyze what it is that Christians think about nature. Through the science and technology that Christians enlightened the world with we would think that they think they are above nature and believe we can exploit the world for solely our own grains. Lynn White gives reason to this by quoting the Bible which says that God gave humans dominion over the world and, therefore, elevating us above nature. This would seem to have the effect of humans losing sight of how interconnected we are with nature resulting in its exploitation. In the end he made his argument and the world has moved on, not caring who is to blame but still continuing on in the same way as before. 

Just as a coin has two sides we have one of the biggest religious figures alive today weighing in on climate change- Pope Francis. He makes many of the same points Lynn White makes about our world and its current situation, but he comes with a different field of expertise. If he was arguing against the claims of Lynn White it would come down to the fact that, “an inadequate presentation of Christian anthropology gave rise to a wrong understanding of the relationship between human beings and the world.” The end. Nonetheless, that is not the point that Pope Francis is making. What I like about his book, Laudato Si, is that it not only brings up the issues that we are facing today in terms of climate change, but he also gives us advice on how we can overcome these challenges which, in my opinion, is the most important step in resolving an issue. It seems that too many times people just complain about an issue, but have to real solution or means of addressing the problem they have. 

However, in the end they both reach the same conclusion- and to quote Pope Francis, the Earth is turning into “an immense pile of filth” and humans are the ones to blame.

-Russell Fitch

Why I’m converting to Catholicism

From the age I could comprehend the concept of religion I have been a firm atheist. When I was only ten I got into arguments with religious people about their beliefs. And although I have softened quite a bit on that front I certainly was, and at least partially am still, that kind of atheist. A big part of the reason I am/was this way was because of a fascination with science. To me, science was true and undeniable and religion was blindness to the truth. Another large factor in my avid rejection of religion (especially Christianity) was its conflict with my progressive social views. This coincided with my views on climate change. Largely religious climate change deniers were the big bad that was killing the planet while scientists were the champions of truth that fought for what was right. While my views have shifted and become more nuanced, these sentiments hold a place inside of me. Because of this, I felt like I knew what to expect in Lynn White’s article.

The relationship between Christian ideals and our ecological crisis personally doesn’t feel like a very hot take. Although I haven’t spent a whole lot of time fleshing the concept out, it fits my ingrained tribalistic binary system. Furthermore, the idea of Christianity considering humans as the most important is something I am familiar with. The heavy emphasis on the concept of science and technology in the midst of this was what really made me think.

I spent kindergarten through my 8th-grade year at a self-proclaimed environmental school. A big thing that I got out of this was a belief in renewable energies for the future. The concept of creating better technology to solve the world’s problems was very appealing. Lynn White literally writes: “More science and more technology are not going to get us out of the present ecological crisis.”. Middle school Griffin would have a lot of things to say to this. Despite my past beliefs, I do believe that a global attitude change is a necessary part of solving not only our ecological crisis but many of our social problems as well. The idea that this change could be at some level religious is quite novel.

I would first like to mention the relevant fact that our current Pope is named after the very Saint that Lynn White describes as “the greatest spiritual revolutionary in Western history”. This is a huge piece of common ground that I did not expect. I think that ultimately the views conveyed by both authors are near identical. Not only do they both believe that we have a big ecological problem caused by our misguided attitudes toward nature, but also that the solution must be religious rather than technological. Really the only point of disagreement is the role of Christianity in this. Lynn White believes Christianity is largely the cause of our misguided attitudes. He acknowledges Saint Francis as an exception to this, but really no more. Pope Francis believes that the misguided attitudes may connect with incorrect interpretations of the bible, but that the true Catholic ideals are just the opposite.

If my title didn’t make it completely obvious, after reading both perspectives I agree with the Papal Encyclical more. I think where Lynn White gets it wrong is in his unitary view of Christianity. I think he makes a very strong case that Christianity of the middle ages played a big role in developing many of the attitudes we have today. The views of Catholicism today (I cannot speak on other branches of Christianity) clearly hold near opposite view. Christianity is nowhere near singular. Even reading from the exact same text, interpretation is everything. When it comes down to it, I like Pope Francis’s interpretation of the Bible. I convinced my roommate to go to a Catholic church with me as some point, so I’ll update the class when that happens.

“What hath god wrought” Upon These Innocent Savages?

Pope Francis was considered a radical by much of the Christian world when his view on the nature of man and his connection to climate change opposed much of the contemporary theological perceptions of nature and natures place in the world. A particularly striking piece to this end is the second chapter of the Laudato Si’, which contains such rhetorical similarity to a plea for wounded friend’s life that it hinges on the edge of uncomfortable condolence and tearful empathy within a viewer’s conscience. Francis describes the personification of the earth to elicit a feeling of camaraderie and conscription within a societal system; the earth, a subject of our own matrix of control. Such a matrix within Francis’ writing, predicated on a voracious appetite for natural resources, suggests the genocidal manipulation of nature is bifurcated into both an attack on man and nature in one.

            Following the line of theological ideas left by Francis, Lynn White, Jr. continues the sentiments of the church within an algorithmic deduction of the motivations which spawned the need for such a mention of man’s relation to nature in the first place. Lynn observes the ideological separation of the eastern and western perceptions of nature within early civilization, alongside the creation of the allocation of resources according to economic pull rather than need, and places their precipice at the head of the concept that, as long as man is separated from nature and is superior, at least in concept, the ecological landscape will reflect our avarice, to highly probable deadly affect.

            The sentiments within each of these pieces rings true to myself as an aspiring scientist who knows, for a fact, that saying on certain grounds that I pursue such an interest as ‘a means to advancing the human condition’ is merely shorthand for an uncomplicated thrill of discovery and narcissistic measure of impact. Not too long ago, I was stuck within my own home because the air which consumed the space between my habitat and the others was scientifically known to be hazardous. I was happy; in some space, given environmental constraints, I was able to find joy in my connection to others through server rooms jam-packed with computers. Birds had left a few days before. Deer were few and far between. The animals had all but abandoned us as we waited to either get a signal to evacuate or see enough clear blue skies to go outside of our homes. The fires really shook what I thought I needed to be happy. I only hope that the ability of humans to persevere through their connections to others doesn’t leave climate change as an afterthought. However little of an environment we have in the future, I am sure that the humans then will be just as happy to be alive as those today, I hope that the fact that happiness is arbitrary doesn’t kill the planets beautiful ecosystem.

Is Christianity a Burden On the Climate, or a Call to Repair It?

The planet is currently in a period of ecological stress. This is more evident today than it has ever been in human history; with the ice caps melting, typhoons and hurricanes becoming more violent with every season, and fires lit by both nature and man growing to immense sizes, you would have to be willfully ignorant to be blind to the rising problem of the Earth’s gradual climatic shift.

But historian Lynn White argues that the problem of Earth’s climate started long before we had the weapons to destroy it. He describes in his paper titled, “The Historical Roots of Our Economic Crisis,” that the problems with our climate started with an idea – an attitude toward our world – that it was no more than a mere resource for us to harvest; a sacrificial lamb to perform a ritual of boundless prosperity for all of mankind. And he argues this idea was perpetuated by Christianity, whose God allegedly created the world as a playpen for mankind to do as it willed, so long as it did not intersect with sin. According to White, the Christian faith is entirely responsible for the modern self-serving attitude of mankind toward nature, as it created technology that allowed Western cultures to dominate the world in all forms: over nature, over nations, over other religions, and over other ideas. All would become subservient to the West and to the Christian God, and as the West grew over the world, it displaced nature itself. Believing that mankind was not nature and could not mix with it, like water cannot mix with oil, this imperialism led us inevitably to our present situation.

But there are other perspectives. Pope Francis, head of the Christian faith, believes that Christianity is no weapon against the world, but instead a weapon to aid it. The Pope states that the damage dealt to the world is a sin in itself, and that mankind has “forgotten that we ourselves are dust of the earth.” He pins the blame on mankind’s inability to take care of the world, motivated by greed and self-serving attitudes, much like White does. However, being the head of the Christian faith and an obvious large proponent of its beliefs, the Pope also says that God guides mankind toward selflessness, generosity, and self-sacrifice. By embracing the enlightenment of God, one also becomes a person that would never harm the world around him, for not only would that desecrate the world that He created, but also interfere with the values that God projects onto man.

Ultimately, it is inconclusive whether or not religion has played a hand in the state of our climate. While the arguments proposed by both authors appear to contradict each other at first glance, they both state the fact that an avarice for exploitation has pervaded the hearts of mankind for centuries. If this hunger fails to be alleviated, our world will enter a period of suffering that can be conceived by only the harshest writers and artists. Whether or not Hell exists at present, Earth will become a Hell to dwarf all other Hells, and we shall wallow in its burning wastelands, should we fail to remedy the climate’s continuing downturn.

Lynn White speaks, and the Pope claps back

Nature has had it tough for the last many centuries. According to historian Lynn White Jr. in “The Historical Roots of Our Ecological Crisis”, the principal cause of nature’s rough patch is the advent of Judeo-Christian religion. While other religions and cultures stressed the dualism of man with nature, Judeo-Christian belief placed man as a ruler over nature, who should exploit nature to his own ends. This attitude towards nature can best be expressed in the development of agricultural methods in Northern Europe that become progressively more destructive from the seventh century onward. Though, I would argue it is unfair to pin all the blame on Judeo-Christian religions. Long before the start of these religions, humans were already causing significant environmental damage. From the destruction of the Nile River ecosystem, to Pleistocene megafauna extinctions in every continent except Africa, it can be argued that humans have never been effective caretakers of nature. While in modern times, the Judeo-Christian view towards nature can be viewed as the primary reason we currently face an environmental crisis, it is likely that, even if Judeo-Christian beliefs were not nearly as prevalent in contemporary society, a different justification would have been created to over exploit the environment. 

Lynn White also discusses the life of St. Francis of Assisi. I found his story to be quite intriguing and thought his message of man being a part of nature, rather than being apart from nature, is a major counterpoint to Lynn White’s major claim of Judeo-Christian religions being  inherently antinature. White ends his opinion piece by stating that, because religion is the root of our environmental problem, our solution to remedying man’s strained relationship with nature, should therefore also be religious. 

Pope Francis, in “Laudato si’” starts by giving a shout out to St. Francis, before discussing a variety of environmental topics, from climate change to mass extinctions of the Earth’s biodiversity. The piece is subtitled “On care for our common home”.  This view of Earth being a common home, not just for humanity, but also all of the organisms that share the planet with us, is contrary to Lynn White’s view of Judeo-Christian religions placing man above nature. The Pope acknowledges that humanity is overexploiting nature, but rather than blaming Judeo-Christian beliefs, he names sin as the principal agent in society’s poisoned attitude towards nature. Though, I think the Pope would very much agree with Lynn White’s final statement, as he also seems to wholeheartedly believe the change in the way humans treat the environment should come directly through Christianity. 

Is Christianity as Anthropocentric as We Thought?

The Ecologic Roots of Our Ecologic Crisis, written by Lynn White Jr. in 1967 is a critical analysis of what, or who, is responsible for the current state of the environment. He concludes that the combination of developed technology and science gave us the power to selfishly exploit the Earth’s resources. He also argues that the Book of Genesis and the stories of man’s creation gave those of Western origin the belief that the Earth was given to us to use as we see fit. Christianity essentially gave us permission to do so because of its inherent anthropocentric nature. However, he acknowledges the exception of Saint Francis of Assisi. White references him as a unique, radical figure who attempted to balance the relationship between humans and the environment by acknowledging the importance of the roles even the smallest creatures play.

Ultimately, it seems White does not have faith in a technocentric solution. Since the roots of the advancement of science and technology are so intertwined with these religious knowledge systems, they alone cannot solve the crisis we are now in. Because many of us subscribe to beliefs of a higher power, we all must reexamine our religious and spiritual relationship with nature if there is to be hope of us finding a working solution.

In Laudato from 2015, the current Pope Francis acknowledges the climate crisis and claims that it is the responsibility of humans, especially Christians, to take care of the Earth and the environment. He references the story of creation as well and highlights that a key element of being human is having a balanced relationship with God, each other, and the Earth. Our relationship with Earth was thrown out of balance once we were consumed with greed and refused to see our true role in this world. He admits that this could have been a result of misinterpretations of the Bible, but essentially, humans may retrieve sustenance from the Earth but must also maintain it, take and give to keep balance. He also addresses and credits the actions of Saint Francis from Assisi with the intention of healing the relationship between nature and Man through his practices.

Pope Francis does not offer us step-by-step guidance on how to proceed, but describes how faith is a superior motivator to follow the path of protectors and caretakers of the Earth that we were originally created for. He urges us to consider that we are not only protecting the Earth, but we are protecting others and even ourselves because we were created in a system of interdependence. Humans should use religion as a means to protect the environment instead of an excuse to exploit it. While still anthropocentric in that humans are still regarded as a superior species in the eyes of the Church, the views expressed by Pope Francis lean also more towards Ecocentrism. He acknowledges that humans are still part of an interconnected ecological system and they are not the only ones with inherent importance and value.

A christian’s view on lynn white and pope francis

As a christian myself, my reaction to both these articles may come as a surprise but I found both of them remarkably interesting and I actually learned a lot from both of them – both as a student and a believer of the christian faith. 

For starters, Lynn White’s article, The Historical Roots of Our Ecologic Crisis, was actually very eye-opening in that I never considered how religion (especially Judeo-christianity) played a role in the development of technology and science. The connections and observations he made about Latin and Greek interpretations as well as Islamic ideals regarding man’s relationship to nature was almost, profound to me in that I never learned about these other views nor did I even consider how it was that christianity “won the race” per se, against all the other religious views about the world. More specifically, the way he capitalized on the idea that christianity “appealed” to western Europe because it allowed western europeans to exploit nature for their own benefits without guilt especially challenged my current views of christianity, albeit I am still very much a believer. Personally, when he proposed the idea of “replacing” christianity as the “main” (for lack of a better term) religion for most western thinking (in which he believes leads the development of technology and science), as a method of saving the world from the ecologic crisis, I physically frowned as I knew this wasn’t what I believed about chirstianity which is why I eagerly read the Pope’s article to see how someone of my faith would respond. 

To put it shortly, the Pope’s article had me nodding many times as I found myself agreeing with most of the points that he was making especially when he brought up bible verses explaining why and how christianity does not support the idea that man has domination over nature but rather, man should be caring and in resonance with nature. Of course, I do have some skepticism over the bible verses he used since I don’t have the bible learned and memorized and well as he does and I do have my suspicions that some verses may have been used out of context in order to support his argument (much like how horror movies may use bible verses out of context to evoke a certain way of thinking). However, I do also believe that with some more digging around the bible, I’d probably come to a full agreement with the Pope’s claims and agree that christianity does not condone the claims of Lynn White. 

Just as a disclaimer, I did not take any offense to Lynn White’s claims or suggestions, but rather, I was quite intrigued by his claims and I’m actually interested to learn more about religion’s impact on the environment. Additionally, I am not one that just “agrees” with the Pope and with everything he says simply because I’m a christian believer but it just happens to be that in this particular article, I found myself agreeing with him on most of his points. I do disagree with some things he believes but that is besides the point. 

Is Religion the solution or the cause of Our Ecologic Crisis?

The Historical Roots of Our Ecologic Crisis, by Lynn White, Jr., comments on the union between science, technology, and man’s interpretations of religion. It proposes that the current state of our ecologic crisis stems from those three ideas. When describing the advancement of how humans plowed fields for agricultural use, White highlights how these new ideas were geared towards exploiting nature rather than being a part of it. Old methods like cross-plowing were gentle compared to new methods that were more violent and disruptive. These new methods made it easier to not only turn the soil but to also farm much greater areas of land. The progress in science and technology that she describes had been influenced by Christian beliefs in man’s relationship with nature. With this in mind, she draws the conclusion that Christianity in and of itself, tends to affirm man as a dominator of nature. The solution to our crisis, therefore, can not be found by applying more science and technology. We must first redefine the relationship between us and the natural world, unattached from Christianity. 

Pope Francis shares his own beliefs in Laudato Si. He argues that it is clear God wanted man to be both cultivator and caretaker for nature and our fellow man. While we can use it for our own subsistence, to take anything more than that is beyond our discretion. It is also our God-given duty to maintain the natural world for the next generations, for they too will require its resources. Pope Francis urges us to recognize our existence as one not only created by God but to exist by his side. By devoting ourselves to faith convictions we can provide ourselves with the motivation needed to fulfill our duty. He quotes the stories of Cain and Abel and of Noah to further his argument. In both cases, God sees a lack of justice and so he delivers punishment. To truly maintain justice we must also watch out for the more vulnerable peoples around us.