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.