Normally when reading the Amherst Student over my morning cup of watered down/sugared up Full Moon roast, I smile, nod, then carry on living my life. Yesterday was not so simple.
“Those who only take the teachings of Jesus as a ‘life philosophy’ without acknowledging His divinity are not Christians.” Yesterday’s article synthesizing Christianity and Environmentalism was undoubtedly compelling though admittedly exasperating. I’ve been in flux about what I believe in for quite sometime now, and what follows is certainly not meant to condemn religion but rather to reflect on and understand my own problems with it.
The article essentially attempts to draw a parallel between a Christian moral code and how we should interact with our environment: the Bible tells us that because “God created the planet he cares about the planet” we, therefore, have a moral obligation to do the same thing. The Christian moral system, then, is ultimately ideal for bringing about environmentally friendly rapport and change.
But this discourse actually sheds light on myriad conflicts in religious dialogue that really don’t do much to solve problems of any kind, let alone environmental ones.
Right off the bat we have quite a bit of exclusionary language that is unfortunately pretty typical for Christian rhetoric. Christians have a moral standard, those who regard this moral standard as philosophical and not divine are not and cannot be true Christians,and so on. In other words, Christians and ONLY Christians have the capacity to adopt such a moral code. What about about Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindi, or atheist men and women? Are they incapable of having an adequate moral agenda to incite social change and growth? Obviously not. If I distance myself from all religions, not just Christianity, does this mean that I have no moral compass? No. It simply means that things OTHER than religion inform my capacity to determine right from wrong. A particular person’s religion does not necessarily dictate moral coding. This was, by the way, a cultural instrument of social exclusion and aggressive ‘otherness’ that was characteristic of the Roman Empire and the Middle Ages, when Catholics argued that because the Jewish population rejected Catholicism they by default operated under a different, and therefore inferior, moral code.
That we would desire to care for and improve the health of our planet only when commanded to do so by a debatably shapeless entity completely disregards, even discourages, the existence of human agency. There are Christians who ostensibly don’t give a damn about the environment. There are Christians who do. This has nothing to do with their being Christian, but rather in their individual makeup.
Using the Bible as proof for anything is also highly problematic, particularly salient in its mobilization as a major justification for Christian oppression and violent abuse of homosexual men and women; or more generally, the oppression and violent abuse of anyone who isn’t Christian. To argue that “because the Bible says so, we are obligated do it” essentially means adopting a ‘moral’ framework with historically ancient origins that are no longer relevant, and probably shouldn’t be, in today’s modern age. Modern Christians are fine with rejecting homosexuals from their basic civil rights but they wouldn’t stone someone in public. Both appear in the Bible, yet one continues to exist because it very successfully enables the Christian order to impose that same medieval ‘otherness’ on those who fail to meet their ‘moral’ (aka religiously compatible) standards. Picking and choosing what to imitate from religious texts is a hypocritical abuse of their alleged ‘sacredness.’
Lastly, this kind of vague, ambiguous “we should care about and love our planet” language provides no means for effective change. Fine, we should care about it. My West Highland Terrier could have told me that. Now how does that translate into action? If the goal of environmentalism is a drastic repaving of how human beings interact with their environment what does this passive, nuanced language have to offer? Very little. It merely makes those hiding behind their morally Christian curtain feel a little bit better about the fact that they’re doing much to bring about change of any kind.
When considering the role religion has (or does not have) in how we and the people around us formulate opinions, I think it’s crucial not only to understand what those arguments consist of but also what they leave out. Sure, Christianity, like all religions and variant forms of spirituality, undoubtedly has its merits. But sadly human radicalism and bigotry has largely convoluted Christianity into an enterprise often (though not always) defined by hypocrisy, judgement, and exclusionary tactics. Environmentalism may need a moral framework to function smoothly, but whether Christianity is (or even should be) authorized to preside over that framework remains to be seen.