Science in Christian Perspective
THE CHRISTIAN AND ECOLOGY
E. JAMES KENNEDY
Division of Science and Mathematics
North Park College, Chicago, Illinois
From: JASA 25 (March 1973): 1-4.
Prepared for presentation at the 26th Annual Conference of the American Scientific Affiliation at Spokane, Washington, August 17-20, 1971.
"We do not believe that the ecologist has anything really new to say. His task, rather, is to inculcate into the government and the people basic ecological attitudes. The population must come, and very soon, to appreciate certain basic notions, For example: a finite world cannot support or withstand a continually expanding population and technology; there are limits to the capacity of environmental sinks; ecosystems are sets of interacting entities and there is no "treatment" which does not have "side effects" (e.g., the Aswan Dam); we cannot continually simplify systems and expect them to remain stable, and once they do become unstable there is a tendency for instability to increase with time. Each child should grow up knowing and understanding his place in the environment and the possible consequences of his interaction with it."
This quote places in a different perspective the current topic of general conversation relating to the environment and the broader science of ecology. If the ecologist has nothing new to say, what about the Christian and his responsibility to his fellowmen? Basically, this paper reiterates an old concept in Christianity, namely "am I my brother's keeper"? (Genesis 4:9).
It is the awareness of the individual, and especially of those individuals of
the Christian persuasion, to the broader aspects of human behavior, which will
bring some semblance of order and progress out of the highly charged
reaction currently expressed over environmental concerns.
A brief examination of the major terms of this paper is in order, if not necessarily for agreement on the definition of the terms, at least for a point of reference for thought and discussion. First of all, who or what is a Christian? A cardinal rule in linguistic studies of the meaning of words refers to their original use in the
The responsibility of the Christian to his environment is no more nor less than that of any knowledgeable and concerned individual.
setting in which the word was formulated. In this case, the first use
of the word
"Christian" refers to the group of disciples at Antioch who
together following a year of teaching by the missionaries, Paul and Silas (Acts
11:26). The important point to note is that this term aptly described a group
of people of common belief, action and goals. In essence a Christian
is an individual
who has been taught about Jesus Christ as the Messiah or Savior of mankind and
has knowledgeably and willingly accepted this teaching for himself.
He has become
committed to a thought and belief process which transcends the
of life. The term Christian should then be used in its pristine
meaning to describe
a personal relationship between an individual and Jesus Christ. However, it has
been given a broader application to describe some more or less
of action, thought or life style. Thus, it is fraught with misconceptions and
misunderstandings and the definitiveness of the word in application
has been diluted.
"Christian" is now more or less syn000mous with western
culture or some
specific branch of religious activity or thought, i.e., the many diverse groups
of Protestantism, Catholicism or the Coptic churches. In addition,
groups of people
have appropriated (or misappropriated) some aspect of Biblical instruction and
formulated small and less defined groups or communes apart from the
organized congregations or organizations.
The word "Christian" describes a relationship to Jesus Christ; any other use is a subversion of the term even though it is commonly accepted and can communicate a thought or idea. It is the ascription of attributes of particular individual desire to the Christian that causes difficulty in society. Christianity is often blamed for human action where it is not warranted. Under the guise of Christianity many causes of human activity have been promoted or perverted to individual desires and individual gain.
Much of what has previously been noted with respect to Christianity has a parallel with the understanding of ecology or the environment. An ecological system concerns the interaction of all living species of organisms with each other within the specific geographic niche or location where they are located. The human being is an integral part of this system and is not above nor divorced from it. The human, however, often has a disproportionate influence on the environment and other species present. Given enough time, an ecological stabilization occurs depending upon specific environmental parameters of temperature, moisture, soil type and many other factors.
The basic plant life under the stabilized condition is termed the climax vegetation, which supports a varying combination of animal forms. The animal life present also varies according to the relative number of prey and predators, but exhibits some degree of stabilization with slight oscillations.
When man enters the picture, however, this condition may change rapidly. Many reasons have been given for the rise and fall of civilizations. Most of these civilizations exhibited a rapid deterioration, often completely disintegrating within a generation or two. Whatever the reason for the decline, one factor is generally present: a failure of the civilization to maintain an environmental balance. The factors often cited include failure of a proper provision for food, water, or waste product disposal. These failures were often parallel with a breakdown in societal relations, moral, spiritual and personal.
Christians have often been concerned with the aberrant social and moral patterns of the populace, but have generally overlooked other facets of the social organizations. Thus, many Christians have a simplistic answer to all the vagaries present in human activity, chiefly a moral judgment. It is my contention that citizens in general bring a similar attitude to most of our problems, particularly to the recent concern for the environment.
If we can accept that man individually and collectively is basically responsible for his actions relative to his environment, then it becomes apparent that there should be no difference in perspective between the Christian and the non-Christian. It is a matter of good stewardship and economics to utilize to the fullest extent all the raw products which are needed to provide the material for civilization. The idea of the "single use" or disposable concept needs to be transformed to a multiuse or recycling concept for all materials. Under this concept, garbage and waste products are elevated to the status of a resource improperly utilized. Unfortunately, current economics are such that it is more profitable to acquire new raw materials rather than to recycle used materials.
If the Christian accepts the idea that to "subdue the earth" does not mean "to exploit the earth", but to manage the finite resources available for the greatest human benefits possible, then we have the potentiality of fulfilling another basic Christian tenet of being our brother's keeper and a good neighbor to all. Therefore, it is suggested that the responsibility of the Christian to his environment per se is no more nor less than that of any knowledgeable and concerned individual.
A concerned and committed Christian will he alert and aware of environmental deterioration and will do his part to maintain the environment in a suitable condition for the welfare of all men. The past emphasis upon medical missions, sanitation, and improved agricultural practices leading to higher standards has shown an underlying desire for a better relationship between man and his environment, even though this relationship was not fully recognized at that moment.
Thus, the Christian should be alert to the total environmental picture and to preserve its integrity to the fullest extent for future generations. God has given us a unique planet and we should work in harmony with the principles of utilization of our resources without deterioration for the total betterment of all mankind, This is our individual and collective responsibility.
1William Murdoch and Joseph Connell, All About Ecology, p. 37. Omega, by Paul K. Anderson, Wm. C. Brown Co., Dubuque, 1971.