From: PSCF 38 (June 1986): 96-102.
To the Hebrew-Christian Bible and to those who claim to be its adherents have been attributed the environmental degradation, and the resulting ethical dilemmas, that now face mankind. Resource managers who are Christians must understand the historical rationale for this accusation and then move to challenge it. To do so, they must grasp an understanding of the nature of man, which leads all men to exploit natural resources, and of the edict of Scripture that calls men to be capable stewards of the environment entrusted to them. Resources are to be used, and not abused, to provide for the needs of people.
Professional resource managers have participated too seldom in formulating policies for society and society's institutions. The task has been left to lobbyists and laymen. Now there is a new opportunity for members of these professions-geologists, foresters, range, watershed and wildlife managers-to provide guidance for the church and temple as these institutions begin to grapple for a proper understanding of their roles in environmental care. The alliance of natural resource caretakers and religious organizations is not inappropriate, for the origins of several of these professions are rooted in altruism. The church-perhaps apart from government the nation's largest institution-is acclaimed as a citadel of altruism. And, also, the motivation that led to the founding of both the profession of forestry and the Society of American Foresters was altruistic. Gifford Pinchot, who some say coined the term "conservation" and defined it as the wise use of natural resources, was a Calvinist. So too was Theodore Roosevelt, probably the nation's most conservation-minded president. Carl Schenck, founder of the Biltmore Forest School in 1898, the first such institution in the New World, expressed his concern for altruism to his students with the phrase , Excelsior, the higher good." With a doctorate from a German university, he often preached from pulpits of southern Appalachia. And Aldo Leopold, among the first wildlife management professionals, wrote of the need for a "land ethic" in his classic essays published as A Sand County Almanac, and Sketches Here and There (1949). E. 0. Wilson (1984) calls this concern biophilia, implying a fondness for all living things.
Even if not participants in policy formulation by the institutional church, resource managers should have at least some understanding of the debate. To provide for that discernment is the purpose of this paper. Its pertinence is noted by current considerations to include chapters on resource use and abuse in denominational confessions of faith, inclusion of natural resource curricula in church-supported colleges, use of the wealth of religious organizations for financing conferences to discuss responsible positions in the realm of environmental ethics (Squiers 1982), and employment of specialists to encourage and to teach church members how to live a simpler life style (Hessel and Wilson 1981). The significance of the manager's stewardship of the resource entrusted to him (generic sense throughout) is readily apparent in first-hand encounters with those involved in these efforts. And in almost every dialogue, even with the most profit-oriented industrialists, the propriety of what resource managers do in using and abusing the lands and waters of the earth is verbalized in ethical terms.
Petroleum engineer-turned-clergyman Norman Faramelli
and Jeremy Rifkin
the latter of
The People's Business Commission, have endeavored to lead their readers to bridge the gap between technology
and ethical behavior in the use of resources in "the
emerging order" that lies before us. Rifkin considers
God in the age of scarcity; Faramelli encourages readers to recognize Christian mission in an age of technology. Since technology both encourages scarcity and
enables scarcity to be turned into plenty, it is seen as the
ethical gap that must be bridged.
Argument and Apology
Ironically, the first significant statement concerning the relationship of the church to the environmental crisis appeared in the secular press. Professor Lynn White's (1967) now famous lead article in Science attributed the Western World's exploitive attitude toward resources to the Judeo-Christian tradition from which much of our culture stems. This, White insists, derives from the command of Scripture for man to "have dominion" over nature (Psalm 8:6, Genesis 1:28, et al.). Shortly thereafter Richard Means (1967) continued White's theme in the Saturday Review; others, like Ian McHarg, the land-planner, pursued the church as the culprit - for the world-wide environmental dilemma we now face. Historian-sociologist White's article, entitled "The Historical Roots of our Ecologic Crisis," is considered so significant that it appears first among many essays in Ecology and Religion in History (Spring and Spring 1974) and is reprinted in the appendix to Pollution and the Death of Man (Schaeffer 1970). In addition, a special committee of the Calvin Center for Christian Scholarship considered it a pivotal statement in the committee's effort to suggest an appropriate position for the Church on environmental care (Wilkinson 1980).
Lewis Moncrief (1970), also in the pages of Science, refuted White's thesis, claiming that Judeo-Christian teaebing has bad only an indirect effect upon the environment. Obviously non-Christians, including aborigines, in and outside of the West exploit. Passmore (1974) aptly concluded (p. 195) in Man's Responsibility for Nature that "greed, ignorance, shortsightedness, fanaticism are not Western inventions." It is the modern West, he said, which provides more options in the realms of poltics, intellect, traditions, and morals than most other societies for enhancing the environment. J. W. Klotz (1971) argued that White errs in at least one significant point: what Westerners do or do not do is not necessarily because of edicts of Holy Writ. Indeed the only command of God ever taken seriously by the masses is "Be fruitful and multiply" (Gen. 1:28). Schaeffer also distinguishes between "dominion" and 11 sovereignty." The former implies supervisory oversight ' the latter ownership, Man's authority is dominion only; be cannot own that which is only lent to him. As the steward of scripture, his responsibilities are therefore awesome.
Whether White or those responding to him may affect attitudes within the churches is moot. The fact is that an emerging concern is apparent. Human understanding of ecology is conditioned by beliefs about man's nature and destiny: that is, religion (Derrick 1972). Eternity, a journal for the more discerning layman, editorialized, "In what passage of the Bible can you find a discussion of ecology ... ?", and then forthrightly notes, "A thoughtful Bible student can see how the Word speaks to these matters, but his thinking will require a good bit of philosophizing and influence." Moody Institute of Science of the Chicago Bible school produced "Energy in the Twilight World," a film about the ethics of energy consumption; and Evangelicals for Social Action, a parachurch group, lends forceful persuasion to the propriety of gearing down lifestyles. Possibly the most succinct of the efforts is that of the Calvin College group which-after seven man-years of debate by an assortment of experts published Earthkeeping: Christian Stewardship Of Natural Resources.
Laurence C. Walker began his career as an assistant district ranger on the Sabine National Forest. Following assignments as research forester with the Southern Forest Experiment Station and research professor at the University of Georgia, he was appointed dean of the School of Forestry at Stephen F. Austin State University. His research has focused on tree nutrition and herbicide use. Dr. Walker is a fellow of the Society of American Foresters, AAAS, and ASA; and red . pi . ent of the BSA's Distinguished Eagle Scout and Silver Antelope awards. He is the author of four books, the latest of which is Trees (Prentice- Hall).
A forester, for instance, as an ecologist, is the managerial steward of resources that have been entrusted to him. So too is he the keeper of the watershed and the overseer of the range.
The idea of stewardship introduces the Latin translation of
The Fourth Century
Bible of that language gives
Change the initial i to
root word for economics appears, suggesting the inseparability of ecology from economics and thus the
managerial connotation of the steward of the earth's
resources. Hence a forester, for instance, as an ecologist,
is the managerial steward of resources that have been
entrusted to him. So too is he the keeper of the
watershed and the overseer of the range. Although
economics and ecology are in fact inseparable, few
people other than those on the roster of resource
managers seem to recognize, it. Many professionals also
fail to grasp the connection.
The connection between ecology and economics was slow in coming in spite of the translations of the basic terms noted above. In a search to learn the development of man's concern for the natural world, we turn to Plato. In him there is neither reverence for nature nor concern for ecological relationships. For Plato, the world is too dynamic and lacks order. Plato's student, Aristotle, arrived at another conclusion: nature is well ordered mechanistically and also has value. One might suggest he recognized the connection. Concepts of both Plato and Aristotle make sense, for the biome continuously changes with ecological succession, yet the transitions are reasonably predictable to managers of renewable natural resources.
The Roman Empire seemed to be without an appreciation for its resources. Cicero, as a royal consul, is said to have had utilitarian attitudes toward the crown's raw materials. Its forests were so recklessly cut over watersheds abused, and minerals exploited that the Empire's fall has been attributed to environmental degradation. Yet some concern was evidenced, even before Cicero's time in the last days of the Republic, for the desolation was such that by the fourth century. B.C., a government forest policy had been established (Hughes 1975). This, however, did not inspire an ecological conscience. It is not clear how much a fear of the gods can be assigned to the apparently prevailing attitudes of the Greeks and Romans toward forestry in their respective times and places.
The Stoics, as did the Old Testament psalmists. endowed nature with personality, implying therefore that the earth was to be treated with the respect one reserves for fellow men. Mother Nature became an expression of that personality, perhaps eventually leading to Leopold's idea of a "land ethic." Gray (1981) in Green Paradise Lost further emphasized the femininity of the personality: "rape" of the earth and "virgin" resources, for example. Epicureans, in contrast, found no purpose to anything in nature, their aim being to live as comfortably as possible, whatever the cost to the environment. Theirs was an exploitive utilitarianism.
As for the Medieval period, man's attitude toward nature was little changed by philosophical or theological ideas. There were exceptions, of course, like the Benedictine fathers; Francis, the Assisi monk who venerated God's natural creation and befriended His creatures; and Bonaventure of the Franciscans who encouraged the study of nature to learn of God (Wilkinson 1980). St. Francis' theme is perhaps redolent of the sentimental attachment to nature which culminated during the Romantic period of the nineteenth century. In its most objectionable form, this reverence for nature degenerated into an egalitarian pantheism which accorded the same status to a blade of grass as to God. Eighty years ago leaders of America's conservation movement called this pantheistic bias "sentimental nonsense." This ethos has, however, persisted until the present in what might be called radical environmentalism. indeed, many a middle-aged and older practicing conservationist chose his career because he found Assisi's philosophy to be more appealing than the alternative of exploitive utilitarianism.
Changing attitudes toward nature in the period of the Scientific Revolution are attributed in part to the writings of Francis Bacon. If nature is to be commanded, it must be controlled. As the Calvin College group, referred to earlier, noted, one cannot have dominion without subscribing to nature's principles, and to do that one must observe and understand its behavior; that is, ecological relationships. An example is that of the forester who observes that an exposed mineral seedbed, full sunlight, and a seed source are required to regenerate many species of trees upon which economies, housing, and paper depend. In nature, fire or storm provide the first two. Man does the same with a bulldozer. Yet leaf-cutting ants or diseases like fusiform rust, destroyers of seedlings, overtake him in his effort. C. S. Lewis (1975:43) grasped this continuing struggle when he wrote, "Man's conquest of Nature turns out, in the moment of its consummation, to be Nature's conquest of Man." We cannot win, but comprehending ecological restraints helps us to manage the estate in order to provide economic resources.
The Scientific Revolution brought with it a depersonalization of. nature, reversing the attitude of the Stoics (Derrick 1972). With this depersonalization came a loss of a sense of the sacred with respect to nature. No longer did men consider that "the heavens declare the glory of God" (Psalm 19:1), but rather they came to honor the wisdom of astronomers and space physicists. In this period utilitarianism reigned, and a materialistic greed often precluded wise management. Yet Calvinists among Christians held that the ability for scientists and engineers to reason and understand in a given time and place is God-ordained, that God moves them to do His will, even to the extent of planting human footprints on the surface of the moon or producing a "super tree" or deer with super racks. How else, may one suggest, could the uncanny synchronization of invention and discovery in so many diverse departments of engineering and science have occurred in so brief a period of time? Of what use would the internal combustion engine be without Colonel Drake's oil? And of what value was his Pennsylvania crude without a knowledge of chemical refining that enabled its use in the Duryea brothers' "horseless carriage?"
In the conquest of the land of the New World, the Puritan refugee settlers found nature obstinately def iant of efforts to tame it. "The woods and thickets, " the governor at Plymouth wrote, "represented a wild and savage bew" (Wilkinson 1980:136). They still do to those who challenge their thorns, seed ticks, copperheads, and widow-makers. The forest must be tamed and used. Its taming was described two centuries later by Wait Whitman in Song of the Broad Axe. The axe leaps, and from the forest come shingle, rail, sash, and floor. And more. Materials used by people mandated utilization and consequently the management-or taming-of these lands. People use paper for communicating, packaging, and sanitation; lumber for housing and bridging; poles for utility lines; pilings for foundations for society's building structures; fuel for furnaces; and raw materials for chemicals. A century ago, when Whitman described the woods, civilized peoples depended almost solely upon wood for housing (roofs, window frames, siding), for fuel (train locomotives and steamships as well as hearths), structures (train tracks as well as crossties and trestles), woodenware (table plates and eating utensils, buckets, and barrels), and chemicals (potash for soap, alcohol, turpentine, and rosin).
Altruism, that uncalculated devotion to the interests of others usually accorded to an ethical principle, is both preserving nature and providing material for man's comfort.
In time, because of the cut-out-and-get-out experiences of the timber barons in the Northeast, these woods would be romanticized. This sentiment is exemplified in the words of Transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson ("Waldeinsamkeit"):
I do not count the hours I spend
In wandering by the sea.
The forest is -my loyal friend,
Like God, it uses me.
Transcendentalism is with us yet; so too is the obstinately defiant forest from which must come the sash
and floor. This is the dichotomy with which the church
and professional resource people within the church
must come to grips. Altruism, that uncalculated devotion to the interest of others usually accorded to an
ethical principle, is both preserving nature and providing material for man's comfort. Romanticism and
utilitarianism must yet be wed by wise resource management, or stewardship. That kind of taming of a
natural resource is altruistically motivated.
Later in Emerson's poem, two lines tell more:
Oh, few to scale these uplands dare,
Though they to all belong."
The couplet reminds us that today, as in Emerson's and his neighbor Henry David Thoreau's time, we often assume that the lands purchased by others, and for which others pay taxes, are for all to enjoy. Wilderness enthusiasts see this as a dogma in an unwritten code of environmental ethics. The more radical among them lie down in front of herbicide-dispersing tankers on private lands, walk through a hunter's lease at dawn during deer season beating on cans, and sue the federal Government to prevent the owner of timber that stands on national forest lands from harvesting his purchase.Contemporary Synopsis
Sebaeffer's further concern is that Platonic thinking, in its belief that all nature is subservient to man, leads to aesthetic degradation. Perhaps he was naive in equating environmental awareness with beauty. "Psychologically, " he writes, "we ought to feel a relationship to the tree as ... fellow-creature.... We really are one with the tree! ... But while we should not romanticize the tree, we must realize God made it and it deserves respect because He made it as a tree" (1970:54, 55). One is compelled to caution, however, that we do not cut down a person when we cut down a tree. Rather we build a home or print a book and provide a job.
Churchmen interested in environmental care must bear in mind that the economic costs involved are always transferred to consumers. Schaeffer, for example, seems to again infer that the only reason power lines are not put underground is because it takes longer to do so. Even if that were the case, time is money. More importantly for the church, whose proper concerns include aiding the poor, environmental protection costs make poor people poorer and fewer people able to afford to appreciate the beauties of nature. The price of restoring previously abused landscapes and the reclamation of presently disturbed sites is simply passed to consumers. The above-ground transmission line is a highly localized aesthetic insult only. Placing it underground requires disturbance of the soil and consequent erosion of soil to silt-in streams often a thousand miles away. The necessary trenching uses fuel and causes air pollution as the trenching machine belches exhaust.
Thick insulation, made from mineral resources, must coat the cables, the repercussions of which might be felt two thousand miles away where surface mining removes the ore from which to make the wire cover.
The high cost of mineral resources in America today. for instance, can be attributed in part to the reluctance of society to require that strip-mined sites of the 1940'5 and 1950's be promptly reclaimed. Not until legislation in the 1960's mandated such rehabilitation was it like to be done. Thus a later generation pays in the purchases it now makes for the profligate abuses of resources by its parents' or grandparents' generations. Children who grew up in 6-room houses will rear their offspring in 5-room dwellings, other things being equal.
For the church, whose proper concerns include aiding the poor, environmental protection costs make poor people poorer and fewer people able to afford to appreciate the beauties of nature.
Other environmental problems faced by resource managers, like soil erosion and depleted range, involve the question of short-term versus long-term economics. Present management practice which is less than the best may add greatly to the costs of food and fiber in the future. Good practices now, however, increase the price of commodities for today's consumers.
The following examples provide further illustrations of the complexities of environmental policies. Congressional action makes permissible the regeneration of stands of trees on national forest lands by the most expeditious scientifically accepted methods. For many commercially valuable species, this means clearcutting. (See Walker  for an explanation.) This practice produces landscapes which are ugly for a few years, but to employ other methods doubles the cost of logging, and that cost is passed to the home-buyer. The practice required by the State of Oregon, of removing any material from a permanent or intermittent stream following logging, by itself adds a hundred dollars to the cost of wood in a house. A score of such environmental edicts may make the purchase of a house an impossible dream for low-income people.
Nature may be "awful-ly" ugly as well as "awefull-ly" beautiful. Black widow spiders, cancer, and (to some) the slowly decaying timbers lying under a highcountry stand of western red cedar are not things of beauty. A compulsive "neatnik," for instance, could not tolerate the accumulation of organic debris that awaits fungal action.
Thus the dichotomy of Man's attitudes toward Nature-a thing of beauty and yet sought for its utility-is apparent. Lewis (1975:44), the Cambridge don, phrased it well when he wrote, "We do not look at trees as Dryads or as beautiful objects while we cut them into beams; the first man who did so may have felt the price keenly, and the bleeding trees ... may be far off echoes of that primal sense of impiety."
The primeval sense of impiety for the destruction of any resource, even if that resource is utilized by man, is what Ren& Dubos saw as the reason " for the emergence of a grass-roots movement ... that will give form and strength to the latent public concern with environmental quality" (Derrick 1972:14). The movement will be powered by romantic emotion as much as by factual knowledge.
Klotz (1971), placing responsible utilitarianism above romantic sentiment, maintains that man has the responsibility, not just the authority, to "harvest ripe timber" in order to satisfy the needs of people. It is in fact ethical to do so. It is the meaning of dominion, even dominion over a "delicate creation."
To maintain the delicate balance of creation, the Science Action Coalition's Environmental Ethics manual (1980:233) calls for a self -sacrificing rather than self-serving activism. "When looking into the sacred Scriptures and the living experience of people stayed in Judeo-Christian tradition [we see]: a prophetic witness to the need to reform; exemplary lifestyles demonstrating the need for harmony with the earth; and a stewardship that stresses the major elements of environmental conservation." This is the voluntary surrender of power of which Lewis (1975:35) wrote about in The Abolition of Man: "What we call Man's power over Nature turns out to be a power exercised by some men over other men with Nature as its instrument." A recent assignment in Indonesia vividly demonstrated this principle to the author. Each governmental decree issued in an effort to prevent exploitation of resources by foreign interests inevitably backfired to economically harm the very citizens-those on the lowest rung of the social ladder-it was intended to benefit. Foreign industries, rather than subscribe to the directives, went home. Their exodus left peasants without employment. The land, to be sure, will look more appealing in its natural, virgin state (Walker 1986). But what about the people? They hunger for the employment that consumes resources.
Thus the real "tragedy of the commons" is Man's egocentricity which Miller (1972) notes is hardly to be trusted for environmental care. If laws and taxes cannot enforce conservation, we may expect martial repression and government-imposed rationing (in contrast to the marketplace) to handle the task.
Always the Church's task has been to call its people away from egocentricity, even while the Church must recognize the improbability of the success of its cause due to the Adamic Fall. And nowhere is the rebellion that makes a god of man more obvious and odious than in the institution of the Church itself. Hence, the fallibility of decisions and judgments regarding the care of resources by citizens of the West are attributed to the Church and its Book. The critics, I believe, have confused Christendom, the institution, with Christianity, the faith. Even the pronouncements of the organized church regarding environmental-caring lifestyles may not represent the Judeo-Christian position, though they may truly denote the stance of Christendom.
Each governmental decree issued in an effort to prevent exploitation Of resources by foreign interests inevitably backfired to economically harm the very citizens-those on the lowest rung of the social ladder-it was intended to benefit.
God created the earth and "saw that it was good" (Gen. 1:4,12), thus establishing a "covenant (agreement) with every living thing" (Gen. 1:28-30; 2:18-19). Adam was assigned the task to till (serve, be a slave to, dress) and keep (tend, watch, preserve) the garden (earth) (Gen. 2:15). The Fall followed the First Adam's disobedience and entailed his removal from the Garden of Eden (Gen. 2). By that act-the use of the resources beyond the permissible limit-not only the man Adam (the Hebrew word for man) but all creation has been affected (Gen. 3:17). Given his freewill to make decisions requiring judgments, man-because of his fallibility-tends to err in making such decisions in the act of caring for the resources entrusted to him. Because of the Fall, too, he is egocentric and selfish about the use of resources. Also, since the Fall, all has not been well in nature itself. All creation groans, as the Apostle Paul wrote to the Romans (8:22). However, during this time of nature's agony, man, as the crown of God's creation endowed with intellect, is to exercise stewardship of the earth's recources (Psalm 8). It is to be the kind of loving stewardship which Jesus attributed to God in His care for sparrows, ravens, lilies, and lambs (Luke 12). The word "steward," too, may be translated "slave," one who is accountable to his owner. Thus, that accountability for man takes the form of a responsibility to God to cultivate a sense of loving care toward His creation and to act upon it.
Theologians continue to tussle with the passage in St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans (8:19-22) that suggests to some scholars that all creatures-not just man-fell. The Wilkinson (1980) group anticipates that all creation will be redeemed, and that redeemed man will actually.participate in that task of redemption. That is, the race of man will have a role as a mediator for nature in the Christ-centered redemption of the World. Even John Calvin, according to Blocher (1984), attributed thorns and thistles to the introduction of sin.
On the other hand, God said that all He made was good," a declaration nowhere negated in Scripture. Hence some conclude that Earth's non-human resources, never having fallen, have no need for redemption. (Ivory-tower preservationists find that position easy to accept; foresters and farmers, continually plagued by the likes of briars and boll weevils, somehow feel this is not the awesome world of creation depicted on film and canvas, but the awful world which is to them so real.) Blocher holds to the man-only interpretation, noting that if man "bad all the faculties that were his at creation, he would be able to turn the upheavals in nature to good account, without suffering at their hand" (1984:184). It is, be says, because man scorns the balances of the created order that he turns a garden into a desert.
Forester Arthur Greeley, former associate chief of the U. S. Forest Service and later ordained to the ministry of the United Methodist Church, writes of these Pauline verses: "Why would the creation wait with eager longing for the children of God to be revealed unless the children of God are to have some hand, and some responsibility, in the 'setting free' of creation which that [Romans] passage speaks of? ... Lifting sin ought to change the land, too" (personal communication, March 27, 1982). He continues with the theme that our concern is more than an ethical consideration, for ethics "connotes an impelling by conscience." Rather, as co-creators with God, our concern for the land and its healing should be motivated by love, not conscience. Yet conscience Plays role in ethical decisions.
The need for ethical reminders, like this paper, is because of man's greed, and that the result of the Fall It is the Christian faith, challenging us to cast aside our selfishness in the use and abuse of resources, that enables us to see so clearly our weaknesses as steward, Will we be Homo "egoiens" or Homo sapiens? As the latter, Christian stewards of natural resources must take a world-wide view of the biblical injunction to love their "neighbor. " That one is he in every age and clime for whom the woods and wildlife are now cultured and husbanded. REFERENCES
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