This afternoon, I am heading over to Calvin College for the Wake Up Weekend (on this link you will need to scroll down to Jan. 12 for the schedule). I’m looking forward to the opportunity to think theologically about animals and the environment. As some of you who read this blog know, this is an interest of mine. (See the category “animals” specifically and “Science and Religion” more generally.)
This past summer, environmentalism or creation care- depending on your theological point of view -became a topic of discussion. There was lots of talk, some good, some silly, about energy use and climate change and preservation of the environment. But have you noticed, as gas prices have dropped, so has much of the interest in caring for the creation? Have you wondered where the interest in the environment went? The New York Times published an article about that today. In a few short months our national discussion has shifted dramatically. Certainly economic concerns pushed most other topics off the short list, but even so, if the environment was an important and worthwhile topic in July, isn’t it still important?
You can come up with some reasons for our inattention as well as I can. It’s too big a problem and so we succumb to inactivity-the “what can one person do” mindset. Taking our responsibility to the creation seriously means we all need to make substantive changes in how we live, particularly those of us in the US. And we simply don’t want to. We like how we live. We don’t want to change. Limiting our individual activities and lifestyles for the greater good is not something we have been encouraged to do. And of course there is the issue of our short national attention span.
I think our lack of concern and our lack of commitment have some deep and seldom examined theological roots. Historically, Christians have not spent much time thinking about our relationship to the creation and what thinking we have done has not been very good. Much of our thinking about the earth and animals and our relationships with them centers on how special we are and, at it’s worst, serves to legitimate the idea that we are allowed to do whatever we want to do. We were after all given “dominion”.
The seldom challenged underlying theological assumption is that humans are the whole point of the cosmos. It all exists for us. It is all supposed to serve our needs and make us happy. How many times have you heard someone wonder why God created mosquitoes? They just spread disease and annoy us. What was God thinking? This is a trivial example but do you see our default assumption? There is no reason for mosquitoes if they don’t serve or please us. The thought that there could be a good reason for mosquitoes, that doesn’t involve us and our comfort, is simply absent. And the Spotted Owl and the Snail Darter? We can live just fine without them we think, so who cares?
I think God cares.
I’m here to suggest that it’s not all about us. It’s all about God. God didn’t create the world for us. God creates the world for God’s own self. We are part of that world, and an important part. We are called to a particular task- caring for the world God creates. Why should we care about the Spotted Owl and the Polar Bear and butterflies and migratory birds, and on and on and on? Because obedience to God requires that we care.
As long as we think the primary reason to care about animals and the environment has to do with us and our comfort, happiness and pocketbook, we’ll lose interest. If it’s all about us, then whatever grabs our fancy at the moment is what we focus on. If it’s all about us, sacrifice and real change don’t matter as much as comfort and pleasure.
If it’s all about God, that moves us in a different direction. If it’s about lived obedience to the responsibilities given to us in Genesis, then we are able to make real substantive changes. And we will make them gladly. Because it’s not for our glory. It’s for God’s glory.
I’d like to know, what do you think?