You can find in the world's great religions a pretty consistent teaching about the need to be good stewards of Earth and its atmosphere.
Earth, after all, is seen as part of God's creation, and one of the tasks given to humanity is to care for and protect it. At times, however, the words found in some English translations of the book of Genesis tend to weaken the perceived commitment to that task.
For instance, Genesis 1:28 in the old King James Version says this: "And God blessed them (humanity), and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth."
The words "subdue" and "have dominion" at times have led to an attitude that humans can simply use Earth in any way that benefits them. The words used in the Contemporary English Bible are almost equally problematic: "Take charge of. . ." and "master it." Same with the New International Version: "subdue it" and "Rule over. . ."
Still, the environmental ethic that has permeated many religious traditions requires humans to exercise care in how we treat our only home, Earth.
So it's disappointing to read about a new study from a University of Indiana researcher. As the press release about this study says, "David Konisky of IU's School of Public and Environmental Affairs analyzed 20 years of survey results from Gallup public opinion polls in one of the first major studies of how attitudes about the environment by self-identified U.S. Christians have shifted over time. He found that environmentalism is not increasing, and there are signs it is actually in decline."
Intuitively that seems wrong, seems as if it couldn't be possible, given all the attention to environmental concerns in the last 50 years and the many examples of environmental activism I've heard about coming from faith communities, including Christianity.
And yet that seems to be what is happening, despite such encouraging developments as the publication in 2015 of Pope Francis’ “green” encyclical, Laudato Si.
As IU reported: "Konisky's analysis of the survey responses from 1990 through 2015 indicates that Christians, compared to atheists, agnostics and individuals who do not affiliate with a religion, are less likely to prioritize environmental protection over economic growth, and they are more likely than others to believe global warming is exaggerated.
"For example, the likelihood that a Christian survey respondent expressed a great deal of concern about climate change dropped by about a third between 1990 and 2015."
No doubt some of this is because of willful ignorance about climate change and the existence of climate change deniers even in high government positions. Even President Trump, prior to his election, called climate change a hoax and, in 2012, tweeted this: “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.”
With such leaders, perhaps it's no surprise that Christianity's historic commitment to good stewardship of the planet has fallen on hard times.
But the truth is all people of faith must do a better job of protecting the environment or our long-term future is dim, indeed.
(By the way, here is a piece from The Economist about this IU study.)
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A THEOLOGICAL GRAMMY?
Did you see that the late Leonard Cohen won a Grammy award the other night for best rock performance for “You Want It Darker?” It's an amazing, moving song that I wrote about here. The link here on the name of the song will give you a YouTube version of Cohen's performance of the song itself. Sit alone and be quiet as you listen.