Concern For Environment Is Believers’ Religious Obligation

Any normal, thinking human being would be concerned about what is happening to our environment. Christians have an additional reason. … Continued

Any normal, thinking human being would be concerned about what is happening to our environment. Christians have an additional reason.

You don’t, as they say, have to be a rocket scientist or even a believer – you could be an atheist – to see something that sticks out like a sore thumb: That if we, for instance, deplete the fish in the seas by reckless consumption, then quite obviously we will have had it with regard to that particular resource.

Genesis in the Bible declares that human beings have been created in the image of God and are bidden to have dominion over the rest of creation. Made in the imago dei, they are thus God’s representatives, and so must hold this dominion not ruthlessly, aggressively exploitatively, but as God would hold dominion, caringly, lovingly and compassionately.

There is a very intimate connection between us humans and the rest of creation. It is mystical and real. So when Adam and Eve muck up their lives through disobeying God, it has devastating consequences for the rest of creation – the ground which up to then had produced crops for the benefit of humans, now spews forth weeds. This is an imaginative way of saying that Creation has been damaged because human beings have been damaged. It is now red in tooth and claw.

We dismiss these stories as just fables at our own peril. Much of Hurricane Katrina was due to human conduct, global warming, cutting down vegetation that would have provided some protection from the raging waves.

For believers, concern for the environment is a religious obligation, especially because the material world is potentially transfigurable, and is the locus of theophany, through which the divine manifests itself because God in the Incarnation became a human being of flesh and blood.

We need the material because God communicates the very life of God through material, mundane things in the sacraments: bread, water, oil, wine. So we stand before creation, the environment, with reverence, for it will not be annihilated. It, too, will be redeemed, has been redeemed, for there will be a new heaven and a new earth.

So we must handle the environment with care, with reverence, tenderly.Or we are doomed.

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  • Scale

    Actually, it is an absurd assertion because the majority of us don’t fish, and if we do we only catch one or two. It is rather the big corporations who catch fish in massive proportions, and when they couldn’t sell them, it’s dumped back on the sea. A proactive solution therefore is to rally support of policies for quotas in relation to needs for example sustaining employments for the poor communities rather than the greedy corporations bullying the locals.

  • B-Man

    What can an individual do on his own to protect the environment? Answer: very little compared to what big business and nation states could do, if they had the will.Therefore, each person, to do his utmost to conserver the environment, must elect politicians who promise to write and pass legislation that will put curbs on how much big business and nation states can be allowed to pollute our world.However, controlling pollution is expensive and puts a dent in corporate profits, and therefore (so the logic goes) the economy. As a nation, we must overcome this irrational justification for continued pollution, if we are to affect meaningful change.

  • Pat

    I am sorry. it does not require faith to feel responsible for the environment. Christians do not have an edge on the caring for the environment agenda. The Curent Adminstration is an example of that attitude. Conservative christians are no more responsible than non-christians for the environment. check out trhe EPA’s record recently; over the past fivbe years. Phalacy.Faith and responsibility are in no way required collectively to become a steward of the environment, just responsibility alone. faith should be personal and not made a public spectale of itself.Christians need to let their superiority complex go. Equal not superior to others.

  • Ambassador for Christ

    Hi Pat,Thank you for your comments. However, I believe there is a fallacy in your argument in that you have distorted Bishop Tutu’s comments. You imply that his comments somehow suggest that “it requires faith to feel responsible for the environment.” To quote his post, he stated, “Any normal, thinking human being would be concerned about what is happening to our environment.” This in no way suggests that faith of any kind is required. The purpose of this site is to respond to the question from the various faith (or lack of faith) perspectives. The question posed states: “Should care for the environment be a major priority for people of faith? Why or why not?” In his second sentence, he further states his thesis that “Christians have an additional reason” for being concerned for the environment. He then expands on this thesis throughout his response. Nowhere does he suggest that “Christians have an edge on caring for the environment”, but merely responds to the question from his faith perspective. I, for one, would much rather that the panelists answer truthfully from their own faith perspective as opposed to posing as someone from a different faith (i.e. a Muslim answering from an atheist perspective or a Christian answering from the perspective of a Buddhist.)Therefore, I politely ask if you disagree with his actual position, which was stated both at the beginning and end of his post. His opening paragraph stated: “Any normal, thinking human being would be concerned about what is happening to our environment. Christians have an additional reason.” His final paragraph stated: “So we must handle the environment with care, with reverence, tenderly.Or we are doomed.” If you agree with his position, I would humbly ask that you refrain from distorting his position in order to create an opportunity to criticize Christians for their faith by making assertions that clearly were not made.

  • Melanchthon

    hmmmm… thank you, Archbishop Tutu, for taking the time to participate in this excellent Washington Post project. Your insights, leadership, and faith have been and are important for me and many other people, especially other young people, in the world.Nowhere does the bishop say that faith is required in order to feel responsible for the environment, or to feel responsible for anything! The bishop, I, and other non-conservative Christians do not approach the world with a sense of superiority, nor with a desire or need to force beliefs onto others. Save your anger and malice for those who deserve it–Bishop Tutu does not deserve it; President Bush and Pat Robertson do.The statement that “faith is personal” and should not have any effect in the public sphere fails to clearly understand the nature of faith. Faith is something that, for most people who have it, shapes who they are, how they act, what they think, how they look at the world. It shapes and influences everything about believers, consciously and unconsciously. Faith which does not shape believers, and thus faith which does not impact one’s behavior in the public sphere, is underdeveloped or dead. Bishop Tutu is a prime example–he won the Nobel Peace Prize because his faith pushed him out into the world to act, pushed him out into the world and demanded that he act, to work for peace and reconciliation and justice, an end to racism and violence and discrimination within his country and the world.No, faith doesn’t give anyone an edge, or a superior position, in the public sphere or in public work. Faith is not necessary to be a “good” person, and plenty of people who claim to be believers are “bad” people in their actions. BUT, where faith is present–deep, genuine faith–it often, and I and the Bishop think it should, influence believers to care for the poor, work for justice, advocate for peace, be responsible stewards of the environment, and all kidns of other things. Other people care about and are responsible for those issues without regard to religion, and they are not wrong. But neither are people of faith who are influenced by faith in their public actions.

  • Ashley

    Ambassador,From my perspective, Christians do not really have an additional reason to be concerned about the environment, because their beliefs are pure fantasy.From a Christian point of view (accepting their goat-herders’ mythology as fact), I don’t see much consensus on the issue. Desmond Tutu claims Christians have even more reasons to protect their environment than clear-minded people; however, I have known many Christians who claim that protecting the environment is unimportant, because their gods are returning to earth any day now to summon their supporters to paradise and to extinguish the remainder of the human race.Nearly half of Americans believe the ‘Messiah’ will come to earth within 50 years to murder non-believers. Nearly one-quarter believe that will happen THIS YEAR. So I would say Christian opinion on this matter is decidedly mixed.

  • Ambassador for Christ

    Hi Ashley,Thank you also for you comments. You said, “From my perspective, Christians do not really have an additional reason to be concerned about the environment, because their beliefs are pure fantasy.” As you clearly stated, that is your perspective, and I respect that. My reason for posting was simply to point out Pat’s distortion of Bishop Tutu’s response. However, may I ask on what basis do you believe that Christians beliefs are “pure fantasy”? Also, can you point me to the source data for the statistics that you cited?Thanks!

  • Ashley

    Ah yes the new style of Athiests, treat people of faith like you’ve been treated by others. That’s a great way to convert people to your way of thinking. If you don’t like it if a Christian treats you poorly because you are an Athiest, why is it OK for you to do it to others? Belittling someone’s faith or lack thereof will only make them more defensive and dig their heels in, which makes it harder for you to get your point across…Since when do two wrongs make a right?

  • Greg

    Aw man, I was directing that post to Ashley… I could not stop it from posting… My bad.

  • Concerned The Christian Now Liberated

    Ashley,You noted: “Nearly half of Americans believe the ‘Messiah’ will come to earth within 50 years to murder non-believers. Nearly one-quarter believe that will happen THIS YEAR. So I would say Christian opinion on this matter is decidedly mixed.”Where in the world did you get this???? Please provide references when making such significantly stupid comments.

  • Concerned The Christian Now Liberated

    Victoria,Are you sure your prophet said these things? After all he was illiterate (as per Karen Armstrong’s analyses of Islamic history). Your prophet also demanded death for all non-believers but maybe he did say that either.

  • BGone

    CTCNL, are you sure the world isn’t coming to an end this year? I’ve got my heart set on it. Just kidding of course but seriously, the world came to an end around 1843. Jesus came back and beamed up anyone worth saving. What’s going on right now is the lights slowly going out. Once they’re out they’re out of course.Victoria is a shill trying to sell Americans that Muslims just love each other and everyone else. Kind of like selling global warming to the folks in Wyoming with their cattle freezing to death.Are the Alaskan glaciers melting right at this moment? Maybe the polar ice cap is just moving to Michigan and coming by air. The glaciers melt, become clouds and fall on the mid west as sleet and snow.

  • DW

    >>’Nearly half of Americans believe the ‘Messiah’ will come to earth within 50 years to murder non-believers.’Jesus Christ will not be returning to murder non believers. On the contrary, mankind will be trying their best to do that to each other before His return. But He will set up God’s kingdom and rid this earth of all that has grieved humanity for millenia. After the earth is restored during His reign, all of mankind who have not had a chance to really know, or have not fully understood, and experienced the way of life He intended for us will have a chance to do so.

  • BGone

    Well said DW. Now what is your source of that terrorizing scenario? The Bible is a proved hoax so I hope you have another source but very seriously doubt it.Is the imminent return of Jesus responsible for global warming or just the threat of it the cuase? There’s too many people already and most of you Bible thumpers are demanding more be made. I know. We can all become monks and nuns and give sex up altogether.

  • Nafi Sahgem

    BGoneGet your government to ratify the Kyoto Protocols. The US will be the primary cause of the end of the world due to its wilful global environmental irreponsibilities. Not Victoria not me. You are not being logical or rational here – the supposed hallmarks of an atheist. An off day?

  • Nafi Sahgem

    BGoneGet your government to ratify the Kyoto Protocols. The US will be the primary cause of the end of the world due to its wilful global environmental irreponsibilities. Not Victoria not me. You are not being logical or rational here – the supposed hallmarks of an atheist. An off day?

  • Anonymous

    The Judaic-Christian-Islamic tradition views thew world as inherently fallen. That the Earth is imperfect; its imperfection is a punishment against man for his insubordination. Earth, in essence, is a place of exile; a labor camp.It’s all right there in Genesis.Then one adds the Christian-Islamic concept of a “reborn” world, as exepmlified by DW statement:”But He will set up God’s kingdom and rid this earth of all that has grieved humanity for millenia.”No matter what new-agey or evangelical spin you put on this fundamental world view, it is hard to imagine Judaism, Christianity, or Islam transcending the idea that Earth is evil, at best something to be ruled over and exploited.Perhaps some sort of “theology of responisble stewardiship” will evolve from within the Abrahamic faiths…I’m not holding my breath.It is a shame that Christianity and Islam (and to a lesser extent Judaism) appear completely unwilling to take a page from their more environmentally-friendly cousins Bhuddism, Hinduism, and, God-forbid, Earth Worshippers (of whatever garden variety).Since it appears we are stuck with religion, it simply disgusts me that humanity is incapable of picking the best of all religions, and coming up with something that the human species can survive.

  • Anonymous

    To further my point, the Archbishop states:”So we stand before creation, the environment, with reverence, for it will not be annihilated. It, too, will be redeemed, has been redeemed, for there will be a new heaven and a new earth.”Inherent in this is the concept that the Earth needs redemption.Not only are we sinners, but, apparantly, the world itself is a sinner, and needs a savior.Words can hardly express how profoundly opposed I am to this life-negating world view.

  • Nafi Sahgem

    Such eloquent nonsense. Religion has nothing to do with environmental degradation. Hindu India is right up there in the 10 countries causing global warming. And Buddhist Thailand has almost stripped all of its natural forests and its businessmen is illicitly plundering the forests of its neighbours, including Myanmar/Burma and Loas.

  • Anonymous

    “Hindu India is right up there in the 10 countries causing global warming. And Buddhist Thailand has almost stripped all of its natural forests and its businessmen is illicitly plundering the forests of its neighbours, including Myanmar/Burma and Loas.”OK…point taken.Does that in any way make the “world as labor camp” worldview of the Abrahamic faiths any more fit for our environment’s future.Or is your point that religious worldviews have no effect whatsoever on the environment?

  • Melanchthon

    Anonymous, Great post–it really contributed to the conversation, unlike some others. There actually is a “theology of responsible stewardship” alive and well within parts of the Christian Church (Lutheran, Presbyterian, Episcopal, Catholic, Methodist, etc. and probably more). It’s probably been around for at least twenty years and at this point is a fairly mainstream theological focus on most “mainline” Christian seminary campuses in the United States. The view of the world as an essentially evil place is actually a heretical concept in Christian theology, though one that has been embraced many times over the years and still makes its way into sermons, etc. What Christian theology holds as “fallen” is not the world, which God created and sustains as a very good thing, but is rather humanity itself because we screw up/sin all the time and can’t get our act together. In that sense, our senseless destruction of the enviroment is yet more evidence of humanity’s “fallenness” as we destroy a good gift of God. The environmental stewardship theology comes right from the Creation story in Genesis in which the original humans were given responsibility for maintaining and taking care of God’s creation, not destroying or abusing it. For more on this theology, check out the following page on the National Council of Churches.

  • Anonymous

    Nafi stated:”If you are asking me as a Muslim, we are mere tenants of this world that God created and let us live in and have a respnsibility to take care of this world for us and future generations.”Malenachton stated:”The environmental stewardship theology comes right from the Creation story in Genesis in which the original humans were given responsibility for maintaining and taking care of God’s creation, not destroying or abusing it.”This is all music to my ears. Of course, from a non-theistic perspective, it is hard for me to get around the idea that this world is a place of expuslion, not a gift, but a punishment, from a literal reading of scripture.But I am certainly aware that non-literal interpretations are followed.What is scary to me is that it seems so easy to convince people scripturally that (a) the Earth is a place of exile, that (b) we don’t need to worry about it because Armageddon will solve all of our eco-concerns, and that (c) as a species, we have been given a free-ticket to exploit the world and all its resources.As an admission (c) scares me not just from a religious perspective, but because we indeed have been given a free-ticket to exploit the world through evolution by natural selection. We are clever enough to exploit our resources….maybe not wise enough to ensure they are sustainable.In any case, I’m sure we all can agree that we are on this spaceship together, and want a sustainable environment for our progeny.In that spirit, I am inclined to applaud any such “theology of environmental stewardship” that would assist in ensuring a bright future for our children and the world.

  • BGone

    Nafi, I heard ya the first time. Now what is that about what? God gave us the world or what? And then your Christian friends(?) are looking for Jesus to come swooping down out of the sky and rescue them from themselves.Just as long as it makes sense. Have a go at it.Way back somewhere I responded to Bishop TUTU about global warming and attempted to inform him the Bible is a hoax so he needs to look elsewhere for the scientific solution to global warming, should one even be possible.Nafi, the Bible is a PROVED hoax. You’re not concerned about the Quran are you? Muhammad wouldn’t lie would he? I don’t think Muhammad lied. Hallucinate, perhaps is the other respectable option. Of course, Did Muhammad “live the good life” at the expense of others? That’s a strong symptom of sale of soul to Devil. Did Muhammad lead many people to have faith, believe? That’s another strong symptom of sale of soul to Devil.So just how sure are you the Quran is the word of Allah? I’m all ears. Please tell me why I or anyone should believe the Quran is God’s, Allah’s word and not Devil’s word.The cursing and gnashing of teeth at me is from folks finding out they’ve been conned no doubt. They just can’t seem to counter the argument the Bible is bogus so they resort to screaming at the messenger. You don’t have the same problem with the Quran do you?

  • Anonymous

    See The President’s Secret Message On Global Warming at

  • victoria

    β€” “Whoever plants a tree and diligently looks after it until it matures and bears fruit is rewarded.”β€” “If a Muslim plants a tree or sows a field and men and beasts and birds eat from it, all of it is charity on his part.”β€” “Whoever brings dead land to life, that is, cultivates wasteland, for him is a reward therein. “

  • BGone

    Bishop:Perhaps you are familiar with lemmings. They sound mythical but are real creatures, little furry critters, cute and cuddly looking. They may be a sign from God.Lemming follow the pope’s version of human reproduction to the letter. That leads to where we now seem to be headed, massive overpopulation.The lemmings solve the problem this way. A great leader arises and calls out follow me. In a near stampede they rush behind him over the cliff and are dashed to death on the rocks below.The smart one’s don’t follow the leader. They’re not all that smart for they do the same stupid thing all over again.Perhaps we will try some obvious cure for global warming since it’s caused by excess carbon dioxide in the air. We can set aside a NO BREATHING day. It’s people breathing that’s the problem. Maybe a better choice that rushing over the cliff?Time for religion to remake itself.

  • BGone

    Nafi, nothing is being sold at hoax buster. It’s just an electronic book on the net just like the Bilbe is also on the net in electronic book form. It free and donations are not accepted. There is no advertising.Would you believe along with all the garbage from those so called sacred scripture you believe that there is one patriotic American left willing to make a sacrifice to help save the constitution. I didn’t think so.It’s a greedy world. Is greed why there’s global warming? Anyone of God’s representative mention that as a cause or are they in on it? Did Muhammad preach greed. Jesus didn’t but who listens to Jesus?

  • Ambassador for Christ

    Hi Pat,Thanks for your response. As I stated earlier and will repeat here, Bishop Tutu did not (nor did I) state that faith is required to care for the environment. However, you returned again to that same argument as if we did. If you have issues with Christianity, I am sorry that is the case, and I pray that your interactions with the Christians on this forum will begin to change your opinion about us. However, I only ask that you refrain from distorting someone’s statements in order to fulfill your own agenda to attempt to discredit Christianity. If we’re going to discuss faith matters on this forum, let’s at least be honest and fair in our assessments.Thanks again for your response.

  • Roy

    That Christians are aware of their responsibility to the environment is a joke. When does one ever hear this in a Christian church- especially those of right-wing Christian extremists who gush over their environmental criminal president George Bush and his big oil cronies who think it is their God given right to pollute for profit?

  • the Moderate

    Dear Bishop Tutu, as an Anglican, words fail to tell you how proud I am that you are one of my Bishops. At great risk to you, your life was lived singularly in the service of God and Man. Now, even in retirement, you continue to serve God, Man, and Creation, in calling us to stewardship of the Earth. If In The Beginning God Created the Heavens and the Earth, and they were created as an abode for Life, it follows that we act with God when we help the Earth more full of life; and that we act against God when we make it less hospitable to life. When we strip mine the Oceans of fish faster than they can replenish… when we cut the forests faster than they can regrow… when we decapitate mountains to get coal that fills the air with acid and mercury… when we mismanage farms to deplete the topsoil… when we refuse to develop renewable fuels and non polluting energy sources… then we work against God’s will; and we do it at our own peril. I hope believers in God and the sacredness of the Earth can work together with those who simply believe that caring for the Earth is the Right Thing To Do. You remind rightly us that what we do the the web of life, we do to ourselves. Thank you again for your service to God, to Man, and to the stewardship of Creation.

  • Pat

    Ambasador,Christianity does not have a role to protect the environment, ALL people have the role to protect the environment. Christians do not have the responsibility to elect correct politicians to protect the environment, ALL people have the responsibility to elect public offocials to protect the environment.Faith is not special. Faith is an ordinary thing. What is special is where you place your faith, and how your faith manifests actual proof to yourself and others in this reality. Protecting the environemnt should come from a personal sense of responsibility, not some shared sense of responsibility. Shared responsibility has not been very sucessful to date in the world, with global warming and other irresponsible actions taken by people, whom by their their own definitions, are faithful people.It is not faith that is going to save the environment, it is ordinary people with ordinary capabilites, without any special talents or abilities.

  • Lisa from Charlotte

    I’m not sure that there is a distinctly “evangelical” or “Christian” view of the environment or climate change.

  • Hard_NOx

    Dear Archbishop Tutu, thank you for being here with us today. I also thank God that this is a moderated forum because sometimes, we shouldn’t type anymore than we should drive. What you describe can be summarized as the web of life. That is an early scientific model used to describe a theoretical relationship. An imaginary aid if you will. It is very accomodating because it allows the “user” to build in as much complexity as he or she needs to demonstrate the relationships. In one of your examples we might have a school of fish forming an imaginary web….now let us extend the rays of that web to include fishing boats, and within the fishing boats we have crew members who in turn have their webs. Before you know it we have Spiderman going from web to web looking for disharmony. Another scientific model is called the Butterfly Effect.The phrase refers to the idea that a butterfly’s wings might create tiny changes in the atmosphere that ultimately cause a tornado to appear (or, for that matter, prevent a tornado from appearing). The flapping wing represents a small change in the initial condition of the system, which causes a chain of events leading to large-scale phenomena. Had the butterfly not flapped its wings, the trajectory of the system might have been vastly different.Recurrence, the approximate return of a system towards its initial conditions, together with the sensitive dependence on initial conditions are the two main ingredients for chaotic motion. They have the practical consequence of making complex systems, such as the weather, difficult to predict past a certain time range (approximately a week in the case of weather

  • The Moderate

    Here is my rough survey of the comments on this forum: anti Christian bigots 15, sometimes bigoted answers to the anti Christian bigots 14, actual comments on what Bishop Tutu said or directly about the environment 8. That is three quarters chaff and one quarter wheat. Fiddling while the World burns, are we?

  • Scientist

    There is NOT evidence to state that global warming is caused by humans or industrialized nations. Period.

  • patrick

    do u no a online god chat site

  • sofa

    my friend is dead