In conjunction with the Religion, Science and The Environment Symposium The Great Mississippi River: Restoring Balance held in New Orleans at the end of October, His All Holiness, the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew wrote the Op-Ed piece Our Indivisible Environment. In it he cites examples of governments and politicians taking on the challenge of climate change:
The Obama administration has committed the United States to a 50% reduction in greenhouse gases by the year 2050. And there are growing expectations that meaningful progress can be made in the United Nations Climate Change Conference scheduled to take place in Copenhagen this December.
With Al Gore’s environmental call to arms, An Inconvenient Truth, being called into question by a new documentary and the British Courts, with some scientists calling into question the science of climate change and with extreme left wing links to environmentalism and some environmental scientists being linked to left wing politics one might start wondering whether or not His All Holiness has confused Progressivism with Christianity.
The Patriarch, for better or for worse, has chosen to write to that part of the American audience most likely to be green — the progressive and unabashedly secular that aggressively believes in the separation of Church and State. Eschewing a Biblical argument likely to alienate such an audience, His Eminence relies on the holistic Orthodox world-view to make the case for the inclusion of religion in the debate over and participation in environmentalism.
As a matter of fact, there is a very strong Biblical argument for a Christian environmentalism. Humanity, having been endowed with the image and likeness of God (Gen 1:26-27), is called to co-create with God (Gen 2:19-20). We have been giving a special place in creation:
What are human beings that you spare a thought for them,
or the child of Adam that you care for him?
Yet you have made him little less than a god,
you have crowned him with glory and beauty,
made him lord of the works of your hands,
put all things under his feet,
sheep and cattle, all of them
and even the wild beasts,
birds in the sky, fish in the sea,
when he makes his way across the ocean. — Psalm 8:4-8
As members of the royal priesthood (1 Pet 2:9) we are called to participate in God’s creation by mastering it — caring for it and using it to create something new — and give it back to God. This is the reason we offer bread and wine at the table instead of wheat and grapes. God gave us these gifts, we took them and co-created with Him to produce the bread and the wine. We then offer them up to God who sanctifies them with His Holy Spirit. In consuming the Body and Blood of Christ, we complete our participation in God.
St. Paul calls Christ the Last Adam (1 Cor 15:45) and High Priest (Heb 6:20). This refers to Christ’s incarnation — the taking on of our humanity to Himself, to offer Himself up to God on the Cross, and then sanctifying all of creation by resurrecting our humanity on the third day and ascending with it to sit at the right hand of the Father in glory. This was necessary because the First Adam failed to fulfill his place as priest in God’s creation. He reached for godhood and turned his back on God. In doing so, he introduced sin and death into all of creation.
This must be understood in conjunction with the Christian dogma that God created the world from nothing:
I beseech thee, my son, look upon the heaven and the earth, and all that is therein, and consider that God made them of things that were not; and so was mankind made likewise — 2 Macabees 7:28
With God we become, without God we return to the nothing from which we came. Death is the absence of life, which is God (John 14:6). Sin is that which separates us from God (Rom 6:23).
Herein is the importance and the value of Christianity in context of environmentalism. Sin doesn’t merely affect the sinner, but ripples out to affect everyone around the sinner and through them the whole of creation. Our failure as stewards of the earth — our sins — is expressed in the damage we do to our environment. This the progressive environmental movement understands very well; however, they fail to couple it with a relationship with God. In repeating the mistake of Adam — trying to save the world sans God — progressive environmentalism is doomed to fail, possibly catastrophically, and bring more harm than good.
Christianity, with its holistic and sacramental world-view, not only deserves to be part of the environmental discussion, but is necessary. Only through a proper relationship with God — the only one who can save the world — can we fulfill our role as the royal priesthood and caretakers of God’s creation.