I care about the environment. I like to recycle because it makes me feel good. There is a seriously fulfilling headrush that you can get just by thinking you hold the best view on something, the most righteous view. If you want a funny expose on how people’s ecological views translate into self righteousness, watch the South Park episode title “Smug Alert!” It really is an effective lampooning of green culture’s self righteousness. And I am ashamed to admit that I am a part of it, too, even if a self aware part.
But I also care about the environment because of facts. I have the time to do a lot of research on issues like global warming, man-made climate change, and the rise of sea levels. It’s part of my job. So when I do something like take public transportation or buy an energy saving appliance or one of those funky lightbulbs, I have a scientifically based reason for doing so.
I also have a Christian reason for caring about nature and the environment. Or at least I thought I did.
I am something of an overeducated putz. I’ve talked before about how the acquisition of knowledge is almost at hoarding levels of insanity and how it creates a lot of doubts in my mind about what I should believe. There’s a quote attributed to Socrates by Plato that says,
“I know that I know nothing.”
It’s a great quote and one that I have always found to be true. The way Plato/Socrates used it, this saying was meant to show people the insignificance of their own knowledge and to prevent pride of getting in the way of learning. Humility is the only way to truly learn something because it allows you to admit that you don’t already know enough.
But it can also be a crippling state of being. For instance, I researched what computer to buy for hours before settling on one I thought would work. But what was really going on was I was trying to gain more and more information to the the extent that I couldn’t make a decision at all. Sometimes choice (and the shere magnitude of available knowledge) complicate the process too much. So how did I eventually settle on a computer? I went to the store and chose from what they had. And I ended up buying a computer that I hadn’t even researched at all.
Because I do sort of live by the maxim that I know nothing, it does make it hard to actually make up my mind about things. Religion, for instance, which you have all seen some of my thought processes on, is a particularly difficult subject for me. I will never be able to approach it with certainty. Some would argue that that’s where faith has to take control. You believe in something not based on evidence, but on the faith that it’s right or should be right. Obviously, I have issues with that. And will probably continue to do so for some time.
New Ideas are Dangerous
Anyway, the point is that sometimes more information is more problematic than less information. Now, to get back to the environment…
I’m taking a course on Coursera (it’s free, it’s university level, and it’s available to you should you want to do it) called “Technology and Ethics.” I’m only in week two of the course and one of our assigned readings was an essay called The Historical Roots of Our Ecological Crisis (I link to it below). In this essay, the author looks at how the Western tradition of technology and science have led to ecological harm. It’s a timely argument in this era of trying to decide what to do about climate change.
A large portion of the paper, however, was involved with how Western Christianity and its effects on culture have led to a worldview that not only led humanity to use and abuse the environment and nature, but to think that was okay. The argument (in a seriously abridged form) goes something like this: Western Christianity so up-played the status of man as being akin to that of God and above that of nature, that man actually believed it could exploit nature without caring.
What are the implications of that statement? Well, to my mind, they’re huge. Not only does it directly relate the current culture of carelessness to Western Christianity, but it also places the blame for the harm of the planet at Christians’ feet. You can see why I say that new ideas are dangerous. Sometimes, they can lead us to confront the bad things that we are unconsciously complicit in.
Making Sense of It
This article really led me to think critically about the attitudes that I’ve picked up from being a member of a specific religion. Focusing just on nature, I’ve come to realize that I don’t have as much regard for the world as I would like. Sure, I’m smug all over myself about supporting green causes and reducing my carbon footprint. But all of that means nothing because it simply isn’t a consistent life ethic. I still waste water. I still use harmful chemicals. I still waste food. I still believe that industrial progress is better than agricultural care. I support technologies and products that are not sustainable and are not re-usable or recyclable. All three or four o fmy old cellphones are probably clogging up a landfill somewhere with battery acid leaking out all over the dirt. Basically, I say that I care about the environment, but I don’t act like it.
But the role of religion in that attitude is particularly confronting for me and it makes me ask the question, are bad things religions’ fault? Is this kind of exploitative attitude the product of religion? The article argues that it is. I’m not inclined to disagree with that statement. Now, I’ve just said something really, really offensive to many people, so let me explain my thought process on this point.
It’s All Man-Made
Just to make it easier for me, I’ll use bulletpoints.
- Religions have been the basis for many of the social ills and catastrophes in the world. For example, the Crusades led to mass death and destruction for hundreds of years and it all started with the phrase, “God wills it!” The role of religion in that respect cannot be ignored.
- It is true, however, that those bad things were perpetrated by men. Some owuld argue that fact absolves religion as an institution from at least a certain amount of responsibility.
- But religion (all religion) is a man-made institution. Christianity (lumping all the denominations together) may claim a divine beginning, and I’m not inclined to ignore that. But the history of religion from the point at which Christ said, “Hey, go start this Church thing in my name,” is all about the actions of man, the decisions of man regarding what should and should not be believed or done. Christianity itself has come so far from what Jesus himself did and said that it can no longer truly claim to be divinely directed. Instead, it is human-directed and completely man-created.
- Therefore, the bad things that are religions’ fault are ultimately humanities fault. Religion cannot claim to be separate from man at all. In fact, it is only an off-shoot of the evil man himself desires to perpetrate.
Yes, I believe bad things are the fault of religion, but only as an extension of the belief that bad things are humanity’s fault.
Clarify, Clarify, Clarify
Don’t get me wrong, there is a lot of good that comes out of religion, too. And it should be noted, that I have restricted myself here to Western religions, mostly because my knowledge of other religions and cultures is too small for me to have a reliable opinon. Perhaps if the dominant religion in the West had ben Buddhism with its emphasis on all nature things would have been different in the world and, therefore, in my argument.
But when it comes to discussing the role of religion in the world, it is harder to argue that it is a consistent force for good than it is to say it is a consistent force for bad outcomes. My reading for class not only pointed out how I am complicit in some of that (mea culpa), but also to a new spectrum of life in which religion has had a negative role.
I’m still mulling all these facts and ideas around in my head. I haven’t quite made up my mind about anything yet. Basically, I’m still an overeducated putz. Nevertheless, this process of learning has revealed to me something I already knew: I know enough to know nothing. There is always something new to know around every corner and in every turn of the page.