"There is always a philosophy for lack of courage."—Albert Camus

Thursday, February 09, 2006

חי, or: God, Man, and Global Warming

A fine discussion can be found below this, led by our Hunter Baker, about the propriety of a group of Evangelical Christians inserting itself into the global warming debate. Previously noted was that the Biblical support for Kyoto is rather sketchy. In fact, there's a lot more there about Providence. I found "be fruitful and multiply," but not "blessed are exchangeable pollution credits."


Our friend and occasional commenter Timothy Birdnow cites the Good Book, then observes:

"In the World you have trouble but take heart; I have overcome the World."---John 16:33

An Evangelical Christian has a duty to work to save our good, and work within the political system, but to believe that MAN can destroy the Earth is to believe that God is not in charge.


Indeed. Thank you, Mr. Birdnow. I have mused on this myself.

I admit there are many verses in the Bible that have escaped my notice, and the ones I'm familiar with I don't always hold to a literal interpretation. But the underlying philosophy of the Bible has always struck me as a trust in Providence, and that mean-spiritedness ("mean" in its more original use, common, miserly, an ungenerousness of spirit) is really a sin against the dynamic of life.

There's certainly a Biblical and rabbinic tradition against waste, but it's against wanton waste, the intentional, not accidental, profaning of the gifts showered on us from above.

(I have to tell a story here---I drive my [35 mpg] car almost everywhere by myself. Like most Americans who were disgusted by the roadside litter that peaked in the 70s [and were deeply moved by the commercial with the fake Indian crying about it], I proudly keep my garbage in my car. But I don't always get around to taking it out, so when a friend went to get in the passenger side and a couple dozen burrito wrappers and Big Gulp empties tumbled out, he gasped, "I know how the trash gets out of your car, Tom---it escapes!")

So our aesthetic sense, emotions and our reason lead us to keep our garden clean, but many of the solutions proposed by the worshippers of the environment these days perversely involve not using the garden at all, as if man, God's greatest creation and for whom He created the garden in the first place, is an offense against it.

That seems quite in opposition to what Tevye sang, "L'Chaim," an appreciation of the gift of life, to חי, "living." One lesson I've never got from the Bible is, "Dear Man: You didn't worry about material things enough, so now you're dead. Sorry. Signed, God."


To turn from theology to simple human nature, I also agree with our correspondent Matt Huisman, who writes:

Has anyone ever put together any thoughts on when a point of no return might be (or might look like)? You know, something where the world can look at itself in the mirror and say, "Man, did I let myself go."


Yeah, ain't that how mankind is. I believe we reached that point in the '80s when we could not see through the air in our cities. Then we finally did something about it. Los Angeles was getting unlivable. Now it ain't bad atall.

Push probably will have to come to shove again, as it usually does, but this time the shoe will be on the other foot:

If and when global warming gets too intense, the mean-spirited environmentaloids will have to shut the hell up, and then we'll build a few thousand nuclear power plants in 10 years and use the power to create hydrogen fuel to propel a few billion new hydrogen cars. The earth will chill and the subsequent economic boom will bring us out of the global warming-induced depression.

Life will go on. Those who believe God didn't put us here just to die some miserable ecological death will continue to be fruitful and multiply, to the consternation of those who believe that man was made to serve the garden instead of the other way around.

To the first, I toast L'Chaim, to life. To the rest, I consecrate the burrito wrappers in my car that haven't escaped yet.

19 comments:

The Classic Liberal Anonymous said...

They don't make movies like they used to. Watching my 6-year-old daughter run around with a blanket on hear head singing Matchmaker is the cutest darned thing I've ever seen.

Matt Huisman said...

Hehe. This discussion could be good. Another well-divined post Mr. Van Dyke, though I fear its intent may prove elusive.

Quick comment: For those who read this and are planning to respond by hitting Ctrl-Shift-3, stop, take a breath, and please re-read. Let’s keep the tree-ring variation discussion on the prior thread and have some fun here.

Hunter Baker said...

"If and when global warming gets too intense, the mean-spirited environmentaloids will have to shut the hell up, and then we'll build a few thousand nuclear power plants in 10 years and use the power to create hydrogen fuel to propel a few billion new hydrogen cars. The earth will chill and the subsequent economic boom will bring us out of the global warming-induced depression."

This is almost exactly the way I envision things going myself.

The Classic Liberal Anonymous said...

What the heck, I'll include this.

As to the real intent of this thread ... please excuse me while I toss some stuff out and see if any of it sticks...

God gave us dominion over the earth, does that not imply that with it comes responsibility to take care of it?

If we believe that Jesus is going to come and "clean this mess up", and we are part of the body of Christ, why can't we clean it up ourselves?

In the parable of the talents, the slave who was unproductive, was scorned. Shouldn't we be taking what has been given to us and making it better?

Again ... just some food for thought. All of this implies that there is a mess to clean up, and (as Matt stated above) we ought not sully this thread with that question.

Tlaloc said...

"An Evangelical Christian has a duty to work to save our good, and work within the political system, but to believe that MAN can destroy the Earth is to believe that God is not in charge."

Put it this way: to believe man can NOT destroy the earth is to believe that man does not have free will.

If you go to your kitchen and pull out a steak knife and try to slit your wrist, god is not going to take the blade away.

Apparently He doesn't suffer suicidal fools. I can respect that.

Tom Van Dyke said...

As usual, you get it, Mr. Huisman. Thanks for the attempt at focus.

If we are to have a theological discussion, we must first talk theology. The secular arguments on global warming are addressed well elsewhere on this blog.

And we shall never get to Square Two in any theological discussion if we remain on the Square One of whether God even exists.

Accordingly, certain Square One posts have been dispatched to their eternal reward.

I had hoped, by bringing up wantonness, that one can profane the gift of nature. On the other hand, we cannot apologize to God for our own existence and the byproducts of it. We have been fruitful and multiplied to sufficient numbers that an agrarian existence for billions of people is not possible. This here garden needs power, and lots of it.

I'm troubled by preachers taking the political route rather than the personal one. I just don't see the foundation. As dumb as it sounded, What Would Jesus Drive had a theological soundness to it.

Tom Van Dyke said...

I think the parable of the talents is applicable, CLA, as I believe it indeed illustrates the dynamic philosophy of the Bible.

If the story had read that guy who gained two talents was better than the guy who gained five because he polluted less, there would be a lesson in there.

And the guy who buried his single talent for safekeeping didn't pollute at all. Maybe he was the best.

If Jesus said to make the trash heap outside Jerusalem (Gehenna, as it turns out) smaller by recycling, that would be a lesson, too.

But perhaps He knew something we still don't....

James Elliott said...

Tom, look, the comments were wholly legitimate. They were not, in neither style nor substance, in any way opposed to either the spirit of intellectual discussion or comity - the standards you and your colleagues espouse. They're right there on the side of the page in case you want to look them up.

"What if you're wrong?" is a legitimate question. It's a hallmark of epistemology, liberalism, and, yes, the boogeyman of relativism. You pay at least lip-service to the first one and several of your colleagues claim to be a "classical" adherent to the second. That question encompasses whole aspects of the discussion that have been willfully cast aside.

You - and several of the commenters - based your argument, in part, on the belief in God's Word as an objective basis for action and policy. That places the question, "What if you're wrong and God doesn't exist?" into legitimate epistomelogical territory. It's not an attack on your religion, even if the question offends you by its very composition.

Grow up, Tom. Is your faith so shakeable? Deleting questions you find disagreeable, even when they conform to the standards of debate you had a hand in setting, makes you no different than any PC-spouting liberal who would silence those whose views they find offensive. Indeed, there's a legitimate argument to be had that yours is the more hypocritical act.

Tom Van Dyke said...

It's a theological discussion, James, and one aimed specifically at the Bible. Not epistemological or even metaphysical. Not even religious in a general sense.

To answer your question, if God does not exist, then the entire discussion is moot. Therefore, your line of inquiry cannot contribute anything to the discussion, and you may let this train pass without jumping aboard or holding it up, since we are trying to get to Square Two, a destination in which you are supremely disinterested.

There will be another train coming soon, hopefully going where you'd like to go. But please, you will derail this and any future theological discussions unless you stipulate a God, and in this case, a God of the Bible.

As for my hypocrisy, I ask that you once again read our guidelines for comments on the left of our main page. They are not negotiable. I have responded on this occasion out of courtesy and respect for your previous nourishing contributions to this blog, but it pains me to find myself back on Square One on this issue yet again.

I hate pain. Please make it stop.

Hunter Baker said...

The commercial with the fake Indian is one of the most effective pieces of propaganda of all-time. To this day I experience near berserker rage at the sight of someone littering. I had to restrain myself from throttling a couple of day laborers I saw throwing bottles on the ground in full view of a trash can.

Timothy Birdnow said...

Tom, your car sounds about as bad as mine; when Reptevye sings ``to life`` he could well be singing about what lies beneath the debris in my back seat!

The point here, Tlaloc and James Elliott, is to discuss this from a religious perspective-especially from an Evangelical Christian perspective. (I happen to be Catholic, and my views are somewhat different from those of Evangelicals.)

Tlaloc, you said,

Put it this way: to believe man can NOT destroy the earth is to believe that man does not have free will.

Jesus said,

``For then shall be tribulation, such as has not been seen since the beginning of the World, nor shall ever be seen thereafter, and unless those days be shortened there would be no flesh saved. But for the elect`s sake, those days shall be shortened.``

The point is that, yes, mankind CAN kill himself, but that God will intervene directly. Tribulational theology does not say ``if`` but ``when``, and warns Christians to ``be still, and know that I am the Lord``.

Christ gave the Great Commission, in which he said to ``go and make disciples of all the nations``. No-where did he mention Global Warming.

An Evangelical (and,in fact,every Christian) sees the salvation of souls as the primary duty of followers of Christ. Charity and Good works are fine, but, to the Protestant, flow from Faith, which is the essence of salvation. Much more than in Catholicism, Evangelicals believe that works are secondary to Faith, and that God is in control of our destiny if we believe.

That is why it is so puzzling that an Evangelical would buy into this type of sensationalism; it is at odds with the Book of Revelation (Revelation does speak of catastrophe, but places the blame squarely on Sin) which lays out a blueprint for the Parousia (second coming). Global Warming, if one were to see it in Revelations at all, is a result of sin-and THIS is what the Evangelical should be fighting. It is a Judgement, not a problem to be solved by human effort.

Evangelicals often speak of ``working in the flesh`` which means using human efforts to solve problems. This is, to them, the surest way to fail. Jumping on this Global Warming bandwagon is clearly a case of working in the flesh.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Thank you, Mr. Birdnow. The deletion of certain comments was by no means intended as offense or even a statement---otherwise, they would have been left with the ominous and pointed "This comment has been deleted by a blog administrator,", with the embarrassee's name still visible.

The idea was to streamline and foster a discussion of the theological/Biblical issues involved. As a Catholic myself, I admit I'm not as well-versed in the words of the Bible as with the philosophy behind and flowing from it. (It goes with the territory.)

I was, and am, quite open to principled theological/scripture-based disagreement with my thesis, which is why Mr. Tlaloc's comment was permitted to remain, as it raised a valid theological point.

Which you answered, theologically. Thanks for your contribution here, and for kicking this whole thing off in the first place.

Matt Huisman said...

Mr. Birdnow>> The point is that, yes, mankind CAN kill himself, but that God will intervene directly.

Very interesting to see a Catholic standing in for an Evangelical - nice job, Mr. B.

With regard to the role of faith in understanding free will, I think your response was quite right in recognizing that what we know about God's character and purposes help us to have faith during trying times. Those who have been paying attention notice that God's message is entirely redemptive, which is another way of saying that the idea around here is that things are supposed to be getting better.

One of the best side benefits of being a Christian is that this understanding enables us to live in such a way that we are constantly looking for opportunities to bring out all of the richness that has been given to us in our lives and the creation we inhabit. No doubt this involves its share of responsibility, but this process of ‘becoming’ is God's way of revealing more of Himself to us - that we may know, love and enjoy Him more.

Now contrast that to Mr. Van Dyke's Square One friends. One of the things he does so well in his original post is expose the foundations of the rational managers of creation. Their (misplaced) understanding of value leads them to stifle their brothers rather than risk further deterioration of 'Mother Earth'. For all their talk about how the man's fallen nature is mean-spirited and limiting, they fail to notice that it is their own understanding of man that is limited - and as a result mean-spirited.

· Abortion, One child (China) and sterilization (Africa) are viewed as solutions.
· Kyoto-esque environmental restrictions are necessary despite the dramatic economic implications.
· Environmental restrictions on nuclear energy and domestic drilling are necessary even though they heighten our dependence on unstable foreign sources.

It is often said that Christianity is nothing but unsubstantiated, wishful thinking that will leave you empty and ruined in the end. But if you’re honestly of that opinion, it’s not because you’re betting on the track record.

All of this is to say that one should look closely at what their foundational beliefs will steer their good intentions towards. If nothing else, you may find yourself agreeing with this thought from Ralph Peters:

What if Darwin was right conceptually, but failed to grasp that homo sapiens' most powerful evolutionary strategy is faith?

Tom Van Dyke said...

One of the best side benefits of being a Christian is that this understanding enables us to live in such a way that we are constantly looking for opportunities to bring out all of the richness that has been given to us in our lives and the creation we inhabit.

That's my favorite part, Matt, and it quite stands on its own. At our best, when that's the dynamic, there is meaning to life. (Aquinas and thereby Catholicism are there, too, and in his way, even Aquinas' mentor Aristotle.)

As for the rest, it's conventional wisdom (and somewhat accurate) that the Enlightenment, in replacing revelation with reason, threw off the superstitious shackles from the mind of man and ushered in the age of science and technology. Ironic that today's secularists, the children of the Enlightenment, are the ones who are most appalled at its fruits.

And perhaps no surprise that, abandoning faith, Western Europe's birthrate has fallen below replacement level. It's certainly reasonable---why bring children into a future that you do not trust, devoid of Providence? That's not "moral" or reasonable, "morality" and reason having replaced Providence in the Enlightenment pantheon.

(The Peters article is excellent on any number of levels. Thanks.)

Tom Van Dyke said...

I notice the new National Review has more and better in this last vein by the more and better Michael Novak.

Matt Huisman said...

And perhaps no surprise that, abandoning faith, Western Europe's birthrate has fallen below replacement level. It's certainly reasonable---why bring children into a future that you do not trust, devoid of Providence? That's not "moral" or reasonable, "morality" and reason having replaced Providence in the Enlightenment pantheon.

Exactly. In the zero-sum mindset - where there's only so much to go around so little time to enjoy it - morality and practicality lead us to an entirely different way of being. Notions of growth and development are nodded to, but not really trusted.

Now I used to be less charitable of this type of thinking. I had thought it’s intent was solely reactionary – a rebellion against those who were optimistic without the hard evidence for being so. But now I see it a little differently. In many respects what they say is true – we only have what we have and all we’re doing is carving and re-carving the same pie – and it is difficult to understand growth in those terms. I can sympathize with those who find the appeals to human ingenuity less than inspirational as we get closer to the apparent limits of sustainability. Yet I still believe there is reason for optimism – for faith.

One of the best reasons for this – and the one on which there is absolute consensus –is that we’re all idiots. In fact, the depth of what we do not know is really quite spectacular. Science keeps discovering that this universe is orders of magnitude larger and smaller than we would ever have imagined a decade ago, and we are still quite a ways away from even understanding ourselves. In fact, the more we know, the more we discover there is to know. And it’s discovery and imagination that are the keys to understanding how to reconcile a zero-sum world with reasoned optimism.

What is growth, development, invention or progress? I think we benefit by thinking of these notions as human discoveries as opposed to human creations. When we do it becomes obvious that there is a virtually endless array of potential that is waiting for us to discover. In my mind, growth should be defined as a measure of the progress we make towards understanding what is possible. And it is this understanding of what is possible, the development of our imagination, which is sorely lacking in the zero-sum crowd. What they fail to grasp is that even though the world only has what it has, every insight we gain (about what we do have) expands our known reserve of potential exponentially.

I think optimists have intuitively understood this from the beginning. And those who have been paying attention to the way God operates will recognize that this is quite similar to the way that he chooses to reveal himself to us. From my perspective, a life of faith is entirely rational – and better than that, it is way more fun.

Matt Huisman said...

BTW, you're right that Mr. Novak is definitely more and better. I'm still looking for anyone to put up an(y) argument against the significance of demography espoused by Novak, Steyn, Drucker, et al.

Here's Charles Kupchan - former Director of EU Affairs for the NSC under the Clinton Administration - who argues that the EU is on the rise, and that America's primacy will end soon.

As far as I can tell, he bases this on the fact that the world (or at least his job) would remain boring if it didn't. I suppose the fact that no one has heard from him since 2002 doesn't bolster his case much either.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Interesting distinction re science (and thus technology, it could follow) that it is discovery, not creation. A universe without a Creator would imply that technology is creation. Without one, man's technological advance is limited by his (by definition) limited imagination, unless one elevates the mind of man to the status of infinity, something few are prepared to do. Man also must become his own salvation, but since his days are numbered, either in the four-score-and-ten or so programmed into his genes or from the stars winking out, that hardly seems possible either.

But with a Creator, technology as discovery becomes limitless as the Creator himself, to solve the problems of living. As for the intractable death problem, a non-technological solution is offered.

Matt Huisman said...

Ahhh. There's nothing like having a middle of the road thought cleaned up and polished by a pro. Very satisfying.

Thanks for buttoning up that idea - one of the many benefits of hanging out in a place like this.