Paul Andersen: Climate and Christianity, a place to start
Getting to climate change through Genesis may seem like a far reach. What does the Bible’s creation story have to do with carbon emissions?
It may have a lot to do with it, and Christianity could become a sensible approach in making substantive change and inspiring action.
If common cause can be found among Christians, then climate change could become the next religious crusade. Coalescing belief systems over a moral cause is more important than ever as the world faces critical tipping points associated with climate.
Religion, for all the unity it should extoll, has been a divisive force and, throughout history, an underlying cause for genocide. But if Christianity can be identified by its compassionate roots through climate solutions, all that could change.
“I grew up in a Christian family with a science-teacher dad who taught us that science is the study of God’s creation,” wrote Katharine Hayhoe in an op-ed in last week’s New York Times. Hayhoe comes from two seemingly conflicting backgrounds — religion and science. Where they intersect is where she has found her mission, in both roles.
“If we truly believe that God created this amazing universe, bringing matter and energy to life out of a formless empty void, then how could studying his creation ever be in conflict with his written word?”
This confluence of science and faith is a promising example of enlightened thinking on climate change. Instead of shrill arguments over the definition of “dominion” in Genesis, Hayhoe describes a meeting of mind and heart that makes a sacred argument for scientific solutions.
“I chose what to study precisely because of my faith,” she writes, “because climate change disproportionately affects the poor and vulnerable, those already most at risk today. To me, caring about and acting on climate was a way to live out my calling to love others as we’ve been loved ourselves by God.”
If Christians can accept this idea — that love for those who suffer most from climate change is a personal extension of the Christian doctrine — then taking a stand on climate means taking a stand for others who are less fortunate and therefore deserving.
A shift from fear to compassion must occur in the way we view the swelling number of climate refugees who are flooding to U.S. boarders in hopes of salvation from starvation, violence and homelessness — people who have played a minor role in climate change because their carbon footprints are so much smaller than ours.
Battling climate change to make the birth places of these migrants more livable would not only provide succor to their beleaguered nations, but could help ease border impasses. There are other reasons for today’s mass migrations, but climate change is becoming foremost among them.
To Hayhoe, helping those less fortunate is the Christian thing to do, and we live in a country that professes Christian virtues as founding principles.
“Climate change,” writes Hayhoe, “will strike hard against the very people we’re told to care for and love, amplifying hunger and poverty, and increasing risks of resource scarcity that can exacerbate political instability, and even create or worsen refugee crises.
“Then there’s pollution, biodiversity loss, habitat fragmentation, species extinction: climate change makes all those worse, too. In fact, if we truly believe we’ve been given responsibility for every living thing on this planet as it says in Genesis 1, then it isn’t only a matter of caring about climate change: We should be at the front of the line demanding action.”
Hayhoe separates her religious beliefs from the divisive and polarizing politics that are driving ideological wedges between people. She makes a crucial distinction between faith and politics, pointing out that putting political ideology over theology diminishes deeper Christian values.
“I am a theological evangelical, one of those who can be simply defined as someone who takes the Bible seriously,” Hayhoe writes. As such, she expresses the gospel of compassion through good acts for those who need them, and that means victims of climate change, no matter their religious or political backgrounds.
“Being concerned about climate change is a genuine expression of our faith,” Hayhoe concludes.
Paul Andersen’s column appears on Mondays. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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