Friday, February 26, 2010

Was Jesus an Environmentalist?

With all the conversation about creation-care amongst Christians, one has to ask, "Was Jesus an Environmentalist?" It isn't a silly question, one would hope that if Christians are going to engage in an activity as part of their Christian obligation, it would make sense to ask if Jesus would support the behavior?

In one sense, the question of environmentalism is anachronistic. People in Christ's day had enough trouble just staying alive, let alone worry about whether a specific species was going extinct. But on another level, we can inquire and gain some insight on how his behavior should be a model for ours? For example, many people worry about whether they are recycling enough or feel guilt about the bottled water they bought because they were thirsty. 
Consider Christ, he killed a fig tree simply because it didn't bear fruit when he wanted it (Mk 11). Does this exemplify behavior of someone who is supposedly calling us to environmentalism?Christ killed a tree simply to make a point. Is that right? Couldn't he have just made his point in a more environmentally responsible way?

I think a couple of points should be considered. First, Christ is Lord of Creation. He can do with his property as he wished/s. Second, since Christ was fully human, it means we too can destroy elements of God's creation in God's service. That may shock some people, but it is true. When you eat an animal, you destroy God's creation but no moral stain obtains. The key is to judge oneself accurately and truly, by asking, "is this destruction to God's glory or yours?"  While that is a humbling question, we should also consider that Christ's yoke is easy and his burden is light.

Stephen Vantassel is a tutor at King's Evangelical Divinity School and author of Dominion over Wildlife? An Environmental-Theology of Human-Wildlife Relations (Wipf and Stock, 2009)

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Protecting the Environment

One of the fundamental debates of the environmental movement is over what is the best way to protect the environment. This question concerns the macro-level. Should we put land into the public trust by making it the property of the government along the lines of Yellowstone Park? Or should we encourage private ownership?
Americans tend to support the government option. Our stable society run by the rule of law has demonstrated the effectiveness of this approach for almost 100 years. In Africa, private owners appears to achieve more secure environmental results. Understandable given the levels of corruption that is apparently endemic in so many African governments.
What is ironic is that many environmentalists see capitalism, of which private ownership is a cardinal doctrine, as evil. They contend that the desire of profit, particularly the maximization of profit, causes people to exploit their resources in harmful and unsustainable ways. There is no doubt that short-term desire for profitability can have negative environmental results. I think this kind of harm is most likely to occur when owners are more distant from the effects. For example, stock holders will usually not be aware of what the office manager is doing at the job site hundreds of miles away. As a stockholder myself, I can tell you that companies regularly do what I don't want them to do as a shareholder (CEO pay is one of the most irritating; I believe that the company can find someone else who is just as incompetent for half the salary).
But what about owners who live in the area where they work? I suspect that they would maintain long-term goals providing that government regulations and taxes don't create economic conditions that diminish the value of long-term thinking.
Bottom line, it is too simplistic to call capitalism as the problem for environmental degradation. A more nuanced approach and treatment of capitalism is in order.

Stephen Vantassel is a tutor at King's Evangelical Divinity School

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Are Children an Environmental Curse?

Doomsday environmentalists and various futurists regularly link environmental problems to population numbers. The argument goes, such and such country is having trouble because its birth rate is too high. If the West hopes to help these countries we must fund various forms of the euphemism “family planning.” The question for Christians is simply this? How do we harmonize Scripture’s positive view of children (i.e. be fruitful and multiply, Gen 1) with the apparently common sense notion that more people means more environmental and economic problems?

Some suggest scripture’s optimism regarding children flows from its high mortality experience and agricultural sitz im leben. Those comments simply don’t apply to a post industrialist age.  Others contend that environmental problems flow not so much from population but from morals. Dr. John MacArthur of the Master’s Seminary argues God blesses nations that follow his commands. This doesn’t mean that prosperous countries are defacto moral, it means that solutions for environmental problems (i.e. feeding their people, jobs, etc.) start by repentance of sin. One only need to think of many poor countries whose corrupt governments mean that millions of dollars in aid never get to the problems they were meant to solve.
So what do you think? Are children an environmental curse?
Stephen M. Vantassel is a tutor at King’s Evangelical Divinity School
Copyright 2010 Stephen M. Vantassel

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Humane Rodent Control?

Dr. Robert Corrigan, a nationally recognized expert in rodent damage management and author of Rodent Control: A Practical Guide for Pest Management Professionals, gave the keynote address at the Urban Pest Management Conference sponsored by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in Lincoln, NE (February 2, 2010). In that presentation, which outlined various trends in pest management, one in particular caught my attention. He touched on the increase in requests for non-lethal rodent control.
Let's set some context here. Dr.Corrigan works for the City of New York as part of their rodent management program. It's a monumental job and one that New Yorkers are keenly interested in as rats comprise their top three complaints about living in the city. But as much as New Yorkers hate rats, requests for non-lethal control of those rats are increasing. Residents are uncomfortable with contemporary rodent control methods involving, snap traps, toxicants, and of course, glue boards.
What do you think? Do you believe that more work should be done in reducing the pain and suffering involved in the control of house mice and rats? I would like to hear your thoughts?

Copyright 2010 Stephen M. Vantassel