Wednesday, October 17, 2001

Lynn White and Redeming the Time

I can honestly say that I have never considered a discussion of the environment in terms of religion. Actually, thinking back to my religious studies course, it was fairly far removed. As Stephen Sharper points out, this is a topic that was not readily and eagerly taken up by the religious community by and large. Christianity it seems, was marching to the beat of its own drummer and not that of society. I found the introduction and Ch.1 of Scharper's book to be quite useful in filling in the large gaps in my knowlege regarding this area. All of this literature has sprung up on theology and the environment since those fateful accusations of Lynn White's were first published in 1967. I especially liked the way Scharper classified each of the views into "apologetic", "constructive" and the "listening" approaches and felt that they were very appropriate. One thing I have a hard time understanding is how the human factor could have been left out of so many of the Christian theology discourses on the environment. Religions themselves, as a general rule, focus quite strongly on the behaviour and morality of humans so I find it puzzling. If we are to find "our place" in this construct we call the environment, shouldn't religion be discussing it?

Out of the three approaches, I most closely agree with the construction approach. I am of the belief that Judeo-Christian religions have at least partial culpability in the way the environment has been assaulted. Perhaps I am looking for a scapegoat to blame for our "bad" behaviour but I feel that we definitely have been encouraged to act this way by religion. Other religions such as Buddhism take a radically different view of nature. It teaches people to respect the environment and all its creatures. Hinduism too, is another belief that teaches its followers to respect all living things. I have heard of exceptional devotees that actually walk with brooms, sweeping the ground in front of them to avoid killing any insects. Judaism and Christianity both teach us that the wilderness is something we have to tame and control. It almost represents an unleashing of our wilderness. How many times have we heard the expression that good, simple, God-fearing, hard-working Christians are the salt of the earth? Far be it from me to contradict 3000 years of Judeo-Christian theology but I think that environmentally-conscious, conservationist, enjoy-my-greenspace kind of people are the salt of the earth as well, especially considering our present state. One thing I would like to know is what Scharper means by the title of his book, Redeeming the Time? Food for thought...

Lynn White's scathing accusations of the Western religions proved to be the wake-up call that these religions needed to ground them in one of main issue of the 21st century. I agree with quite a few of the points he makes in his article and don't feel that he is being unjust in any of his finger-pointing. Maybe some people find that he is being rather harsh on Western religions but they do have a history of shirking responsibilities and lagging far, far behind in accepting and adjusting to societal reforms. It will be interesting to see what Stephen Scharper has to say in class tomorrow.