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Man’s Relationship to Nature

As a working scientist, I meet people who view all Christians as ultra right-wing conservatives. They believe that Christians view the environment through the lens of economic expediency; that Christians, like other conservatives, are working to gut existing environmental regulations on public and private land so that supply-and-demand market forces can work. Viewed this way, Christians have no morals with regard to man’s relationship to nature; Christians have no environmental ethic.

Conversely, when I am introduced to Christians as a person who works in salmon restoration, I am sometimes asked how I can be both a Christian and an environmentalist. To these Christians, anyone who does the kind of work I do must be an environmentalist, and an environmentalist means someone who worships the environment and cares more for nature than for people.

I propose a third environmental ethic—a biblical perspective on our relationship to nature distinct from the two perspectives mentioned above. The chart below will help illustrate the differences between the three.


 Question Free-market Environmentalist Biblical
Ultimate good for mankind? Material prosperity Moral/ethical man protects biosphere “Life”
Purpose of nature? Man’s material needs Spiritual and/or material Man’s material needs & context for working out faith in creation
Immediate good? Profit Protect integrity of ecosystems Faith & material needs
Mechanism for management? Supply & demand Government regulations in lieu of individual moral decisions Moral
Model of dominion? Absolute ruler No dominion Steward
Man’s responsibility? Maximize economic efficiency Protect biosphere Meet material needs & make moral decisions
Does nature have intrinsic worth? No Yes Yes
Is it necessary to protect all species? No Yes No

 

The biblical perspective of man’s relationship to nature is significantly different from either the free-market or the environmentalist perspective. The free-market perspective is an economic model devoid of moral dimension. The environmentalist perspective is an ethical model; it incorporates a moral dimension that rightly recognizes that man is morally culpable for his actions with regard to nature. However, the highest moral good and the ultimate goal of life are not those the Bible teaches. From the environmentalist perspective, the highest good is protecting and restoring the biosphere, and the ultimate goal is to protect all species by increasing the number of individuals committed to the goal.

The biblical perspective is a model uniquely different from the other two. It recognizes that a purpose of nature is to provide for man’s material needs, and yet it incorporates a moral dimension as well. The biblical view provides a means for balancing the material needs of man with man’s moral obligations to the rest of creation, and it provides adequate grounds for the established moral standards. Therefore, the biblical model is superior to either of the other two models.

Surprisingly, however, in the current national debate over environmental issues, no dominant voice propounds the biblical perspective. As a result, environmentalists lump Christians with those who hold a free-market perspective even though the biblical perspective differs significantly. And those who hold the free-market perspective believe that any Christian who speaks about moral obligations with regard to nature must hold the environmentalist perspective. In each case, the held assumption is in error and needs to be corrected. Unfortunately, no strong Christian voice is correcting them or proclaiming the biblical model of man’s relationship to nature, which is unique and superior to the dominant free-market and environmentalist models.

[This edited excerpt is from: “Is There a Christian Environmental Ethic?” by Dr. Charley Dewberry. To read the original article, click here. More about Gutenberg College here. Or check us out on Facebook.]

 

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