The celebration of Earth Day, once restricted to a fringe element at public parks, is now widely noted by the media as if it were a major national holiday. Perhaps the most telling sign that the environmental movement is politically correct is its commercial exploitation by businesses touting how “green” their products are.
The problem with political correctness was succinctly described to me many years ago by the historian Otto Scott. He noted that the idea, then a new term, represented an intolerance of dissent and freedom of speech, as that which was not “politically correct” now carried a stigma of immorality. Political correctness represents the banning of ideas and their expression.
But why must such harshness be applied to ideas about the environment? All ideas rest on assumptions about ultimacy, and environmentalism is based on evolutionary assumptions about the most fundamental aspects of man’s being. Environmentalism is a view of man’s responsibility to the earth based on the religious/philosophic starting point of evolution.
Man’s Relationship to the Earth
In evolutionary faith, time, space and matter are ultimates. These are often given the artificial collective noun “nature” (though the assumption that nature is unified is borrowed from creationism and defies the chaotic world Darwin actually described). Man is said to have developed from the characteristics inherent in the matter of the earth. Man is thus a product of earth and has a dependent relationship to it by virtue of this biological evolution. The earth, you might say, has given man the “gift of life.”
The Bible very clearly describes the earth as being created by God as a home for man and his exercise of dominion (Gen. 1:26). The problem man now faces is his sin. After the Fall, man had a moral problem, and his relationship to the earth changed. The curse on the ground (Gen. 3:17) made the dominion mandate difficult to fulfill, though sin has not eliminated the dominion mandate, as man’s sin never negates any command of God or any responsibility of man.
Man’s Responsibility to the Earth
In the evolutionary, or naturalistic (i.e., excluding the supernatural) view, man is himself conditioned by nature. Hence, the already artificial collective “nature” is given the nurturing qualities of “Mother Nature.” Such language is evidence that the supernatural power and providence of God is not eliminated but rather subtly transferred to the natural realm. The use of such anthropomorphic language is more than euphemism; evolution must ascribe all eternal, infinite, creative, and sustaining characteristics of God and His work to matter. One does not have to watch a nature show very long before being told that some amazing trait was “developed” by that very organism in order to survive.
The current popularity of environmentalism should not cause us to forget there are often other evolutionary views of man’s responsibility to nature. Most popular through the middle of the twentieth century, and still a major force in the scientific community, is the view that gives priority to man as the highest form of evolution, as though “nature” conferred a responsibility on man to use his intellect and technology to now accelerate the evolutionary process. This idea gave rise to the cult of science that so dominated the modern mind from Darwin to the space race and is still very prominent in certain fields.
This view sees science as the means to man’s glorious future, but it is the same view that gave us eugenics, Nazi death camps, forced sterilizations to reduce “unwanted” births, and the supposed necessity of the space program. More subtly, it is also the view that has given us municipal fluoridation, mandated immunizations, government-defined health requirements, the elimination of many alternative health-care practices, seat belt laws, and FDA approved label warnings. Such a cult of science, you see, can never achieve its ends without forced compliance. Such “science” always depends on scientific socialism, on using the power of the state to impose the good life on man, always at the expense of liberty.
The difference between the adherents to the cult of science and the environmentalist is that the latter gives priority to the earth as man’s nourisher rather than to man himself. The force of the state is then geared to limit man’s liberty in the presumed necessity of saving his environment. Man’s technology, rather than being seen as the answer, is seen as the problem, and man must be controlled lest he interfere with the evolutionary process.
The environmental movement also tends to default to some form of scientific socialism to achieve its ends, although its view of man’s responsibility to the earth takes a different track. This readiness to use the state as the means of achieving its ends betrays the fact that these ideas are more than science—they are religious, philosophical, and statist approaches to life and are incompatible with liberty. Statism in the name of saving the earth is no less onerous than statism in the name of man’s necessity to control the future.
The Biblical View
Scripture always directs us to our moral responsibility to God. This is a problem for man because he is a sinner, and sin has weakened man (in that he has a limited time before a certain death) and he works with a cursed earth. Man also influences the earth because of his impulse to dominion, which is part of his being. Man is now a sinner but this drive remains. In its nobler expressions, dominion seeks to make a better life through hard work, medical and other scientific pursuits, and the preservation of liberty for the future generations. All this involves loving our neighbor as ourselves.
In its uglier manifestation, the drive to dominion means the exploitation of others whether on the scale of a Mao Tse-Tung or the physical and emotional abuse of a spouse. Dominion is a desirable thing if the end is the furtherance of God’s glory and the means are moral, but the drive itself is prominent in both sinner and saint. The Fall did not release man from the dominion mandate any more than it released him from marriage (both instituted before the Fall).
Dominion is a moral and religious duty. It is not about man’s power or right but rather man’s responsibility to promote the dominion and prerogatives of God. Its association is political, but not statist. We can see this in another similar term—the Kingdom of God. God is a Sovereign and He reigns and has a dominion which we are to further, but the Kingdom of God and His Christ is a religious and moral fact, not essentially political. God’s reign implies obvious moral responsibilities in the civil realm but far transcends them.
When men obey God and His law, first in their own lives (by holiness) and then in the larger contexts of their responsibilities and influences, they exercise dominion and, in some small way, further the Kingdom of God. The emphasis of the dominion mandate is on encouraging men to act in terms of the reality that our God reigns. The Great Commission (Matt. 28:18–20) is thus a reinforcement of the dominion mandate. The Kingdom of God may thus be described as wherever God rules. Because “[t]he earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof” (Ps. 24:1), this is the only kingdom that possesses legitimacy and that will endure throughout eternity.
The alternative to the rule of the Creator and His law in the Kingdom of God is the rule of men in what may rightly be referred to as the kingdom of man. This kingdom bears no legitimacy but still lays claim to the promise of Satan that men could be as gods determining good and evil for themselves (Gen. 3:5).
The believer is called to serve the Kingdom of God. In order to do this he must obey God’s law. To deny the king’s law is to deny the king the prerogative of His rule. This is a repudiation of the Kingdom of God in favor of the kingdom of man. The antinomian thus twice repudiates God’s law, once as Adamic man and once blasphemously in the name of Christ.
Man and the Defiling of the Earth
God created the earth for man and withdraws its benefits as a punishment for man’s sin. In a moral sense, the earth is dependent on man’s faithfulness. If “the stars in their courses fought against Sisera” (Judges 5:20) then all God’s providential care of His creation might be used against the ungodly. The obvious example of the defiling of the earth because of man’s sin is neither carbon emissions nor nuclear waste; it is the Flood which was God’s moral judgment for sin. The Flood did more than kill sinners; it destroyed the original creation. The earth we see now is not what Adam saw; it is the aftermath of judgment.
The judgments of God on the earth in response to man’s sin are described in Isaiah 24. The Lord is said (v. 1) to make the earth empty, to turn it upside down (literally, to pervert the face thereof). The earth itself is said to mourn (v. 4). The reason the earth is defiled is that the inhabitants have “transgressed the laws, changed the ordinance, broken the everlasting covenant” (v. 5). Men are also said to be judged in this passage but there is no doubt God uses the earth itself to punish men.
We can examine the physical forces that cause “natural” disasters. These are very real, but so are the eternal purposes of God and these, at times, include the defilement of the earth in order to execute judgment on man. God’s purpose and providential governance is moral, not mechanistic; to limit our view of the natural world to mechanistic forces is to deny that God still governs His creation. It is to presume Deism.
God very often sends His rain on the just and unjust (Matt. 5:45) but He can also make the heavens as brass and the earth as iron (Deut. 28:23). God can cause any land to vomit out her inhabitants (Lev. 18:25). Once God’s “holy land,” and described as a land flowing with milk and honey, Palestine is now largely a barren wasteland. God destroyed the promised land when its people “transgressed the laws, changed the ordinances, broken the everlasting covenant” (Isa. 24:5). Whatever the secondary causes, the primary cause was the judgment of God.
The Earth and Ethics
The naturalist ascribes sanctity to nature as the supposed originator (i.e., creator) of life. While ostensibly protecting nature, the environmentalist more often seeks to preclude man. While ostensibly setting nature apart, he separates man from his property and liberty in the name of the environment. To oppose environmentalism is to open oneself to the charge of being an exploiter and destroyer. The emotional term “rape” has been long used to describe all ownership and activity not approved by this pharisaical elite. Otto Scott was right. Political correctness is a new moral standard which defines the new sinners and saints.
In Scripture, sanctity belongs to God and His prerogatives. God is holy and man is called to be holy (Lev. 19:1-2; 1 Peter 1:15-16)), though this necessitates regeneration (1 Cor. 15:45-47). We are holy, or separated to God, first personally and then in our work and associations. We are called to such faithfulness that one day even the bells on the horses and pots in the houses, the most mundane of objects, will be separated to the service of God (Zech. 14:20-21).
Our sin makes us rebels against God. Criminals on the lam lead shiftless, wasteful lives. Cain’s curse was, in part, that he would be a fugitive and a vagabond. Such men are consumers, not producers. Likewise, the sinner is a consumer, not a producer; he uses God’s world for ill and God, though longsuffering, does not allow such a lifestyle to prosper and does not long allow the earth to tolerate him.
Man’s abuse of God’s creation is real enough, but the sin is not against the earth, but God. The answer to our irresponsible use of the creation is the repudiation of our rebellion in repentance and faith and a return to the disciplined life of faithfulness, work, and dominion. In God man finds life and perspective on all around him.