Christianity and Attitudes toward the Environment

        Environment protection is among the trendiest topics to discuss about nowadays. Without doubt, there are plenty of issues which need to be tackled and act upon when it comes to nature and its preservation. Nonetheless, before entering into the topic of how we should act in order to bring about a brighter future, or a future at all, to our globe I would like to discuss a possible reason of how we got into this situation of crisis. The debate, however, shall not be limited to the virtual space of the magazine and the lines of this article, per contra, it should serve as an antecedent or a possible spark, even, for a more indepth discussion among all interested parties who will participate in the first event of the new Green O’Clock Discussion Evenings.

        I assume, there is nothing debatable about the statement that human presence has been the most disastrous thing that could have happened to the environment. But do humans destroy their natural surrounding consciously? Do they  believe or take for granted that they are superior to any other earthly creature and thing? My assumption is that this cannot be generally true or at least not on the level of humanity. Still, we look around, maybe only in our very limited world which is part of the so- called West, and we see that this is exactly what is happening around us: the power above the land, above its animals and plants we exercise is almost unlimited. Even in cases when institutional restrictions are imposed the idea behind them is to preserve resources for the future generations, thus we try to save an instrument for having human prosperity for the yet unborn. We consume, so we have to produce; we want progress, we want hunger and poverty vanish and we rape the surroundings; we make nature be the slave we can use to fulfill our exclusively anthropocentric aims and when not, we preserve it for our descendants to use it for their own well-being. The Western human has been the almighty in our world.


        Now, how is this connected to Christianity? Even though, the majority of the population in Western-European states is living in a post-Christian era this does not imply automatically that the principles and ideas of Christianity have entirely disappeared. Religions has been proven to be among the strongest forces in driving and shaping human societies and their values are able to operate below the level of conscious expression while exercising immediate effects on human behaviour. These principles and values, hence, are very much embedded in our Western cultures. The human dominion over the Earth is one of the thoughts that managed to perpetuate throughout time and have affected our behaviour. The very idea of an anthropocentric world can be found in the Bible. In Genesis we read the following about humans: “God blessed them and said to them: Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

        The Genesis, of course, does not say to use nature and all created without any respect paid to them but it gives humans a higher status within the created world; the human is ordered to keep control over the Earth, to be master over its beasts; the man named all the living and this established the dominance of mankind over animals and nature in  general. The essential  element here is that the Bible instils that humans have power, as at the end “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him ”. The human-centred, God-created world of the Bible leaves room for understanding all given as mere instruments for being fruitful. Of course, it would be foolish to assume that since the appearance of the Bible the Christian world have showed a hostile behaviour toward nature and worked consciously on its possible destruction with full pace. The ecologic crisis is not the direct product of a Christian idea or of the church. Nevertheless, it is a thought which throughout history helped attitudes develop in a particular way. The appearance of agriculture, later industrialization, production of goods above the needs of one’s own or seeking progress continuously are all elements which played a defining role in how the perception of environment have been shaped. Nevertheless, there was need for an initial point, based on which an understanding could be built regarding the position of humans within the created world.

        Therefore, the mere idea of human supremacy would not be so effective in shaping attitudes without technologic advancement. Lynn White argues that the Middle Ages had a decisive impact in this process. In the era, pursuing technological progress was seen as morally virtuous and it was to a great extent supported by the church. Also, the scientist was the person who strived to understand the world of God and through his findings and inventions had the possibility to reach a higher point of closeness to the Almighty. Western Christianity and its religious institutions by sanctioning scientific advancement played an essential role in building up the technological dominion of the Occident which went hand in hand with the aggressive use of the environment. Furthermore, the developed  scientific superiority help the West to expand in the next centuries and spread the knowledge, its inventions and the thoughts of Christian world together with the attitude of Western societies. This expansion of its influence helped the idea of human dominion, and what derived from it, have an impact and environmental effects that surpasses the limits of the West.

        Nevertheless, one can question the validity of White’s thesis. It can be said that it is no more than a mere, and too straightforward, connection made between Christianity and technology in an era in which religion kept under thumb all aspects of human life. Also, we should not forget that even if Genesis contains parts that can be interpreted as presented above, promoting human dominion over nature, the Bible does not end at the story of Creation. We can argue that the script has several passages which promote a care-taking attitude or a stewardship towards nature. If so, we can ask whether the values and attitudes emphasized by these lines had been forgotten entirely or had no effects whatsoever in defining attitudes concerning nature compared to what is in the Genesis? Can Christianity and the scripts offer guidelines for environmentally sensitive attitudes? Or should we just jump over the whole Christian Europe thing and find answers from a purely secular point of view? This should be answered, however, during the Discussion Night with several other questions. We hope you have a spark. See you there!

Boróka Bálint