The Cross and the Rain Forest:
A Critique of Radical Green Spirituality
by Robert Whelan, Joseph Kirwin, and Paul Haffner
Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty
and William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company
by Dr. Edward Younkins
Professor of Accountancy and Business Administration at Wheeling Jesuit University in West Virginia and author of Capitalism and Commerce.
This concise, easy-to-read, and well-researched and documented book provides an insightful look at the philosophical and religious underpinnings of radical environmentalism. Whereas the authors recognize the importance of protecting the environment, they warn that radical environmentalism is in opposition to the Christian tradition in its views of God, human beings, and animals. In addition to challenging the ideology of radical environmentalism, toward the end of the book they present an alternative Christian ecology.
They lament that many Christians are beginning to see their mission to "save the earth" as the most worthwhile ministry of the Church. While recognizing that care for the environment is a legitimate pursuit, they note that viewing the mission to save the earth as more important than the alleviation of poverty or missionary activity involves a radical re-ordering of priorities, is hostile to Judeo-Christian values, and is actually closer to paganism and animism.
The authors explain that the driving force of the Green movement is religion (i.e., a system of beliefs underlying the service of a person or a cause that becomes the ultimate source of meaning and goal and guide of one's thoughts and actions). They argue that radical environmentalism is primarily a religion and therefore must be examined and critiqued as one.
Christianity affords man a uniquely exalted position – man is made in the image and likeness of God who sent His only Son to redeem us from sin and win eternal life for us. God was free in creating the world, is distinct from His creation, and created man to participate in His divine work. It follows that Christianity is opposed to pantheism, animism, and deism. A religious worldview based on pantheism and animism would redefine the relationship between God, man, and the natural order.
For Christians, science is a means for solving the problems of the environment – not a part or cause of the problems. The authors explain that Christianity is faith based on reason. God gave us the power to come to know Him by applying our faculties of reason and observation to the world around us. Science and Christianity support one another. Christian cosmology teaches us that the universe was created by God to function in accordance with the rational and coherent laws that he designed for it. Science helps us to understand these laws.
Because man is a spiritual being he can never be fully satisfied by purely materialistic greed. Plants and animals can't be spiritual – they are merely physical facts. Deep ecology opposes this perspective by viewing man as nothing special (and oftentimes as destructive and disgraceful). The goal of Green spirituality is to redefine the relationship between man and nature. Radical environmentalists want a creation-centered spirituality rather than the theocentric spirituality of Christianity. For Greens, there is no barrier separating man from other living things.
The authors discuss how the population control movement has had a profound effect on the Green movement. Population control advocates argue that population growth would result in poverty, famine, and wars. They fail to explain, however, how per capita food production has grown as population has increased or why the world is so rich in natural resources.
Radical environmentalists tend to view people as a form of pollution. Some not only predict that the extinction of the human species is not only inevitable, but may actually be a good event!
The authors acknowledge that people can be destructive, but explain that they can also be constructive. Human beings do affect their environment. However, their rationality and ingenuity enable them to promote progress and create order out of chaos. The capacity for making the world more comfortable reflects the gift of reason which the Creator gave to man. Unlike any other creature, men are made in God's image eventually to spend eternity with Him. Christians believe God made man in His own image with an immortal soul and the gifts of reason and free will. Man is thus given the opportunity to respond to God's love in such a way as to gain eternal life with Him. This option is not open to animals, vegetables, and minerals.
Population control is based on a reductionist view of man that is incompatible with Christian teaching. The Green view of human beings amounts to a downgrading that puts them not just on the same level as animals but in some ways beneath them (because of man's destructiveness).
The authors discuss a growing movement to establish legally enforceable "rights" for animals. At the same time, abortion has been more and more accepted as a normal occurrence of modern life. It is not a coincidence that animal rights have gained at the same time that human rights have been devalued. Both involve a radical reassessment of the value that is placed on human beings in the order of creation. The case against abortion is based on the moral imperative of the equal right to life by all human beings. However, if human beings are assigned an equal (or inferior) standing compared to animals, where does that leave such a right when the majority of people do not object to killing animals?
The demeaning view of man as a form of pollution is incompatible with Christianity because Christians believe that every human being is made in the image and likeness of God. The ability to control our environment is one of the distinguishing features of man. The natural order (i.e., the biosphere) can have no rights against man who is made in God's image. Human beings are not a form of pollution. Man's environment includes the natural order, other human beings, and ultimately God. It is right that Christians should concern themselves with the care of the environment that God has provided.
With respect to the idea of “animal rights,” the authors observe that it is only sentience that is common to human beings and animals. Men alone have any sense of good and evil or of justice and injustice. Animals cannot think, have no consciousness of their own existence and finitude, lack the ability to stand apart from themselves to contemplate their own activities, and do not have the ability to fulfill duties to respect the rights of others.
The root of the case for animal rights lies in their advocate’s belief that man is not unique. The notion of animal rights is outside the Christian view of the world as God's creation and of man’s place in it. There is a scale of importance in nature. The animal rights movement is pagan – it gives no credence to the gulf that exists between man and the merely natural world.
The authors explain that men do have duties with respect to animals (but not to animals since that would mean that animals would have rights against man). Man's duties are to God and are the other side of man's rights. We do have a duty to God in our treatment of animals. For example, pain caused to animals in medical experiments is permissible provided that the benefit to mankind can be rationally judged to be sufficiently great. We ought to use animals for our good. Between ourselves and God, we always have to give an account of what we do with whatever he puts in our care.
According to the authors, a proper theology of the environment includes God, the human person, and nature. God freely created the cosmos and is distinct form his creation. Man does not have absolute sovereignty over creation, but rather a responsible stewardship in which he is accountable to God. It follows that human activity must be seen as participation in the divine work of creation following God’s laws, whether natural or revealed. Perfecting the relationship of man to his environment is not a work that can be brought about solely by human hands. Christ's redemption needs to be applied. Christian ecology deals with God's healing the cosmos through human instruments. There are ways to relate to the environment that are more pleasing or less pleasing to God. Men should use their God-given rationality to discern the best ways to relate to, change, and preserve the resources God has entrusted them with.
Readers will find this outstanding book to be of great service in identifying and analyzing the tenets of eco-religion. The Cross and the Rain Forest cogently illuminates and critiques the origins and implications of radical environmentalism and its views of God, human beings, and animals. It is a must-read for any person interested in the relationship of man to the national environment.