Faith and power

John Turnbull has been reading a recent report from Christian Ecology Link and wondering what it ought to say


What is the point of specifically Christian ecological thinking? It might be that the principal task is an internal one, to correct some specifically Christian error in the light of contemporary thinking. After the standard dismissal of supposed complacent interpretations of Genesis 1 (‘have dominion over the creatures of the earth’ etc) there is not a great deal left to say. Christians are as bad as other people, but not in a specially interesting way. It is one of the disappointments of atheists that the strident secularism of Western Europe has not led to a waning of capitalism’s crimes from when it was so enthusiastically powered by the Protestant work ethic.

The best justification would surely be if Christian theology had something distinctive and profound to say, something new to add to the general debate. John Habgood’s The Concept of Nature (2002) was a popular work that fulfilled this criterion. Whether one agrees with him or not, it is clear that he brought a distinct theological wisdom to the subject, that his Christian understanding informed his scientific reflection.

Christian ecologists might hope to be in this second category, but are much more likely to fall into a third group, those who support the secular, mildly-liberal consensus, who will therefore respond to government initiatives by speaking to their particular community, who will rally the church-going sub-group to the greater cause. The hope seems to be that by delivering a constituency, they will gain a place at high table and so the chance to take part in the wider discussions.

The purpose of a report

This may seem unduly cynical, but it is a real danger that supposedly Christian involvement in an area such as ecology is no more than propaganda, dressing up a wider consensus (on global warming for example) that may or not be valid, in terms that will appeal to a particular constituency. It does the wider subject no favours to suggest that there is a specific faith perspective when there is not, and it demeans Christianity to suggest that we cannot take part in a debate unless it is presented to us in our own pious language.

In late March, Christian Ecology Link published a report Faith and Power: the case for a low consumption, non-nuclear, energy strategy (14pp of text, £2 or downloadable from <>). It offers a gently-reasoned encouragement of renewable energy sources and a moderately-argued rejection of nuclear energy, which is no doubt a very good thing, but hardly particularly Christian. It claims that this is ‘an energy strategy that reflects love of the Creator, expresses care for the whole creation, and is informed by Christian principles of wise stewardship, peacemaking, justice, loving our neighbours and moderation in consumption.’

What a gentle world ecologists must live in. There are, it is true, a number of biblical quotations in this text, but none that have any appreciable effect upon the argument. They are in effect Christian window dressing. It acknowledges that ‘the UK Government invited greater dialogue with faith communities in order to improve consultation on public policy,’ and one can understand that they do not wish to be rude, but this report is so anodyne it is embarrassing that they should seem to speak on our behalf.

Tell it like it is

Divorce, and the rejection of marriage, is one of the most significant social contributors to increased carbon dioxide emissions in the UK. Dividing households need more and more houses, cars, washing machines, etc. ‘Get married, stay married, save the planet.’ How would a Christian Ecology group deal with such a proposal? We would love to know.

Commending marriage in order to reduce carbon dioxide emissions does not seem quite the ticket. But a government (that has done much to undermine the institution of marriage) ought to be interested in such a suggestion when it asks for comments on energy policy. Discourage divorce and keep to the Kyoto protocols? Who would dare to tell them?

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