It’s Not Easy Bein’ Green
Even God, it seems, is going Green: Harper Collins has recently published the first edition of a “Green Bible,” a New Revised Standard Version of the Bible printed on recycled paper with soy ink. The Bible’s distinctive features include a foreword by Archbishop Desmond Tutu and “verses and passages that speak to God’s care for creation highlighted in green.”
Now, for those of us concerned with things like science and—god forbid—the comparative study of religions, this idea is a no-brainer (if a little overly commercial and cheesy.) There may be no denying that we are currently in a state of environmental crisis, due in no small part to the consequences of human activity. If the role of religion is to transform the hearts and minds of its communities of followers to become more humble, spiritually aware and morally reflective agents of the eternal process of creation, then surely an environmental movement within the most dominant religious system in the world is an idea whose time has come.
Unfortunately, this bit of wisdom is lost on many Christians. As news sources all over are reporting, the Green Bible is quite controversial among American evangelicals. The criticisms I’ve heard range from a self-serving interpretation of God’s charge in Genesis 1:28 to “subdue” (Hebrew kabash) the earth to the nutty Left Behind-esque millenialism that charges that environmentalism is pointless—evidence of a lack of faith, even!—because of the impending Rapture. I grew up in Texas, so I’m quite familiar with the latter position; indeed, as a passionate student of the entire history of human faith I still find it to be one of the ugliest, most crippled contortions of belief our species has ever had the misfortune of producing.
This resistance to environmentalism is nothing new. As Richard Rodriguez pointed out in his lucid essay on the ecology of the Judeo-Christian god in the January 2008 issue of Harper’s, Western monotheism has historically been remarkable for its antagonism toward the natural world. This antagonism is a symptom of a perennial pathology within Western faith: namely the failure to identify the substance of creator and creation as one and the same. Eastern religions generally do not have this problem. Neither do the religions of the human beings who lived in relative harmony with the North American landscape for centuries before they were conquered by Europeans whose technological prowess was eclipsed only by their cultural chauvinism. Indeed, today’s American evangelicals, the cultural heirs of Manifest Destiny, still overwhelmingly favor a reading of the Bible that sanctions their darkest, most destructive and—oh, I’ll go there—sinful desires.
That said, as I’ve mentioned elsewhere on this blog, I would like as much as anyone for forward-thinking Christians to find a way to steer their religion’s enormous power and influence toward being a positive force in American society, which I don’t believe it has done in awhile. This transformation needs to happen from within. And if sipping organic free-trade lattes while wielding a recycled Bible helps facilitate this much-needed change, I’m all for it. (They’ll just have to work on freeing themselves from their achingly paradoxical consumer-driven lifestyle another day.)