Re: [asa] A graduate student speaks out

From: David Opderbeck <>
Date: Wed Jan 23 2008 - 08:54:31 EST

I had Richard Wright as a prof. 20 years ago for a class at Gordon College.
It was an inspiring class, and one of the high points of my time there.

On Jan 21, 2008 10:17 PM, Janice Matchett <> wrote:

> At 10:05 PM 1/21/2008, David Clounch wrote:
> "...What happens when someone chimes in whose goal is to bludgeon the
> "unacceptable" peoples into sawdust? To prove them wrong at all costs and
> shout them down? Isn't the primary mode then polarization and alienation
> rather than understanding? This is the ASA I have found.
> *@ *You mean like Richard Wright tried to do? :) ~ Janice
> *A Response to Richard Wright's "Tearing Down the Green"
> **PSCF*, *48* *(June 1996):* 74-81.
> *Edwin A. Olson
> *Emeritus Professor of Geology
> Whitworth College Spokane, Washington 99251
> Richard Wright's article, "Tearing Down the Green," *(Perspectives on
> Science and Christian Faith, June 1995*) defines and debunks a group he
> calls the "evangelical backlash" -- personified mainly by E. Calvin Beisner.
> More than a critique, however, *Wright's paper also serves as a vehicle
> for communicating his overall outlook on environmental matters.
> In this paper, I take issue with Wright in a number of areas. I see
> regulatory excess, a slighting of scientific input for political gain,
> biased sources of environmental information, indoctrination masquerading as
> environmental education and Christian doctrine held hostage to an
> environmental agenda. Yes, there are environmental problems.
> But a crisis? No.
> *In his paper, "Tearing Down the Green: Environmental Backlash in the
> Evangelical Sub-culture,"1 Richard Wright infers that there exists a
> "backlash movement" (p. 80) within evangelicalism which he labels "Christian
> anti-environmentalism" (p. 89). The attack of these anti-environmentalists
> on the environmental movement, says Wright, is "primarily a political attack
> from the right in the name of Christianity" (p. 80). In his view these
> anti-environmentalists "make use of poor scientific work and discount the
> mainstream scientific consensus on the environment" (p. 80). To Wright,
> their scientific arguments are "patently indefensible when scrutinized
> carefully" (p. 90).
> *On what evidential grounds does Wright propose the existence of an
> evangelical backlash? *He says that "without any doubt the two most
> prominent critics of environmentalism from within the Evangelical fold are
> E. Calvin Beisner and Larry Burkett" (p. 83). Burkett's specialty is
> advising Christians on financial management, and so Wright has no trouble
> exposing his lack of environmental expertise. Beisner, on the other hand,
> has done his homework regarding both environmental controversies and
> relevant biblical material. In fact, Wright acknowledges that "the presumed
> biblical support for [the emerging Christian anti-environmentalism] is
> currently found in Beisner's work" (p. 88). So when Wright describes the
> strategy of the environmental backlash as "calling into question most of the
> scientific claims of the environmentalists about resources, pollution, and
> population" (pp. 80-81), he really has in mind the writings of Calvin
> Beisner.2 Thus, Wright's effort "to understand the environmental backlash
> within evangelical Christianity" (p. 89) seems reduced to finding out what
> makes Beisner tick. One wonders whether there is anything beyond a clash of
> two competent Christian brothers with contrasting ideological outlooks on
> environmental issues. Further insight into that clash was provided in a
> recent exchange between the two men in the pages of PSCF.3
> *If there is doubt about the reality of Wright's "evangelical backlash" as
> a movement, there is no question that he is provoked by certain secularists
> who furnish ammunition for Beisner to "put a Christian spin on" (p. 83).
> Calling them prominent anti-environmentalists, Wright lists Julian Simon,
> Herman Kahn, Fred Singer, and Dixy Lee Ray as Beisner's "scientific"
> sources. Notice the quotation marks enclosing scientific. They are the
> equivalent of pseudo -- not a civil way to treat prominent people, even
> those with whom one differs.
> Except for the first section, my critique of Wright's paper considers some
> of the same facets of environmental controversy which he addresses --
> political, scientific, informational, educational, and religious.* To
> start, however, I call for a change in how debate is conducted.
> *Setting the Terms of the Debate
> **Winning a debate is made easier if you can either saddle your opponent's
> position with a label having bad connotations or adopt for your own ideas a
> term with winsome overtones. For example, members of the Institute for
> Creation Research and the multitudes in their sphere of influence have
> locked up the word creationist by their incessant use of that term to
> describe believers in fiat creation, a young earth, and flood geology. In so
> doing, they have pre-empted its use by Christian people who oppose their
> ideas yet hold to Divine creation. The latter are left with the label
> evolutionist simply because they are anti-"creationist."
> The same kind of tactic is now being used in controversies over
> environmental issues. While Wright did not originate the practice, he makes
> full use of it. To him, environmentalists are "people with a strong interest
> in protecting the natural world and encouraging greater human concern for
> the world" (p. 80). They act "out of a deep love of nature and often out of
> sincere humanitarian concern" (p. 90). On the other hand,
> anti-environmentalists "deliberately downplay and deny unmistakable evidence
> that all is not right with the earth" (p. 90). This stark dichotomy is
> unfair and self-serving, creating a strong temptation to win points by
> applying the label anti-environmentalist without engaging the opposition's
> ideas.
> In my experience, anti-environmentalists are not a very large group. At
> least, I do not find many people who are either unconcerned about their
> surroundings or knowingly trash the planet. Consequently, when I oppose some
> of the ideas of those who call themselves environmentalists, I do not become
> thereby an anti-environmentalist. *Indeed, if called that, I would be
> offended. I know from firsthand experience what bad air pollution is like,
> having grown up in Pittsburgh during the 1930s. I remember both the Donora
> tragedy of 1948 and the earlier rejuvenation of Pittsburgh when natural gas
> came flowing our way from Texas to replace soft coal in home-heating.
> *Thus, I place myself among a vast throng for whom environmentalist is a
> proper description. We are people who like clean air, good water, and
> healthful food; we appreciate a diverse biota, beautiful scenery, and the
> time and mobility to enjoy them. At the same time, some of us realize that
> perfection is not an option, that cost-benefit analyses are a part of the
> equation, and that trade-offs are sometimes necessary. We want to be full
> participants in the discussions without being dismissed as
> anti-environmentalist or backlash.
> **Politics and Environment
> *Wright's analysis of the political dimension of environmental concern is
> generally on the mark. He could easily have merged his world view analysis
> with politics, labeling the *opposing viewpoints l*beral and conservative*.
> Thomas Sowell's categories of *constrained and unconstrained* visions also
> come close to describing the opposing views which Wright sketches out.
> *In bringing politics to bear on environmental issues, I differ from
> Wright mainly in two ways.
> First, I believe he sees too sharp a boundary between the political and
> the scientific.
> One could hope that when a full scientific analysis of an environmental
> problem is completed the proper course of remediation would be obvious to
> all concerned.
> Experience shows this is not so.
> *Consider the issue of a diminishing ozone layer in the stratosphere, a
> problem Wright dealt with. Most likely due to CFCs diffusing into the ozone
> region from below, the depressed ozone levels might result in a higher
> ground-level flux of UV(B) radiation and thus a rise in skin cancer rates.
> In response to this possibility, an international meeting was held in
> Montreal in 1987. Out of the deliberations, there came the so-called
> Montreal Protocol. This agreement with subsequent actions led to the
> decision to stop worldwide production of CFCs at the end of 1995 and require
> a switch to new refrigerants of uncertain effectiveness and safety.
> What went on at Montreal is the subject of a book by Karen T. Litfin
> entitled Ozone Discourses.
> She described her *initiation into reality* as follows:
> Superficially, this landmark ozone regime appears to have been the result
> of a rigorous process of risk analysis and adroit diplomacy with
> sophisticated atmospheric models serving as the scientific basis of the
> negotiations.
> *Like others, I was beguiled by a faith in the ability of science to make
> politics more rational and cooperative. As I interviewed the participants
> and read the source documents from the international negotiating process,
> however, I began to suspect that more complicated dynamics than epistemic
> cooperation were involved. It became increasingly evident that "knowledge"
> was not deeply implicated in questions of framing and interpretation and
> that these were related to perceived interests.
> Although the range of uncertainty was narrow, atmospheric science did not
> provide a body of objective and value-free facts from which international
> cooperation emerged. Rather, knowledge was framed in light of specific
> interests and preexisting discourses so that questions of value were
> rendered as questions of fact, with exogenous factors shaping the political
> salience of various modes of interpreting that knowledge. In particular the
> discourse of precautionary action, not itself mandated by atmospheric
> science, moved from a subordinate to a dominant position.*4
> Litfin later describes the two main groups making up the U.S. delegation
> to the Montreal negotiations. Of course, there were the scientists. But
> ultimately of greater importance were people she calls "a group of
> ecologically minded knowledge brokers," mostly employed by the EPA. It was
> they who were "instrumental both in translating the available knowledge into
> terms understandable to decision-makers and in pushing forward specific
> policy proposals. *This group was more inclined than were the scientists
> to employ knowledge on behalf of far-reaching policy recommendations."*5*In fact, says Litfin, almost no scientists "advocated the virtual ban on
> CFCs that was promoted by the U.S. delegation."*6
> *What happened in Montreal in relation to ozone provides us with a
> prototypical scenario for handling alleged or real environmental problems
> once they reach the hands of political knowledge brokers, people with a
> "we-must-save-the-earth" mentality.
> With such a mind-set, extreme political options will always be the most
> favored ones*. It is clear, then, to use Litfin's words, that "while
> [scientific] knowledge [is] indispensable, it [is] always open to
> interpretation, and it [is] never political" (was *changed to is*).7
> My second difference with Wright has to do with *the government's
> regulatory role* in environmental matters. Without calling for a
> laissez-faire approach, I believe that regulations have gotten out of hand.
> John Stossel, investigative reporter for the 20/20 television program,
> expresses my judgment. Admitting that he has spent much of his career
> exposing a problem and calling for a government agency to correct it,
> Stossel now says:
> I'm embarrassed to admit that it took me two decades of reporting to see
> that governmental action has side effects like *dependency*. I now realize
> that the government controls which consumer reporters rave about do more
> harm than good and that *unregulated free markets solve problems much
> better than government.* Lawmakers] should adopt the Stossel Rule, which
> is that every time they pass a law they have to repeal two old ones making
> the regulatory monster just a little bit smaller.8
> As Stossel calls for less governmental regulation, vice-p resident AlGore
> calls for more -- much more.
> *Wright sees Gore as a very concerned man "who speaks the language of
> environmentalism [and] understands the scientific literature" (p. 82).
> From my perspective, however, he comes across as frightening. Consider
> this passage from his book, Earth in the Balance:
> It is essential that we refuse to wait for the obvious signs of impending
> catastrophe, that we begin immediately to catalyze a consensus for this new
> organizing principle. Adopting a central organizing principle means
> embarking on an all-out effort to use every policy and program, every law
> and institution, every treaty and alliance, every tactic and strategy, every
> plan and course of action -- to use, in short, every means to halt the
> destruction of the environment and to preserve and nurture our ecological
> system. Minor shifts in policy, marginal adjustments in ongoing programs,
> moderate improvements in laws and regulations, rhetoric offered in lieu of
> genuine change -- these are all forms of appeasement, designed to satisfy
> the public's desire to believe that sacrifice, struggle and a wrenching
> transformation of society will not be necessary.9
> Of course, says Gore, "this wrenching transformation of society [will be]
> agreed to voluntarily." That judgment, in my view, is a sure sign that Gore
> is ignorant of both history and human nature.
> *When Science Has Trouble Being Heard
> The *litany* of environmental problems seems to grow larger almost daily.
> At least it does in the minds of some who have already concluded that
> environmentally the world is on the road to destruction.
> Unfortunately, that general conclusion is *infecting* more and more
> people, almost certainly because of constant doom-and-gloom bombardment.
> If those influenced happen to be in education or the media, the rippling
> effect becomes an avalanche of opinion.
> What has developed as a result is a societal milieu in which everybody
> knows that there's an environmental crisis. *To question that
> generalization or any of its component judgments is to receive looks of
> incredulity.
> *Since politicians respond more to opinion then to sober analysis, the
> societal costs resulting from certain political decisions about the
> environment can be very significant. Alar, asbestos, dioxin, low-frequency
> electric fields, certain pesticides, and radon -- all have been called
> serious environmental threats based on scientific arguments. Unfortunately,
> all have generated unnecessary anxiety, and some have led to laws that
> mandate great expenditures of money for little or no gain.
> *The acid rain story is an example of science put to the service of an
> environmental problem and rebuffed when the findings contradicted what
> everyone knew to be true. *Sulfur dioxide released at coal-fired power
> plants and base-metal smelters has long been recognized as a contributor to
> the acidity of rain. Seeking a quantitative evaluation of the acid rain
> problem, Congress in the late 1970s authorized a ten-year research effort
> that spanned the 1980s. Called the National Acid Precipitation Assessment
> Program (NAPAP), *it was ultimately to employ three thousand scientists
> and spend in excess of half a billion dollars.
> *J. Laurence Kulp, NAPAP's research director for several years and chief
> editor for the 1987 interim report, *summarized the NAPAP effort as
> follows:*
> At the beginning of the [NAPAP] program, acid rain was suspected to have
> negative effects on surface waters, crops, forests, building materials,
> visibility and human health. *Fortunately, the research has shown that the
> damage from current and historical levels of acid rain has ranged from negligible
> *(for example, on crops) *to modest* (for example, on some lakes and
> streams). *It is also clear that at current levels of acid rain deposition
> there will be no significant increase in these measured effects over the
> next half century. *The causes and the distribution of acid rain over the
> United States through the seasons are now fairly well-defined, and rapid
> technological advances to control the emissions of the precursors of acid
> rain are occurring.10
> *When the interim report of 1987 came out, EPA officials and many
> environmentalists scoffed at the results because they failed to match what
> was expected.*
> *Kulp resigned shortly afterward and was succeeded by Dr. James Mahoney,
> who steered the program to completion and oversaw the final report of 5,000
> pages. Like Kulp, Mahoney stood firm against the pressure from certain
> people in the environmental community to distort the interpretation of
> masses of data and make them say that acid rain was a disaster.
> Failing to get the report changed, these environmentalists and their
> political allies pushed through the Clean-Air Act of 1990 before the final
> NAPAP report was issued.* Senator John Glenn chided his colleagues in the
> Senate when he said: "We spend over 500 million dollars on the most
> definitive study of acid precipitation that has ever been done in the
> history of the world, and then we do not want to listen to what [the
> experts] say."11 According to Kulp, *"The cost to society of the acid rain
> portion of the Clean-Air Act of 1990 will total at least forty billion
> dollars, but the benefits will be hardly perceptible."*12
> The moral of the story is: Don't carry out expensive scientific
> evaluations if they will have no influence in shaping final policy.
> *Getting the Facts -- Whom Can You Trust?
> *Wright traces environmental disagreements to their informational source.
> He writes: "The uninformed public -- indeed, most of us -- is dependent on
> whatever media source they encounter and can easily be misled into believing
> exaggerations and untruths" (p. 87). He is right. Then he asks how people
> can avoid being misled. His answer: "Look carefully into both sides of an
> issue and get in touch with the basic scientific work underlying the issue"
> (p. 87).
> *Although generally valid, this approach neglects two facts: first, data
> often speak ambiguously, and second, bias is a part of every individual,
> even the most prestigious scientists. Environmental issues in particular
> seem fraught with both ambiguity and bias.
> *As a realist, Wright understands that the vast majority of people will
> not have access to the appropriate refereed literature, nor the interest to
> read it, nor the specialized understanding to evaluate it.
> So his recommendation is that people "search for media with no obvious
> ties to a political agenda." Fine!
> But then he recommends Time, Newsweek, Discover, Scientific American, and
> the Nature Conservancy Magazine.
> I subscribe to all but Newsweek, and it is not at all obvious to me that
> these publications (except Scientific American) lack a political agenda.
> *Perhaps Wright is unaware that he himself has an agenda, one which
> matches that of the publications he recommends.*
> To him their reporting probably reflects the perspective that he thinks
> all right-thinking people ought to have. On the other hand, I read
> environmental articles by Time's Eugene Linden and almost without exception
> detect a bias, one that is definitely not my own.
> Apparently, bias -- or lack of same -- is in the eye of the beholder.
> One is not required to read between the lines in the case of Charles
> Alexander of Time magazine. During a global warming conference several years
> ago, he said:
> *"As the science editor of Time, I would freely admit that on [the global
> warming] issue we have crossed the boundary from news reporting to
> advocacy."*13
> Alexander's admission is only the tip of the iceberg.
> Everette E. Dennis, Executive Director of The Freedom Forum Media Studies
> Center, says that "U.S. newspapers and television (news magazines have
> been interpretive vehicles for years) have begun to leave behind their
> search for impartiality, however flawed that quest might have been."14
> *Even Time magazine's Anastasia Toufexis wrote: "Much of today's political
> and social agenda is built around flagrantly flimsy figures. Too often
> exaggerated figures are used to mislead, raise money or advance an agenda.
> Environmental organizations tend to present the most alarming scenarios to
> pump up the threat of global warming."15* She could easily have pointed
> an accusatory finger at her own organization.
> Another area where Wright and I differ is in his faith that certain
> environmental organizations simply go where the science leads them. Of the
> EPA, Wright says the group "makes a strong effort to base their regulatory
> rules on scientific research" (p. 87).
> *Why,* then, did the EPA oppose NAPAP results on acid rain?
> *Why* did the EPA require gasoline producers to use a minimum of 30%
> ethanol in their wintertime additives when cheaper and equally effective
> oxygenated compounds were available? (The Supreme Court has recently ruled
> that the EPA overstepped its authority.)
> When EPA administrator William K. Reilly asked a panel of experts to
> evaluate the science at EPA, he got back a fifty-page report that included
> these findings:
> The agency often fails to consider appropriate scientific information
> early or often enough in its decision making; fails to enlist routinely the
> best scientists -- especially those at universities -- to provide it with
> data; and fails to evaluate the impact of its regulations, thereby losing an
> opportunity to learn from past decisions.16
> Wright also sees the environmental non-governmental organizations (NGOs)
> in a light different from mine.
> The specific NGOs he mentions are the Sierra Club, the Audubon Society,
> the Wilderness Society, the League of Conservation Voters, Greenpeace, Zero
> Population Growth, The Union of Concerned Scientists, the World Resources
> Institute, and the World Watch Institute. He says they all "hire
> scientifically trained staff and call on the findings of scientists for
> support" (p. 87).
> *But my reading of literature from these NGOs leads me to conclude that
> science sometimes becomes a handmaiden for a political agenda. *This is
> not to say that each group listed above is out to deceive through scientific
> deck-stacking. But common sense tells us that advocates for a position can
> be careless with the truth -- generally the more zealous, the more careless.
> The constant internal prod for discernment is an absolute necessity for
> those who claim to be seeking the truth -- myself included.
> *Environmental Education
> *To the extent that adults are educated about environmental matters, what
> they know is generally from print and TV journalism. Since journalists are
> overwhelmingly l*beral in their political outlook, this bias comes through
> to the public when environmental issues are discussed.
> Under the heading "Environmentalist World View," Wright articulates well
> what the media present as environmental orthodoxy. While *he offers a
> third way -- what he calls the "Christian world view" -- I sense that on
> the specific issues addressed in his summary of the "environmentalist world
> view" he is in substantial agreement.
> *So insofar as the media curriculum in adult environmental education is
> mastered by the public, Wright is probably pleased.
> In *1994*, a Louis Harris poll showed that it has been mastered. *Asked to
> name "the greatest threat to human life," more chose "destruction of
> environment" than any other perceived danger.*17
> Earlier, a *1989* poll by *CBS News and the New York Times* found* 80
> percent* of the respondents agreed with this statement: *"Protecting the
> environment is so important that requirements and standards cannot be too
> tight and continuing environmental improvements must be made regardless of
> the cost."*18
> Wright may be pleased as well with what is happening in the public schools
> -- both primary and secondary. *The crisis mentality is firmly in place.*
> Thomas Harvey Holt investigated some of what happens under the rubric of
> environmental "education" and described his findings in an essay entitled:
> "Growing up green: are schools turning out eco-activists?"19
> <>
> *What Holt found in curricula and in textbooks was a heavy dose of
> politics to the detriment of scientific background. *Industry and the
> free-market economy were often denigrated and governmental solutions
> promoted.
> Students were even instructed in environmental activism. For example,
> second-graders in a New York City public school founded Kids-STOP (Save the
> Ozone Project) in order to "save the planet from the deadly effects of ozone
> depletion caused by continuing release of chlorofluorocarbons into the
> atmosphere."20
> Upon hearing this, Jack Padolino, president of the Pocono Environmental
> Education Center said: "Now what does a second-grader know about
> chlorofluorocarbons?" The answer, of course, is: "Not much." Such youngsters
> are reading a script, not expressing a judgment.
> Holt went on to say that "many of those who shape the environmental
> education curriculum believe that their purpose is not to weigh conflicting
> facts, values and theories but *to instill a sense of crisis.*"21 Ed Clark
> of the Wildlife Center of Virginia is quoted as having said, *"Understanding
> that the world is going to hell in a handbasket is half of environmental
> education.*"22 *I suggest that the other half is to create pliant,
> frightened students who later will endorse drastic solutions to overblown
> problems.
> *Peggy Noonan, former Reagan speechwriter, provides *an illustration of
> the environmental indoctrination that reaches down to the lowest levels of
> our educational system.* She describes the day when
> my son came home from school and ran up the stairs with his backpack in
> his hand and announced with grave concern, like a perfect little Soviet
> child, that the air is so dirty now that it makes buildings fall down. It
> erodes them, he told me, and makes them crumble. My son is afraid of *
> capitalist* polluters who are making the air unsafe to breathe and making
> buildings fall down He said, "We had a movie in class, a Green movie" When
> [our society goes] into one of these seizures of fashion,* we turn a good
> thing, protecting the environment, into a bad thing, environmental paranoia.
> We do not educate our children. We traumatize them*.23
> If the bleak picture presented to Noonan's son were accurate and the world
> really were on a fast road to destruction, one might argue that in the name
> of truth the chips must be allowed to fall where they may. *There is,
> however, a contingent of unknown size, including me, who say it isn't so.*Yes, there are environmental problems, and, yes, they need to be addressed.
> But an essential part of the story is the significant accomplishment in
> environmental remediation. *The crisis approach is neither necessary to
> handle the situations we face nor helpful to our society's psychic
> well-being.
> A Christian Approach to the Environment
> *With all sorts of religious spins being put on environmental matters, it
> was inevitable that eventually a manifesto by evangelical Christians would
> come out. That day occurred in late *1994 when Ron Sider* as chief author,
> using scientific input from *ecologist Calvin DeWitt*, composed the
> 1600-word position paper entitled "Evangelical Declaration on the Care of
> Creation."24
> Other than one sentence listing seven "degradations of creation," the
> document links humans to their material environment with a number of verbs.
> One set is in the past tense and bemoans what has happened to planet
> earth; humans are said to have degraded, polluted, distorted, destroyed,
> devalued, used, forgotten to take care of, and failed in their stewardship
> of the environment.
> A second set of verbs urges certain wise actions -- cherish, care for,
> protect, heal, sustain, preserve, nurture, respect, and extend Christ's
> healing to the environment (generally called creation).
> Helped by vagueness, this Evangelical Declaration has drawn almost
> universal approval from a host of well-known evangelical leaders, among them
> Richard Wright.25 Almost the only negative note was sounded by E.
> Calvin Beisner in World magazine.26 Focusing on the seven degradations
> of creation -- the contribution of Calvin DeWitt -- Beisner presented
> another side of the story. A subsequent issue of World carried an exchange
> between Sider and Beisner.27
> Is Beisner a fool rushing in where angels fear to tread? *After all, the list
> of eminent endorsers of the Declaration constitutes a formidable deterrent
> for an evangelical like Beisner to speak out.* My opinion is that
> Beisner's intent was "pinpoint bombing" -- aiming at specific environmental
> issues on which he has some expertise. Certainly no one in his right mind
> would oppose all the good verbs listed in the Declaration.
> *But the problem with words such as cherish and nurture is that they must
> be defined by specific concrete acts, both individual and corporate. It is
> my judgment that Beisner, through his critique of the Declaration is really
> saying, "Let the rubber meet the road; let us wrestle with what it means
> specifically to be a good steward of God's world." I echo that view and hope
> that discussions where this occurs find their way into future issues of
> *Although giving most attention to differences in outlook between himself
> and the "evangelical backlash," Wright understands as well that there are
> "fringe" groups entering environmental discussions with non-Christian
> religious convictions. He discusses them in a section headed "Gaia, New Age,
> Eco-feminism and Deep Ecology." I share his concerns and applaud his
> position.
> *At the same time, I fear that there are deviations from orthodoxy closer
> to mainstream Christianity than Wright and I would like.
> Orthodox Christians risk straying from the fundamentals of the faith, when
> their embrace of "mainstream environmentalism" leads them to conclude that
> human activities have brought the earth to the brink of disaster.
> For immature Christians, often young, it may be only a short step from an
> earth presumed to be in mortal danger to the conclusion that "saving the
> earth" must take priority over saving souls. In struggling to be witnesses
> for Christ, they may be tempted to take an easier path -- namely, to jump on
> the popular environmental bandwagon as a substitute for the more difficult
> witness to a transcendent reality.
> *What might be called mid-course theological adjustments make the
> environmental option increasingly attractive. These elevate environmental
> activism beyond its proper place in a full-orbed Christian world view. *They
> are rationalizations which often take the form of downgrading the supremacy
> of the transcendent realm with its emphasis on reconciliation with God and
> eternal life in his presence*. Or they may elevate material reality to
> almost a unity with the spiritual domain and so *encourage utopian hopes
> for planet Earth, subtly suggesting that environmental cleanliness is next
> to godliness.
> Even more subtle* is the implication that the condition of the earth in
> the last days somehow influences the quality of the supernatural realm that
> will one day become "all in all."
> It is as if God has set up a covenant with the human race on a* quid pro
> quo* basis. How his people treat their planetary abode will ostensibly
> influence him as he prepares his heavenly house for their future occupancy.
> *On that view, earth-keeping takes on the motivation of self-interest --
> not a bad reason but usually not the one trumpeted by Christian
> environmentalists.
> *There are, however, occasions on which theological orthodoxy is totally
> shunted aside to make way for an environmental agenda.
> This is the case with *Philip Hefner, Lutheran theologian and editor of
> Zygon, a journal relating science and Christian faith. *Hefner has gone
> far beyond the looseness of speech that sometimes accompanies exuberance.
> Instead, *he has discarded a Christian world view for an entirely new
> metaphysical outlook. Here is how he described it:
> In order to best serve our self-understandings, we must recognize (1) our
> intrinsic kinship with the rest of nature; (2) that our purpose as humans is
> to serve nature; (3) that we are preparers for nature's future; (4) that our
> highest calling as humans is to discern the dimensions of ultimacy in nature
> and to conceptualize them. In this we follow God's own pattern of
> investing in nature as the greatest project.28
> *With Hefner, there is no way one can legitimately suggest that beneath
> ambiguous language there really lies an orthodox world view.
> *Hefner writes clearly and what he writes is not historical Christianity*.
> Instead, *it is a radical exaltation of current concerns about
> environmental problems and a clear demonstration that designing religious
> systems around an environmental core is not the exclusive province of the
> avant-garde groups which Wright describes in his paper.
> **Conclusion
> *Richard Wright is to be commended for his comprehensive overview of
> environmental controversy. I hope that his paper, Beisner's response, and my
> critique stimulate further discussion of this important subject. From my
> standpoint, *that discussion should emphasize papers which focus on a
> single environmental issue and are multidimensional -- including scientific,
> economic, political and theological dimensions. It would also help to lower
> the emotional pitch.
> *Notes - click here:

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Received on Wed Jan 23 08:55:49 2008

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