Nashotah House, although now a name recognized by only a handful of mostly disgruntled Episcopalians, used to have a name in higher education. Real intellectuals found their way there—scholars who saw that spiritual life did not equal brain-death. Of course, for some that may be the case. While I was on the faculty there, one of the student wives (it is a fully residential campus) was castigated by others for going through the garbage and pulling out discarded recyclables. “How extreme can you get?” they’d say in disbelief. Not extreme enough, I’d say. I just finished reading Patricia K. Tull’s Inhabiting Eden: Christians, the Bible, and the Ecological Crisis. Tull, a retired seminary professor from Louisville Presbyterian, offers a much-needed perspective on the real apocalypse we’re bringing upon ourselves, often justified by the Bible. Many Fundamentalist sects declare the world to be short-lived and for our “domination” because of Genesis. Tull, a biblical scholar, challenges that myopic view of Genesis and suggests that the Bible commends care for our planet. Christians, she indicates, should lead the way in caring for our ailing planet.
Although it is written for the average educated reader, this is not an easy book. It is distressing to read about the many ways that we have blindly (and that’s only putting it in the least culpable language imaginable) set about destroying our environment. Misreading “have dominion over” as “dominate,” Christians have often seen their prerogative as mastery, frequently cruel, over all others. Pollution? The world’s going to end soon, so let’s get the rapture out of here—and throw your waste on those left behind. Economic inequality? You’ll always have the poor, so exploit them. Agri-business? People cannot live by bread alone, so let’s make a huge, exploitative business out of growing crops and processing them to death. Ironically, and not in the good sense, much of this thinking comes from “Christian” entrepreneurs, people who see nothing wrong with making a few extra bucks on the way off the planet. We fry ourselves with our greenhouse gasses and poison ourselves with our drinking water. It’s all gonna burn.
Tull gives the lie to all these misplaced concepts that some claim are biblical. Sure, the Bible is no environmentalist handbook, but then, things weren’t so extreme a couple of millennia ago. We hadn’t yet developed the technology truly to dominate, radiate, and eradicate this planet. Besides, the early Christians figured they’d be long gone a couple hundred centuries ago. It should’ve been clear, even as the Enlightenment lit up, that we were in this for the long haul. And we’ve got only one home. The ethical implications fall thick and fast—those who destroy the environment are worse than war criminals, for it is the entire planet that pays the price for such thoughtless greed. Many turn their noses up at the humble street person collecting bottles and cans for a few pennies. It may not be their motivation to clean up the planet, but then, saints who are willing to dig through the garbage are seldom recognized for what they are.