Ecology, the New Opium of the People?

A Response to Scott Sabin’s ‘Whole Earth Evangelism’

Scott Sabin rightly mentioned the heartbreaking situation of Haiti. In video images of the recent tragic earthquake, we saw a striking contrast between the denuded wilderness of the west side of the island and the green of the Dominican Republic on the east side of the same island. Why such a disparity? Acute poverty! The poor have to cut trees for fuel to cook with, or, worse, they use cow dung. And so poverty is perpetuated and the environment is destroyed.

Psychologist Abraham Maslow developed the theory of the pyramid of needs. Maslow explained that man has to fulfil his physiological needs (eating, drinking, sleeping) before he can turn his attention to other values—such as caring for the environment. If Haitian people—and others who live in widespread poverty—are to take care of the environment, they must first increase their wealth, because it is the wealthy who reach a state of development that allows them to pay attention to environment. This is what has happened in developed countries.

The rule of law combined with technological and economical progress is necessary to improve the environment. But some tell us that progress must be stopped in order to protect the environment. This reasoning lies at the heart of the Green movement: there are not enough resources in the world, and ’we can’t go on like this.’

The public at large is convinced that the world today is highly polluted. But this environmentalist mantra is simply not true: it does not stand up to straightforward analysis.

The simplest indicator to measure material life quality is life expectancy. Since the industrial revolution, life expectancy has constantly increased. This would simply not be the case if the world were as polluted as some say. Take water as an example, a problem Sabin also raises. We are persistently told that water is either increasingly scarce or is highly polluted. But from the time when God created the world to now, not one single molecule of water has disappeared. And thanks to technology, we have vastly improved the quality of water. Typhus, plague, and others endemic illnesses have disappeared.

If some parts of our world (mainly the developing world) are directly suffering as a result of environmental degradation, the solution is to increase their prosperity. Ultimately this is nothing more than the creation mandate of God to multiply and prosper. If other parts of our world (mainly the wealthy countries) see nothing but gloom and doom, we must direct them to the hope that comes from Jesus Christ, to the God who is Jehovah Jireh, the God of Providence. Because although it might have escaped some Christians’ notice, the ongoing debate is not just one of protecting the environment but also one of religion. For underlying some environmentalists’ agenda is a pagan philosophy that is ready to sacrifice man to defend its love of nature and of Gaia their idol.

The debate is subtle because nobody is pro-pollution; nobody likes to live in an atmosphere that is noxious. The world is much better clean; that much is obvious. To safeguard the environment is an obligation and even a duty. Christians should be the first to protect ’the garden,’ which God has placed us in as custodians, stewards, and caretakers. Absolutely!

But today ’environmental protection’ sometimes means more than taking care of nature. Behind it may lie a carefully planned strategy in place for decades to replace a Christian understanding of the relationship between man and nature with a New Age approach to nature. How sad it is, then, to observe Christians swallowing wholesale this antichristian philosophy. This is the conclusion I have come to through a close and detailed analysis of the history of the environmental movement and sustainable development strategies.

Let us stop pollution, let us improve the environment, but let us not change Christian civilization that has led to progress and prosperity for billions. Putting our hope in environmentalism is the latest innovation of the Devil to keep man from the love and grace of God. Should C.S. Lewis have written Screwtape Letters today he would probably add ’environmentalism’ to the list of Satan’s tricks. Planting trees is not part of the Gospel, even if man has always and rightly planted trees. God loves man much more than nature, which in the end is a God-given resource to provide life and prosperity to man, and so to bring glory to God.

Samuele Furfari is the author of Dieu, l’Homme et la nature (God, Man and Nature: Ecology, the new opium of the people?). He teaches energy geopolitics at l’Universite Libre de Bruxelles and is president of the Belgian Association of Free Evangelical Churches.

This article was a part of a special series called ‘The Global Conversation’ jointly published by Christianity Today International and the Lausanne Movement in the months leading up to Cape Town 2010: The Third Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization to help prepare the global church for the issues to be addressed at the Congress. Each lead article had several commissioned responses, and was published by dozens of publications around the world. (View all Articles)

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