As Lynn White would have it, Christianity through its Judeo-Christian values is to blame for the current state of ecological crisis and environmental degradation. The premise of Lynn White's argument is that Christianity and Judeo-Christian traditions place man as being the most important part of creation, to the effect that he is given dominion over nature. The second layer to Lynn White's advancement is that by placing man as being the central being of creation and the issuance of dominion to him, man has been given a laissez faire to interact with the rest of the environment at will, as he wills. The third layer of the argument which is being propounded by Lynn White is that through the laissez faire condition that man enjoys, he has continued to sustain a protracted and continual exploitive relationship throughout history, with the environment to the point of dilapidation. At face value and without giving the argument deeper thought, a passer by rushing through the charges against Christianity as being responsible for the entrenchment of a culture of environmental degradation as the harbinger of ecological crises, would be forgiven for accepting Lynn White's accusation as true.
Nevertheless, it is important to take to stock, the fact that the standpoint which has been advanced by Lynn White are somewhat fundamentally flawed so that his argument in entirety. This paper takes to underscore the reason why Christianity cannot be held as the culprit, as far as the current ecological crisis.
In the first place, it is important to take note of the fact that the first layer of Lynn White's argument is very right. It is right for White to postulate that the Bible asserts man's dominion over the rest of the creation which is nature. He is again right to assert that Christianity makes a bifurcation between man and the rest of the creation. Man is seen to have been fashioned in the image of God on one hand. On the other hand, the rest of the creation, being bereft of God's image is subjected to the dereliction of the soul or the power and the power to reason, and as such is superior. In relation to this, man is given dominion over the rest of the environment. Thus far, White is correct in his argument.
White's Failure to Broaden His Scope of the Dominion
However, problem comes in the manner in which he misinterprets this to advance his standpoint that thus, Christianity gives man a blank cheque to do with nature or the rest of the creation as he pleases. The problem herein is that Lynn White fails to take into account, the full or wide scope of the dominion, and what it entails. Apart from just subduing and exploiting the world and the fullness thereof to his gain, he was also to protect these same provisions of nature. As a matter of fact, it is clear that after being placed in the Garden, man is made to take care of the environment. He is made to till and cultivate the Garden. That the cultivation was for tending and keeping the Garden since fruit bearing trees were already plentiful enough to sustain man.
At the same time, Johnson (46) points out that White fails to take to account, the full scope of man's divinely instituted charge over nature is a matter which is seen in the relationship between man and the environment and the animal and the environment. Man and the rest of the animal kingdom relate with nature in much the same way. Nevertheless, given that non human creatures are herein not in position of the power or gift of reasoning, it is clear that their interaction with nature is only limited to self preservation and survival. Non human animals interact with nature only to sustain themselves at one hand. At the other hand, given that man is both rational and instinctive the relationship that man has with the environment is twofold. Whereas he interacts with the environment for survival as an instinctive being, man also as a rational being ensures that he takes steps to claim responsibility over what takes place in nature and that nature's wellbeing is consolidated. For instance, in man naming the rest of the animal kingdom, he is not acting instinctively for his own survival. He is promoting environmental diversity.
In the effect of the above fact that man is endowed with rational powers over the rest of the creation, it is obvious and beyond controversy that man is given a model of stewardship, as opposed to the mere domination of the earth, the environment or nature.
On White's Argument being based on Fallacious Thinking
On a close scrutiny, it is almost difficult to acquit White's standpoint of the guilt of the fallacy of Ad Hominem Argumentum. While speaking against Christians is a matter that another individual may defend as being enshrined in the freedom of speech and expression, yet, it is either very presumptuous or malicious to insinuate that Christians are to blame for the ecological disorder and crisis. In a chronological sense, many other religions existed before Christianity. These religions have traditional heritage which are expressly not right with the principles of environmental preservation.
At the same time, one such as Derr (23) who pays very little attention to environmental safety and preservation does so as an individual and not as a Christian. This is especially the case when one considers the fact that capitalism has overtaken the world, with capitalism mainly being about the concentration of wealth in the hands of an individual, and not a religious organization, state or any other community. It is the greed for surplus capital, not religion that is making industrialists sidestep matters of ecological importance.
The Imperative Nature of the Implied Stewardship as Given to Man
Nonetheless, it is important to be realistic that there are some who would wrongly gainsay the above argument as not being tacitly or explicitly implied. However, it is important to note that not only is the implied sense of stewardship brought out clearly in the Biblical scriptures, but dire consequences have also been recounted in the same book. It is not fortuitous that while in the first book of the Bible, the book of Creation or the Beginning of all things, Genesis, man is bestowed with both dominion (which inextricably entails stewardship); the last book of the same Bible makes a stern warning to those who would go ahead to destroy the earth.
In the 11th chapter and 18th verse of the book of Revelation of St. John the Divine, an appointed time is made for "God to destroy those who destroy the earth" is made reference of. This clearly shows that in giving man the dominion, man was expected to take responsibility over it. The flipside of failing to take the charge seriously would therefore amount to the discharging of punishment against man. The issuance or rendering of judgment on matters concerning environmental preservation shows the extent the giver of the dominion that White talks about is serious on the need to preserve the earth and the fullness thereof.
The above development clearly show that the charge that was issued first in Genesis of having dominion and stewardship over the environment is a matter which is true, to the point that theologians can consider it proper exegesis and not eisegesis.
The Jurisdiction of Man's Dominion over the earth and the fullness thereof
The claim that Christianity or Judeo-Christian traditions are culpable for blame cannot be seen to be any further from the truth when the jurisdiction of man over nature or the ecological system is brought to consideration. It is clear that at the time man is being accorded the stewardship or dominion, structures are clearly drawn out. In the Garden of Eden, before the Fall of Man, man's diet mainly comprises vegetable and fruits. It is after the Fall of Man, specifically after the Noahic Flood, that man is explicitly given the green light to start killing animals for meat. This is seen in Genesis Chapter 8.
Conversely, as one goes through the Old and New Testament, it emerges well that man is allowed to slaughter animals for: food; judicial purposes; the carrying out of the ritualistic elements in the Judaism; and for medicinal purposes. The same is seen to be the case for the trees and other vegetative cover. Thus, it is in fact not true, the charge by White that Christianity by rendering man as being the overall over creation and being in dominion, enjoys the laissez faire condition to do with nature and its elements, as he pleases.
Other Instances in Biblical Scriptures Which Vouch For Environmental Preservation
It is interesting to take to stock, the fact that throughout the Scriptures, themes are always littered throughout, either sporadically or systematically or both. To this effect, matters of environmental preservation and the need to conserve ecological balance are further sporadically underscored. After the devastating judgment that came in the form of the Universal Flood, God makes a promise never to destroy the earth with a flood. The rainbow is for the first time shown to mankind and it is to act as the sign of the promise issued by God. This shows the extent of God's love for His creation. It is most obvious that God is the ideal Personality in the Scriptures to whom man is to pay homage, and to whom man should conform and emulate (Barnette, 75).
In another instance, inference can be made to show the Biblical God's will to have man preserve the environment is confirmed by such a verse as "One generation passes on and another comes, but The earth abides forever", as found in Ecclesiastes 1:4. The same message is seen to be repeated in several other scriptures such as Zechariah 14:6, Isaiah 14: 18 and 14:21. In these verses, there are several ideas that are conveyed about nature. The first one in Ecclesiastes 1:4 shows the indestructible nature: while generations pass on and are replaced by others, the earth (the entire ecological system) remains perpetually as it is. This shows the need for man to ensure that environmental protection is a reality so as to bequeath oncoming generations better legacies. The second implication is that if God, the Author and the Grand Designer of the universe as the entire ecosystem will not destroy the earth, then man must certainly must not.
On Christian Eschatology and the Environment as being relevant to Lynn White's Arguments
The same Biblical scriptures that Lynn White uses to discredit the role of the Christian faith as the herald of ecological crises points otherwise, as far as Christian eschatology is concerned. As already seen, verses such as Zechariah 14:6, Isaiah 14: 18 and 14:21 have necessitated the need for critical appraisal on the fate of the earth and the universe. This need has been underpinned by the presence of other verses such as Isaiah 65:17; and II Peter 3: 10-13 which seem antithetical in standpoint to those mentioned previously.
It is in this light that in 2001, Pope John Paul II pointed out that the earth is to stay forever even in the face of the cataclysms that are to accompany Christian Armageddon. As such, it is maintained by Catholics and other mainstream Christians that the fire being mentioned is to purify the universe and not to annihilate it into obliteration. This still underscores the importance of man as the custodian of the earth as the larger environment as being responsible for the welfare of the environment or the larger ecosystem. In a closely related wavelength, the fact that the Bible and other Christian traditions integrally characterize the omnibenevolence of the Millennial Kingdom or Reign by Christ and environmental stability still underscores the centrality of the importance of environmental preservation in Christian theology and literature. It is at this time that deserts are supposed to blossom as the earth brings out its yield in abundance. At this same time, the inimical relationship between man and the rest of the animal kingdom becomes friendly. Seeing that matters on Christian eschatology are as closely knit as hands in gloves, it highly questionable that Christians would see in their literature, a license to plunder the earth or the ecosystem into a ruinous state (Wright, 39).
The Relationship between Anthropology, Christology and Ecological Reality
On matters which border closely on Christian eschatology and Christology, the environment is seen as playing an inextricably integral in the discharging of the revelation of God, as seen in Psalm 19: 1. On this, the Bible is clear that there are two classes of revelation: general and specific revelation. Whereas the latter are expressly exemplified in the Biblical Scriptures and the Person of Jesus Christ (as seen in the third chapter and verse 15 of St. Paul's Second Letter to Timothy and the First verse of the First chapter of the Letter to the Hebrews, respectively), the former is alive in nature, or the environment. Thus, the environment is seen in Christian theology as the conduit, the 'mirror' through which the image of the invisible God is made known to man.
For instance, the omniscience of God is known to man when he considers the delicately struck order in nature and the environment; His omnipotence, when man comes face to face with forces of nature such as gravity and the relation between time and aging; omnipresence, when man feels the soft brush of gentle breeze across his face and shoulder; and omnibenevolence, when the elements of weather such as wind, the sun and rain help in the promotion of life on earth. Therefore, it is highly questionable that right thinking Christians would see their divinely given stewardship or dominion as the right to plunder the environment and wreak havoc on ecological stability.
Conversely, Bouma-Prediger (56) herein maintains that it is important to note that eschatology, Christology and the environment are well seen to be integral. In the Millennial Reign, the glory of Christ as the God-Man gains centrality of importance in the earth, so that it replaces the sun. Thus, the glory of Christ becomes the source of light to the whole world. Nature or the environment is involved herein since its element, air, is the medium through which this glory passes. Thus, herein, the integrity between the Person of Christ, eschatology and the wider environment is seen to make a closely knit complex. Therefore, it clear that Christian tradition places the need for environmental conservation at an exceedingly higher pedestal than White can ever imagine or understand.