Posts Tagged ‘environment’

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Living On The Edge: challenges to faith

September 1, 2013

Today Christians in the Western world are typically living in a post-Christian society. Christian beliefs are met with skepticism, and people see little reason to believe. Christians are confronted with daily challenges to their faith, and often struggle to understand the relevance of Christianity to modern life.

The book ‘Living On The Edge: challenges to faith‘ (due to be printed in November 2013), addresses those concerns. For an overview of the book, click here.

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Social effects of media

February 6, 2011

Conservative Christians have been known for their historic opposition to TV in general, and to violent media in particular, on the basis of Biblical statements identified as relevant to the subject.[1] [2] [3] Numerous studies confirm that such opposition is well founded.

Typical media content has been identified as having a negative impact on the behavior of impressionable minors,[4] [5] with a particularly strong correlation between violent media and violent behavior.[6] [7] [8] [9] [10]

Studies indicate evidence for TV’s negative influence, even unrelated to actual content.[11] [12]

Numerous studies demonstrate that the actual medium of TV itself has a negative impact, regardless of the content being viewed,[13] vindicating cautions about the negative impact of TV viewing on children’s physical development which are over 40 years old.[14] [15]

The American Academy of Pediatrics advises parents to limit their children’s exposure to TV significantly, and to encourage traditional forms of play,[16] strikingly similar to what conservative Christian parents have recommended for literally decades.

Studies have indicated the same dangers for computer use. [17] Violent content has been identified as a specific concern,[18] [19] [20] while there is little to demonstrate that home computer use contributes significantly to positive academic performance.[21]


[1] Psalm 119: 37 Turn my eyes away from what is worthless! Revive me with your word!

[2] Proverbs 4: 23 Guard your heart with all vigilance, for from it are the sources of life. 24 Remove perverse speech from your mouth; keep devious talk far from your lips.

[3] Philippians 4: 8 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is worthy of respect, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if something is excellent or praiseworthy, think about these things.

[4] ‘During this period of heightened concerns about attractiveness and sensitivity to cultural norms, children are bombarded with media messages that often promote, although usually indirectly, high-risk behavior. Studies of smoking and alcohol use in youth suggest that media do affect behavior (Hawkins, Catalano, & Miller, 1992; Oei & Baldwin, 1992). Smoking, alcohol consumption, sex, and violence are prominent in television and even in computer games and comic books. Media messages related to children’s developing sexuality usually promote rather than discourage sexual activity.’, Stipek, de la Sota, & Weishaupt, ‘Life Lessons: An Embedded Classroom Approach to Preventing High-Risk Behaviours among Preadolescents’, The Elementary School Journal (99.5.435), 1999.

[5] ‘The importance of media is evident in findings that young adolescents who develop eating disorders are relatively more exposed to media (especially reading magazines and watching television soap operas; Harrison, 1997; Harrison & Cantor, 1997; Tiggemann & Pickering, 1996).’, ibid., p. 435.

[6] ‘Researchers at Columbia University Medical Center’s Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) Research Center have shown that watching violent programs can cause parts of your brain that suppress aggressive behaviors to become less active.’, Craig, ‘This is your brain on violent media’, Columbia University Medical Center, December 2007.

[7] ‘A secondary finding was that after repeated viewings of violence, an area of the brain associated with planning behaviors became more active. This lends further support to the idea that exposure to violence diminishes the brain’s ability to inhibit behavior-related processing.’, ibid.

[8] ‘Considering our regression analyses (i.e., step 2a in Table 2), it can be seen that violent media exposure does relate meaningfully and significantly to engagement in violence and aggression even after controlling the substantial effects of sex and age.’, Boxer et al., ‘The Role of Violent Media Preference in Cumulative Developmental Risk for Violence and General Aggression’, J Youth Adolescence (38.425), 2009.

[9] ‘Furthermore, even for those lowest in other risk factors, a preference for violent media was predictive of violent behavior and general aggression. This finding is consistent with earlier research showing that even low-aggressive individuals are affected by media violence (Eron et al. 1972).’, ibid., p. 425.

[10] ‘Even if we consider only those studies that have most thoroughly met the standards of critics, (3) the pattern of results still supports the conclusion that television violence leads to increased aggression. As a result, there is widespread agreement among credible authorities that television violence does increase children’s aggression and fears. Reports supporting the conclusion have been circulated by the United States Surgeon General, (4) the Royal Commission on Violence in the Communications Industry, (5) the American National Institute of Mental Health, (6) UNESCO, (7) the American Psychological Association, (8) the CRTC, (9) and the Canadian House of Commons Standing Committee on Communications and Culture. (10)’, Josephson, ‘Television Violence: A Review of the Effects on Children of Different Ages’, report for the Department of Canadian Heritage, February 1995.

[11] ‘Early television exposure is associated with attentional problems at age 7. Efforts to limit television viewing in early childhood may be warranted, and additional research is needed.’, Christakis et al., ‘A. Early Television Exposure and Subsequent Attentional Problems in Children’, Pediatrics (113.4.708), 2004.

[12]‘We found that early exposure to television was associated with subsequent attentional problems. This finding was present even while controlling for a number of potential confounding factors, including prenatal substance use and gestational age, measures of maternal psychopathology, and socioeconomic status. The magnitude of the risk associated with television viewing, expressed in our analysis in terms of hours per day of television viewed, is clinically significant when one considers the full range of hours of television viewed in our sample (0–16). A 1-SD increase in the number of hours of television watched at age 1 is associated with a 28% increase in the probability of having attentional problems at age 7. This result is robust and stable over time—a similar effect size is obtained for the number of hours of television watched at age 3. To our knowledge, ours is the first study to test the hypothesis of very early television viewing on subsequent inattention using a nationally representative longitudinal sample.’, ibid., p. 710; the study noted a number of caveats, such as the need for further study and the fact that a direct causal link was not established, though the correlation is clinically significant.

[13]‘In 1980, Boys Town published an exhaustive review of nearly 3,000 studies of television’s impact on children conducted over the previous 25 years, concluding that television can exert a powerful influence independent of the particular content portrayed on the screen. The simple availability of television was associated with delayed development in a child’s verbal skills and in the amount of effort applied to academic tasks.’, Wartella & Jennings, ‘Children and Computers: New Technology. Old Concerns’, The Future of Children (10.2.34), 2000.

[14] ‘Excessive viewing may encourage passivity and may limit play experiences with other children or alone.’, Appell, ‘Television Viewing and the Preschool Child’,  Marriage And Family Living, (25.3.315), 1963.

[15]These are principally unintended, noncontent, or unnoticed effects of television. For example, the child who spends four hours a day between the ages of three and eighteen watching television, as millions do, has spent some 22,000 hours in passive inactivity as opposed to exercising (to develop his physical fitness), or relating to his parents (to prevent a “generation gap”) and so on. What he watches doesn’t alter these effects materially.’, Skornia, ‘What TV Is Doing to America: Some Unexpected Consequences’, Journal of Aesthetic Education (3.3.29-30), 1969.

[16] ‘To minimize the increased risk of obesity, as well as several other harmful effects of extensive media exposure, the American Academy of Pediatrics advises parents to limit children’s time spent with computers, video games, and other media to perhaps no more than one to two hours a day, and to emphasize alternative activities such as imaginative play and sports.’, Shields & Behrman, ‘Children and Computer Technology: Analysis and Recommendations’, The Future of Children, (10.2.6), 2000.

[17] ‘Excessive, unmonitored use of computers, especially when combined with use of other screen technologies, such as television, can place children at risk for harmful effects on their physical, social, and psychological development. Children need physical activity, social interaction, and the love and guidance of caring adults to be healthy, happy, and productive.14 Too much time in front of a screen can deprive children of time for organized sports and other social activities that are beneficial to child development.15 In addition, children may be exposed to violent, sexual, or commercial content beyond their years, with long-term negative effects.16 To ensure healthy and appropriate use of computers both at school and at home, children’s computer time must be limited and their exposure to different types of content must be supervised.’, Shields & Behrman, ‘Children and Computer Technology: Analysis and Recommendations’, The Future of Children, (10.2.6), 2000.

[18] ‘In addition, however, just as research has documented that watching violent films and television programming can lead to increased hostility and aggression in children,36 some research also suggests an association between playing violent computer games and increased aggression. 37 Although the causal direction of the association is unclear, the critical variable linked to subsequent aggressive behavior appears to be the child’s preference for playing such games.’, ibid., p. 8.

[19] ‘Of most concern are the findings that playing violent computer games may increase aggressiveness and desensitize a child to suffering, and that the use of computers may blur a child’s ability to distinguish real life from simulation.’, Subrahmanyam et al., ‘The Impact of Home Computer Use on Children’s Activities and Development’, The Future of Children (10.2.123), 2000.

[20]The strongest evidence examining how home computer use affects children builds on the studies of television concerning physical effects and violent content. The evidence on physical effects links the sedentary nature of computer use to an increased risk of obesity. Children should limit their time with media and should be taught to use computers safely to avoid the types of eye, back, and wrist injuries that have plagued adult computer users. In addition, the evidence on violent content links exposure to violent computer games to increased aggressive behavior.’, ibid., p. 139.

[21] ‘While use of a home computer is widely assumed to have a positive impact on children’s learning, little research exists to confirm this assumption. The limited evidence available suggests that home computer use is linked to slightly better academic performance, but these studies failed to control for other factors. Thus, it is difficult to know whether a child’s academic performance reflects use of a home computer or a greater level of family income and education-factors that are highly correlated with both home computer ownership and better academic performance.’, Shields & Behrman, ‘Children and Computer Technology: Analysis and Recommendations’, The Future of Children, (10.2.9), 2000.

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Is Christianity responsible for the ecological crisis?

January 30, 2011

The claim that Christianity was responsible for the ecological crisis [1] has been contested,[2] [3] [4] but is still asserted strongly.[5] [6]

key text has been Genesis 1:26,[7] a common interpretation of which is known as dominium terrare.[8] Such an interpretation is absent from the first 1,000 years of Christianity,[9] and many scholars reject this as the original meaning of the passage.[10] [11] [12]

In 1603 Francis Bacon proposed a dominion oriented interpretation claiming the purpose of science and technology (the ‘natural sciences’), was to recover paradise by dominating nature.[13] [14]

Early Christians expressed both eco-centric exposition and Hellenistic views unfavourable to the environment.[15] The later Christian tradition contains many advocates of ecological care.[16] [17] [18]

Against an unbalanced view resulting from looking at only a few texts,[19] the value of Biblical environmental instructions has been widely acknowledged. [20] [21] [22] [23]

Stewardship[24] is a recognized Biblical teaching[25] and Christian tradition,[26] against the claim that Christianity is inherently destructive.[27] Many environmentalists have identified the value of religion to ecological concerns. [28] [29] [30]


[1] ‘…the American historian and Presbyterian layman Lynn White argued that the Christian tradition itself bears a huge burden of guilt for the worldview of modernity and the economic system that has led to the present ecological crisis. White’s article placed the blame for the ecological crisis squarely upon Western Christianity. His thesis is a variation of Weber’s famous analysis of the relationship between Christianity and capitalism, namely that Protestantism has encouraged capitalism which, in turn, exploited nature.’, Conradie, ‘Christianity and Ecological Theology’, p. 61 (2006).

[2] ‘In an influential argument, John Passmore suggests that the exploitative attitudes in the West originate from Greek dualism more than from biblical sources. Peter Harrison argues that White is correct to suggest that particular biblical texts have served as important ideological sources for Western exploitation of natural resources. However, he denies that this has played a significant role in the history of the West prior to the emergence of modern science in the seventeenth century. ‘, ibid., p. 62.

[3] ‘The Bible, apart from which Western civilization is inexplicable, has powerful ecological teachings that support an ecological worldview and oppose a utilitarian worldview. This is not to say that these teachings have been widely put into practice in our time – by and large they have not. However, continuing degradation of ecological systems by humanity requires re-examination of these teachings by ecologists and the church.’, DeWitt, ‘Ecology and ethics: relation of religious belief to ecological practice in the Biblical tradition’, Biodiversity and Conservation 4, p. 847 (1995).

[4] ‘To be sure, certain strands of Christian thinking have indeed fostered a dualistic anti-material tendency that has provided the impetus for indifference toward nature. But the wholesale implication of Christian theology, let alone Scripture itself, in fostering such indifference is an overstatement at best.’, Moo, ‘Nature in the New Creation: New Testament Eschatology and the Environment’, Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society (49.3.451), (2006).

[5]‘Many secular environmentalists insist that the Christian and Jewish religions are inimical to the environment and have been so for thousands of years.’, Conradie, ‘Christianity and Ecological Theology’, p. 62 (2006).

[6] ‘As James Nash argues, the ecological complaint against Christianity is, on the one hand, essentially valid. Throughout Christian history, the dominant theological and ethical strains have been oblivious or even antagonistic to nature. On the other hand, the ecological complaint is an over-generalization since it overlooks the significance of dissenting opinions in Christian history and underestimates the tradition’s capacity for ecological reformation.’, ibid., p. 64.

[7] Genesis 1:26 Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, after our likeness, so they may rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move on the earth.”

[8] An interpretation that this verse means God intended humans to dominate, suppress, and exploit the earth.

[9]But in general it can be said that in the first ten centuries there was not really so very much interest in this question. There was rather a static view of the cultivation of nature and the earth which did not always have a connection to the dominium terrare.’, Halkes, ‘New Creation: Christian feminism and the renewal of the earth’, p. 76 (1991).

[10] ‘The dominium terrae is no carte blanche for the exploitation of the world. If one has (unfortunately) (mis)understood this in this way, this is not intended in the text itself.’, Preuss & Perdue, ‘Old Testament Theology’, p. 116  (1996).

[11] ‘Hibert (2000:150-151) concludes that, “By describing the archetypcal human task as cultivating or ‘serving,’ the soil, the Yahwist subordinates human behaviour to the larger ecosystem upon which human survival depends. According to the Yahwist, the human vocation is not to manage the ecosystems of which humans are a part, but rather to align its activity to meet the demands and observe the limits imposed by this system upon all of its members.”‘, Conradie, ‘Christianity and Ecological Theology’, pp. 76-77 (2006).

[12] ‘In response, Christian exegetes have shown that the respective imperative of Gen. 1.28 is to be understood in the sense of the commission of man to care for the earth. On several occasions Gen. 2.15 has been recognized as an adequate help towards its interpretation.’, Reventlow & Hoffman, ‘Creation in Jewish and Christian tradition’, p. 165 (2006).

[13] ‘In Bacon’s opinion, the natural sciences will return to humankind its dominance over nature.’, ibid., p. 76.

[14] The view that a fallen earth could be redeemed by science and technology ironically led directly to ecological destruction; ‘Such a way of thinking lies at the root of the aggressive trait of all further attempts at dominating the world. ‘, ibid., p. 76.

[15]Santmire, ‘The Travail of Nature: the ambiguous ecological promise of Christian theology’ (1985), Boersema, ‘The Torah and the Stoics on Humankind and Nature: A Contribution to the Debate on Sustainability and Quality’, pp. 222-227 (2001.

[16] ‘For Mennonites (one of the historic peace churches) the theme of “peace with the creation” had powerful resonance (see Redekop 2000).’, Haluza-DeLay, ‘Churches Engaging the Environment: An Autoethnography of Obstacles and Opportunities’, Human Ecology Review (15.1.75), 2008.

[17] ‘Many authors (including Lynn White) have pointed to St. Francis of Assisi as an example for ecologically sensitive practice. Dubos (1974) and others have highlighted the Benedictine monks, characterizing them as conservationists to the Franciscan preservationists (stewardship compared to partnership in Rasmussen’s (1991) terms). There are numerous additional exemplars (Attfield 1983; Oelschlaeger 1994).’, ibid., p. 78.

[18] Including Jonathan Swift, James Eliot, William Bartram, John Ruskin, and George Perkins Marsh; Marsh’s work ‘Man and nature: or, Physical geography as modified by human action’ makes specific reference to deforestation as ‘war upon the garden of God‘, p. 279 (1865).

[19]‘The selection of some favourite texts may unintentionally reinforce the perception that ecology is indeed a marginal concern in the Bible. The focus may be far too narrow. It only relates to an aspect of creation theology or, more specifically, to the relationship (of stewardship?), between human beings and nature.’, Conradie, ‘Christianity and Ecological Theology’, p. 69 (2006).

[20] ‘The Bible, without which Western civilization is inexplicable, has powerful ecological teachings that support an ecological worldview.’, DeWitt, ‘Ecology and ethics: relation of religious belief to ecological practice in the Biblical tradition’, Biodiversity and Conservation 4, p. 838 (1995).

[21] ‘The Bible’s portrayal of the dominion issue is actually more detailed and complex than most studies have indicated. The Bible indicates a variety of ways in which nature is subservient to man, but also ways in which man is subservient to nature.’, Kay, ‘Concepts of Nature in the Hebrew Bible’, in Yaffe, ‘Judaism and Environmental Ethics: A Reader’, p. 90 (2001).

[22] ‘Boastful destruction of resources apparently was common testimonial to the might of kings in the ancient Middle East. The biblical condemnation of deforestation for self-aggrandizement may be contrasted with the Mesopotamian Epic of Gilgamesh (third millennium B.C.E.), in which the heroic king destroys a cedar forest “to establish his name”.’, Kay, ibid., p. 95.

[23]In the Bible, humans indirectly bring about environmental destruction as the outcome of sin, or do so directly through foolish arrogance. These analyses scarcely support the theory that the roots of the modern environmental crisis rest in perspectives intrinsic to the Bible.’, Kay, ibid., pp. 95-96.

[24] Of God giving humans the responsibility to care for the environment, rather than exploit it.

[25] ”We have said that our “dominion” over animals is granted to us on the condition that we exercise it responsibly. Another way of putting that may be taken from a comment on the Psalm verse, “The heavnes are the heavns of the Eternal One, but the earth God has given to humankind” (115:16). On this Abraham ibn Ezra remarks, ‘Sheha-adam k’mo p’kid elohim ba-aretze al kol mah sheyesh bah – that humanity is like God’s steward on earth in charge of all that it contains” (ad loc.).This concept of p’kidut – of stewardship – is central to our subject, and, as we have already seen, what it primarily entails is conservation. But equally obviously, it has implications for the way we treat animals, especially domestic ones, since by domesticating them we assume responsibility for them. That this requires considerate behaviour on our part is a major theme of Jewish literature, expressed in exhortations, stories and regulations.’, Rayner, ‘Judaism and Animal Welfare: Overview and Some Questions’, in Jacob & Zemer, ‘The Environment in Jewish Law: Essays and Responsa’, p. 60 (2003).

[26] ‘One group might be termed the despotism school because it views Gen. 1:26-28 and subsequent Christian writers as mandating tyrannical human control over nature. The competing stewardship tradition interprets the identical verses and other early Christian writings as assigning humans a caretaker role.’, Kay, ‘Concepts of Nature in the Hebrew Bible’, in Yaffe, ‘Judaism and Environmental Ethics: A Reader’, p. 87 (2001).

[27] ‘First, the assumption that the entity to blame for the modern environmental crisis is in fact “Judeo-Christian” has been challenged. Passmore has argued that the tradition in question was not Judeo-Christian, but rather Greco-Christian. He sees little evidence that the Hebrew Bible was anti-environment, and additional evidence that the Bible constrained human use of nature. Ehrenfeld and Bentley has well as Helfand have pointed out that Judaism and Christianity are two separate religions, and have examined Jewish beliefs in support of a stewardship position.’, Kay, ibid., p. 87.

[28] ‘We have found that the academy is not the source or repository of practical environmental ethics. However, religious institutions are such, although the modern scientist and citizen may have failed to acknowledge this.’, DeWitt, ‘Ecology and ethics: relation of religious belief to ecological practice in the Biblical tradition’, Biodiversity and Conservation 4, p. 840 (1995).

[29]The church may be, in fact, our last, best chance. My conjecture is this: There are no solutions for the systemic causes of ecocrisis, at least in democratic societies, apart from religious narrative.’, Oelschlaeger, ‘Caring for Creation’ (1994), cited in ibid., p. 841.

[30]‘A significant number of contemporary environmentalists are convinced that some form of religion is needed to provide motivational power for the transformation of human attitudes toward the natural world.’, Moo, ‘Nature in the New Creation: New Testament Eschatology and the Environment’, Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society (49.3.450), 2006.

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What does the Bible say about the environment?

January 29, 2011

The early Hebrews maintained a high degree of ecological sustainability.[1] [2] This was a result of the Law of Moses[3] which regulated fruit crops, [4] and prohibited certain mixed crops,[5] as well as insisting on the non-cultivation of the land in the seventh year.[6] [7]

Dietary and ecological benefits have been identified in the prohibitions against eating rodents and various reptiles, [8] [9] almost all non-ruminant mammals, [10] scavenging birds, [11] certain water birds,[12] birds responsible for controlling local insect populations,[13] [14] and insects themselves.[15]

The Law of Moses legislates ecological care in a range of prohibitions,[16] recognized in the relevant scholarly literature as having explicit ecological motivation. [17] [18] Later Biblical books show the same concerns.[19]

The later Tannaic commentary in the Mishnah,[20] as well as the rabbinical commentary in Talmud Jerusalem and Talmud Babylon,[21] contain detailed awareness of the Law’s environmental ethic and lay down additional environmental protection laws;[22] banning exploitation of land and[23] the raising small cattle,[24] care for animals,[25] [26] [27] condemning environmental vandalism and waste. [28]

Medieval rabbinical commentary on environmental ethics is found in Rashi (1040-1105), [29] [30] Maimonides (1135-1204),[31] Ibn Ezra (1089-1164),[32] Nachmanides (1194-1270),[33] and Abravanel (1437-1508),[34] among others.


[1] ‘Archaeological records show that the Israelites were the first example in world history of a society that succeeded in managing a sustained management of their environment for about thousand and seven hundred years.’, Hütterman, ‘Ecology in Ancient Judaism’, in  Neusner, ‘Encyclopaedia of Judaism’, volume 4, p. 1719 (2000).

[2] ‘Thus the ancient Israelites developed a level of environmental sensitivity. They were aware of the fact that they had settled in an area with a fragile ecology. They knew that their land would be fertile only if it was managed with proper care.’

[3] ‘the Yahwist subordinates human behavior to the larger ecosystem upon which human survival depends.’, Hibert (2000:150-151), cited by Conradie, ‘Christianity and Ecological Theology’, p. 78 (2006).

[4] ‘The prohibition of harvesting any fruits for three years means simply that the entire organic matter produced by a tree during this time returns to the carbon cycle of that very soil. Not only the leaves but also the fruits, which can amount to up to 40% of the net production of organic matter, are not removed from the plot of land where the tree grows. This is a significant contribution to the humus fraction of the soil and has a positive impact on several soil parameters, as outlined above. In view of this background, the blessing at the end of this pericope, which promises higher yields after the fifth year, is understandable. Due to an input of organic matter equivalent to three consecutive sabbatical years, the fruit trees had a much better start and were bound to grant a higher yield.’, Hütterman, ‘Ecology in Ancient Judaism’, in Neusner, ‘Encyclopaedia of Judaism’, volume 4, p. 1727 (2000).

[5] ‘The prohibition of sowing annual crops in stands with perennial crops such as wine, olives or fruit trees, is very important. It prevents the soil from being overexploited. The roots of grapevines or fruit trees are allowed to make full use of the soil in which they have been planted.’, ibid., p. 1727.

[6] ‘This concept was unique in the region. There are no records of similar laws either in Babylonia or in Egypt, the dominating civilizations east and west of Palestine. These laws are a counterbalance to humanity’s tendency to abuse its power over the rest of creation.18 The precept as outlined in Leviticus clearly shows that its main intention is to protect the soil, i.e., to give the soil a rest.’, ibid., p. 1726.

[7] ‘Thus the sabbatical year made important contributions to the fertility and water status of the soil. This was especially important in calcareous soils, which make up the majority of the Judean hillsides. Such a special care of the soils was imperative for the maintenance of soil fertility in the Judean Hills. Israelite agriculture at that time was probably among the most advanced in the ancient world.’, ibid., p. 1726.

[8] ‘Once again, we have to bear in mind that frog-legs and whole frogs and toads are part of the usual diet of many millions of humans today. But wherever they are harvested on a large scale, the ecosystem is deprived of the most important antagonist to mosquitoes, resulting in a higher rate of malaria infection. In several subtropical and tropical countries, the export of frogs is now prohibited for this reason.’, ibid., p. 1723.

[9] ‘1) Sanitary reasons, which forbade the eating of mice, rats, and similar animals that transmit diseases; and 2) Ecological considerations, which protected all raptors because of their role in maintaining the biological equilibrium. In this group we also find lizards, which are biocontrol agents of insects, and snakes, which feed on mice and rats.’, ibid., p. 1725.

[10] ‘By forbidding the consumption of these animals of prey, the authors of the Torah acknowledged the important role of these animals in ecosystems. They take care of the natural equilibrium and prevent overpopulation of herbivores, which are a store of diseases of domesticated cattle.’  ibid., p. 1725.

[11] ‘This shows that the ancient Jews were excellent observers and had a thorough knowledge of the succession of birds that feed on carcasses. They protected not only the first very spectacular consumers of carrion, vultures, but also the less showy “secondary” consumers, the Corvidae, which take care of vultures’ leftovers.’, ibid., p. 1724.

[12] ‘By protecting these birds, the Israelites established the best possible defense available at that time against an invasion of locusts. It was the most efficient protection available for their crops.’, ibid., p. 1724.

[13] ‘These birds, in addition to bats, were the best antagonists to insects up to the size of locusts.’, ibid., p. 1724.

[14] ‘Only those species that were most valuable in maintaining the ecological equilibrium and that served as the most efficient biocontrol agent of insects, especially locusts, were carefully selected and protected from human predation.’, ibid., p. 1724.

[15]This regulation is ecologically wise. It permitted the collection of invading insects (locusts) and those obviously eating leaves and grass (crickets), thereby competing with the farm animals. All other insects, including their larvae, were protected. The message thus seems to be clear: people should harvest resources that cause ecological harm but otherwise leave nature as intact as possible.’, ibid., p. 1724.

[16] Such as that young birds may be taken from their mother, but their mother must be left alone (Deuteronomy 22:6-7), an ox or sheep not to be slaughtered on the same day as their young (Leviticus 22:8), food bearing trees not to be harmed in war time, even if their destruction would be useful to the war effort (Deuteronomy 20:19), animals used commercially are not to be overburdened or exploited (Exodus 23:5, Deuteronomy 25:4), a righteous man takes care of his animals (Proverbs 12:10).

[17] ‘The Bible, without which Western civilization is inexplicable, has powerful ecological teachings that support an ecological worldview.’, DeWitt, ‘Ecology and ethics: relation of religious belief to ecological practice in the Biblical tradition’, Biodiversity and Conservation 4, p. 838 (1995).

[18] Sarna, ‘Exodus’, p. 143 (1991), Tigay, ‘Deuteronomy’, p. 201 (1996), Isaacs, ‘Exploring Jewish Ethics and Values’ (1999), Yaff, ‘Judaism and Environmental Ethics: a reader’ (2001), Hütterman, ‘Ecology in Ancient Judaism’, in Neusner, ‘Encyclopedia of Judaism’, volume 4 (2000), Katz, ‘Judaism and Deep Ecology’, in Deep Ecology and World Religions: new essays on sacred grounds’ (2001), et al.

[19] ‘The Creation story, for instance, declares that vegetation was created to provide food not only for humans but for animals as well (Gen. 1:29f). In the Flood story, God commands Noah to go to great lengths to save every animal species (Gen. 6:19; CF. 8.1). The Book of Jonah memorably ends with God’s rebuke to the reluctant prophet: “And should not I have pity on Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?” [italics added] (4:11). Psalm 104 describes in loving detail how God provides food for all creatures (Ps. 104; cf. Ps. 36:9, 145:16, 147:9; Job 38:41).’, Rayner, ‘Judaism and Animal Welfare: Overview and Some Questions’, in Jacob & Zemer, ‘The Environment in Jewish Law: Essays and Responsa’, p. 58 (2003).

[20] Compiled during the third century CE.

[21] Complied between the third and fifth centuries CE.

[22] Ecclesiastes Rabbah 7:13; Mishna Bava Bathra 2:9, 24b; Jerusalem Talmud, Kiddushin 12:12; Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 17b, et al.

[23] ‘The Mishnah states very clearly that a distance of sixteen amot (about seven meters) must be kept between the vine or olive tree and the closest field of annual plants (M. Kil 4:1).’, Hütterman, ‘Ecology in Ancient Judaism’, in Neusner, ‘Encyclopaedia of Judaism’, volume 4, p. 1727 (2000).

[24]The small cattle ban in the Mishnah is flanked by additional rules in the Talmud that have the same goal, preservation of the land’s fertility.’; ‘The move of the sages and the boldness of the Sanhedrin, which decided in favor of the most efficient way to save endangered nature, reveals the high standard of ecological knowledge and conscience in ancient Israel.’, ibid., p. 1728.

[25]Tza’ar baalei chayim is perhaps the most important principle in Judaism concerning the human relationship with animals; it requires an attitude of compassion for all human life. In particular, humans have a special obligation to care for and consider the pain of the domesticated animals that live within the larger human community. Thus, the fourth commandment concerning the Sabbath requires rest for one’s livestock as well as for humanity (Exodus 20:10 and Deuteronomy 5:14). There is also the law forbidding the yoking together of animals of unequal strength (Deuteronomy 22:10), for this would cause pain to the weaker animal. And one is not permitted to muzzle an ox during the threshing of the grain (Deuteronomy 25:4). All of these commandments are based on a compassion for animal suffering’, Gottlieb, ‘Faith, God, and Nature: Judaism and Deep Ecology’ in Gottlieb (ed.), ‘Liberating Faith: Religious Voices for Justice, Peace, and Ecological Wisdom’, p. 543 (2003).

[26]it contrasts favorably with the attitude toward animals that prevailed in the Western world until the nineteenth century. Prior to that, according to the historian Cecil Roth, ‘cruelty to animals was nowhere illegal – except under Jewish law.“‘, Rayner, ‘Judaism and Animal Welfare: Overview and Some Questions’, in Jacob & Zemer, ‘The Environment in Jewish Law: Essays and Responsa’, p. 58 (2003); ‘”Just as God has compassion on humans, so God has compassion on animals” (Deut. Rabbah 6:1).’, ibid., p. 58.

[27] ‘it is forbidden to buy a domestic or wild animal or a bird if one does not have the means to feed it (J. Yev. 15:3; J. Kid. 4:8).’, ibid., p. 62.

[28] ‘The principle of bal tashchit concerns the prohibition against the wanton destruction of natural entities, living beings (plants and animals) and even human artifacts. Its source is a passage from Deuteronomy 20:19-20:’, ibid., p. 542.

[29] ‘For Rashi, it is self-evident that nature has its own right to develop in harmony. This is so basic for him that he states the relationship between humans and nature as a model of the partnership between man and woman in marriage.’, Hütterman, ‘Ecology in Ancient Judaism’, in Neusner, ‘Encyclopaedia of Judaism’, volume 4, p. 1722 (2000).

[30] Vogel, ‘How Green Is Judaism?’, in O’Brien & Paeth, ‘Religious Perspectives on Business Ethics: An Anthology’, p. 26 1 (2006).

[31] Katz, ‘Judaism and Deep Ecology’, in Deep ecology and world religions: new essays on sacred grounds’ (2001), Rayner, ‘Judaism and Animal Welfare: Overview and Some Questions’, in Jacob & Zemer, ‘The environment in Jewish law: essays and responsa’, pp. 62-63 (2003), Bentley, ‘Urban Planning in Jewish Environmentalism’, in ibid., pp. 45-55.

[32] Rayner, ‘Judaism and Animal Welfare: Overview and Some Questions’, in Jacob & Zemer, ‘The environment in Jewish law: essays and responsa’, pp. 60, 62 (2003), Vogel, ‘How Green Is Judaism?’, in O’Brien & Paeth, ‘Religious Perspectives on Business Ethics: An Anthology’, p. 261 (2006).

[33] Ibid., pp. 263-264.

[34] Ibid., p. 263.

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Errors at Religious Tolerance: Christianity and the environment

January 27, 2011

The website ‘Religious Tolerance‘ makes the following claims.

No matter how you describe yourself, you should find your beliefs and practices accurately represented in this website. Almost all other religious websites explain only the beliefs of the webmaster or sponsoring faith group. We are different: we try to explain accurately the full diversity of religious beliefs, worldviews, and systems of morality, ethics, and values. We hope that you will find our essays helpful and of interest.

They explain that ‘None of us has any formal education in theology‘, and ‘We know only a tiny bit about a wide range of religions and religious topics‘. Accordingly, they provide this disclaimer.

We will attempt to overcome our biases on each topic that we describe, by explaining each point of view carefully, respectfully and objectively. To this end, we have many of our essays reviewed by persons familiar with the issues who represent all sides of each topic. We encourage readers to Email us about any errors that they find. We do not regard any essay as fixed or complete.

The following email was sent to ‘Religious Tolerance’ on 22 September, 2010, in response to their articles on Christianity and the environment, which start here. To date no reply has been received and the articles have not been corrected.

Familiar with your site as I am, I was not surprised to read the articles on religion and the environment confined almost exclusively to the late twentieth century, omitting around 3,000 years of discussion of environmental ethics among Jewish, Christian, and Muslim sources. Passing references to White and Passmore (where is the reference to the twenty years of comprehensive criticism of White in the relevant literature?), and repeated quotes from a very slender selection of sources (three main works?), constituted virtually the entire discussion of the impact of the Judeo-Christian religious tradition on the environment and the formation of environmental ethics.

In your bibliography I found none of the standard current works on environmental ethics and praxis in the Judeo-Christian tradition. This article instead opens with a completely unsubstantiated claim dismissing the whole of the Hebrew Scriptures, without a single original source quotation and without a single scholarly reference. This is unfortunate, given that the oldest stratum of the Pentateuch (the ‘Yahwist’, c. 950 BCE), is recognized as containing an explicit environmental ethic restricting anthropological interference with the ecology,[1] and later developments of the ethic in the Primary History, Wisdom Literature, and the Major and Minor Prophets sought to balance anthropocentric and ecocentric concerns.[2] The article demonstrates no knowledge of the relevant primary or secondary literature.

Not only are these passages recognized in the relevant scholarly literature as having explicit ecological motivation,[3] but they were already recognized as such in Jewish commentary of the Second Temple Era. The later Tannaic commentary in the Mishnah (compiled during the third century CE), as well as the rabbinical commentary in Talmud Jerusalem and Talmud Babylon (complied between the third and fifth centuries CE), not only contain detailed ecological exegesis of the environmental ethic in the Torah, but also proscribe additional laws aimed at environmental protection, and articulate the tension between anthropocentric and ecocentric concerns.[4]

The Early Church Fathers are not to be dismissed either, containing some clearly ecocentric Biblical exposition, though occasionally combined with classical Hellenistic views less favourable to nature.[5] Extensive medieval rabbinical commentary on environmental ethics (which is treated very sparsely in the article to which I linked), is found in Rashi (1040-1105),[6] Maimonides (1135-1204),[7] Ibn Ezra (1089-1164),[8] Nachmanides (1194-1270),[9] and Abravanel (1437-1508),[10] among others. Again we find a balance of anthropocentric and ecocentric views, with an emphasis on balancing the two principles for the optimal benefit of both humans and their environment.

Within the later Christian tradition we find such historical examples as Francis of Assisi, the historic Peace Churches advocating harmonious partnership with the environment,[11] and ecological concern models expressed through various monastic orders and individuals,[12] such as Jonathan Swift, James Eliot, William Bartram, John Ruskin, and George Perkins Marsh (whose ‘Man and nature: or, Physical geography as modified by human action’ makes specific reference to deforestation as ‘war upon the garden of God’, 1865:279). The treatment of twentieth century Christian responses to environmental concerns is of course desperately inadequate, suffering from a lack of familiarity with the relevant scholarly literature and from crude quote mining of a tiny selection of works. Entire paragraphs appear without any substantiating references to the relevant scholarly literature at all, and the article is written in a tone, style, and depth of argumentation which does not even reach undergraduate level.

Whilst I appreciate your articles were very likely limited in scope and detail by the limitations on your personal resources, I believe they would benefit from a more balanced historical perspective if they used some of the sources I have referred to here.
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[1] ‘the Yahwist subordinates human behavior to the larger ecosystem upon which human survival depends.’, Hibert (2000:150-151), cited by Conradie, ‘Christianity and Ecological Theology’, 2006:78.

[2] Fields to be left unfarmed one year of every seven (Exodus 23:10-11, Leviticus 25:3-7), young birds may be taken from their mother, but their mother must be left alone (Deuteronomy 22:6-7), an ox or sheep not to be slaughtered on the same day as their young (Leviticus 22:8), food bearing trees not to be harmed in war time, even if their destruction would be useful to the war effort (Deuteronomy 20:19), animals used commercially are not to be overburdened or exploited (Exodus 23:5, Deuteronomy 25:4), a righteous man takes care of his animals (Proverbs 12:10), et al.

[3] Sarna, ‘Exodus’, 1991:143; Tigay, ‘Deuteronomy’, 1996:201; Isaacs, ‘Exploring Jewish Ethics and Values’, 1999; Yaff, ‘Judaism and environmental ethics: a reader’, 2001; Hutterman, ‘Ecology in Ancient Judaism’, in Neusner, ‘Encyclopedia of Judaism’, 2000; Katz, ‘Judaism and Deep Ecology’, in Deep ecology and world religions: new essays on sacred grounds’, 2001; et al.

[4] Ecclesiastes Rabbah 7:13; Mishna Bava Bathra 2:9, 24b; Jerusalem Talmud, Kiddushin 12:12; Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 17b, et al.

[5] Santmire, ‘The travail of nature: the ambiguous ecological promise of Christian theology’, 1985; Boersema, ‘The Torah and the stoics on humankind and nature:’, 2001:222-227.

[6] Vogel, ‘How Green Is Judaism?’, in O’Brien & Paeth, ‘Religious Perspectives on Business Ethics: An Anthology’, 2006:261.

[7] Katz, ‘Judaism and Deep Ecology’, in Deep ecology and world religions: new essays on sacred grounds’, 2001; Rayner, ‘Judaism and Animal Welfare: Overview and Some Questions’, in Jacob & Zemer, ‘The environment in Jewish law: essays and responsa’, 2003:62-63l Bentley, ‘Urban Planning in Jewish Environmentalism’, in ibid., 45-55.

[8] Rayner, ‘Judaism and Animal Welfare: Overview and Some Questions’, in Jacob & Zemer, ‘The environment in Jewish law: essays and responsa’, 2003:60, 62; Vogel, ‘How Green Is Judaism?’, in O’Brien & Paeth, ‘Religious Perspectives on Business Ethics: An Anthology’, 2006:261.

[9] Vogel, ‘How Green Is Judaism?’, in O’Brien & Paeth, ‘Religious Perspectives on Business Ethics: An Anthology’, 2006:263-4.

[10] Vogel, ‘How Green Is Judaism?’, in O’Brien & Paeth, ‘Religious Perspectives on Business Ethics: An Anthology’, 2006:263.

[11] ‘For Mennonites (one of the historic peace churches) the theme of “peace with the creation” had powerful resonance (see Redekop 2000).’, Haluza-DeLay, ‘Churches Engaging the Environment: An Autoethnography of Obstacles and Opportunities’, Human Ecology Review (15.1.75), 2008.

[12] ‘Many authors (including Lynn White) have pointed to St. Francis of Assisi as an example for ecologically sensitive practice. Dubos (1974) and others have highlighted the Benedictine monks, characterizing them as conservationists to the Franciscan preservationists (stewardship compared to partnership in Rasmussen’s (1991) terms). There are numerous additional exemplars (Attfield 1983; Oelschlaeger 1994).’, ibid., 78.