Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Save the humans and the whales?

I ask again, is there, can there be, such a thing as a genuine Christian environmentalism? I'm really just asking the questions here in order to think out loud. I invite anyone smarter than I to answer them, or at least to take the questions I put here and apply some more disciplined thought towards them than I can manage and re-frame them.

I ask again, though, because this, clearly isn't it. If this is all environmentalism is and can be, then the question is answered already. No.
Stephen Harper's prayerful posture and traditional words of commemoration for the lost souls of a barbaric era reveal a sensibility noticeably out of sync with the religion of environmentalism that presently dominates our culture.

The contrast was illuminated in the coincidence of Mr. Harper's expression of reverence for human life with the contempt for human life displayed by Paul Watson, Sea Shepherd Conservation Society chief. In reaction to the March 29 maritime deaths of four seal hunters, Watson declared the deaths of seals a "greater tragedy."

Publicly discomfited, Green party leader Elizabeth May resigned from the advisory board of Sea Shepherd, but tellingly (rather like Obama with his racist pastor, Jeremiah White) wouldn't distance herself personally from Paul Watson. As a faithful adherent to their mutual church -- Our Gaia of all that is Non-Human -- to which she remains fully committed, May elected to stand by Watson for the sake of his "good work."

But what "good work" can compensate for Watson's advocacy of a population-decimating cap of one billion people, or calling human beings "the AIDS of the Earth?"

But I am reluctant to just shrug and leave the questions surrounding the proper care and use of the physical natural world up to the thugs, children, pagans and fools who seem to dominate the issue now.

After about ten years, give or take, activity in the pro-life movement in which my working hours have been taken up with close examination and application of questions of Catholic ethics applied to terrifying questions of life and death, I keep wondering in my off hours where the Christian ethicists are on these other, slightly less dire questions.

I'll agree that when the world is engaged in a global determined slaughter of the innocents, a grisly and macabre determination to continue committing this suicidal crime, it is hard to take a moment to look at anything else.

When the entire medical establishment, heavily backed by education, government and media, are engaged in a massive global slaughter of what are now doubtless billions of totally innocent children, questions about whether we ought to expend public funds creating protected habitats for hedgehogs, seems absurd. When it is no longer wise in many places to send your grandparents to the hospital for treatment of pneumonia, one tends to push the fate of the bittern to the back burner.

But pretend for a moment that we are not doing this.

Before I was a Christian, before I was aware of the other problem, I was terribly exercised about what we then called the ecology.

If I have learned one thing about Catholicism, and questions of ethics, it is that everything, every question that ends with "so what ought we to do, then?" is connected to all the others. Are some of the questions about the spotted owl, whaling, the appropriate use of resources, the dependence on oil and the internal combustion engine...all that stuff that environmentalists go on about, connected in some way to the questions we so-called 'social conservatives' ask? Are the two conversations actually one conversation divided artificially (and I suspect malciously) along an unnecessary ideological line?

I am coming to believe more and more that the divide between 'left' and 'right' in ethics is arbitrary and artificial.

The 'extreme left' has stolen the environmental issues, it is clear. They have invented an entire terminology in which to talk about them, a language that makes all sorts of political and ideological assumptions. It is not possible for Christians to use the language of environmentalism without acknowledging its political foundation. It is one of the ways that any other point of view has been locked out of the issue.

Christianity, that is, orthodox Christianity, has rightly concerned itself with the more urgent issues of the vast conspiracy of murder that is abortion, and its related issues of the destruction of family life (another form of murder). Peter Kreeft has recently identified the two sides in the Culture War as those of Christ and the devil. Fair enough, but we are not in heaven and do not have heaven's perspective. The actual battle grounds on earth seem irrevocably laid down. Christians and their very few traditionally minded allies continue to insist that the issues of whether human beings are being killed by our doctors with the collusion of our governments, is more important than those of habitat destruction.

But is there not some counter point to be made that the 'right' has equally stolen the Life Issues, making it impossible for those on the other side of the divide to talk about them?

Now, I'm not drawing an equivalence between 'left' and 'right' as the terms are commonly used, and often misused. I do not believe, for example, that most liberals are so because they have followed any rigorous process of thought. Most 'liberals' of our time are so because they have never closely examined the proposals. In fact, most 'conservatives' I know started out as brainless liberals, and through an often long and painful process came to opposing conclusions, frequently greatly against their personal preferences. Liberalism is not 'an equally valid worldview'.

A couple of days ago, I wrote to a fellow blogger that, having started out in the same condition of unexamined liberalism of most of my generation, the more I dedicated myself to the pursuit of the Real in Catholicism - the more I rejected the absurd and contradictory articles of 'liberal' or cafeteria Catholicism - the more politically 'conservative' I became. I believe that liberalism in politics as well as religion is a system dedicated to the creation and maintenance of comfortable fantasies. Lies. And I have witnessed many times, most painfully in my own family, what dedication to maintaining a comforting fantasy life can do to a person's soul and character.

So, I do not adhere to the belief that 'liberalism' and 'conservatism' are equally 'valid' political points of view with 'equally valuable' things to say about how we ought to live and allocate our political and economic resources. This idea, apart from being inherently self-contradictory, is itself a liberal belief. It sounds nice and comfortable if it is not examined too closely and allows people to carry on in their fantasies. Lotus for the Lotophagi.

But is there something here we are not getting in this divide?

Is anyone asking if the environmental issues are not in fact merely lesser manifestations of the great evil that is more immediately threatening in the life issues?

That is, are we anti-choice extremists and those environutters actually unwittingly fighting the same war?

No, that is too simple, since the theology of Environutterism is directly opposed to Christianity.

But here's Ted Turner saying something absurd, that there are "too many people using too much stuff" and being mocked gleefully for it. Properly so because he has absurdly concluded that the solution is to kill (and eat) the humans in order to save the humans.

But did anyone else notice that he had the second part right? There may not be "too many people" but there is certainly too much stuff.

It is not malice (well, maybe not entirely malice) that inspires the Environutterists to propose the extermination of the human race, or half the human race, to solve the problems we face. It is disnformation. Call me hopelessly romantic, but I don't believe that the sweet-faced hippie girl from Lancs who was handing out pamphlets on behalf of a Save-the-Gorillas campaign in Chester a few weeks ago, was really a genocidal maniac.

I'm not even convinced that Ted Turner is either. He's quite clearly just making String Noises, garbled recordings of slogans written for him by others smarter, and probably more evil, than himself. He's a puppet, albeit, probably a willing one.

No, I'm not ready to believe that the will of the greater number of Environutterists is bad. As I'm not willing to believe that all the will of my fellow Anti-Choice Extremists is all good (don't forget, I've met them).

Something that makes me think this is the experience I had a number of years ago doing the lobbying for the general election. My job was to phone all the candidates running for every party in every riding in the country and ask them what they thought about the life issues.

To my surprise I found that not infrequently the Greens were also moderately on our side on abortion and euthanasia. They were, like nearly everyone else, even those firmly on our side, dismally ignorant of the issues, but the ill will, the kneejerk bigotry we usually encountered from the more dedicated career politicians in the Liberal party (and Conservatives) was mostly absent. I had a conversation with one of them, a nice family man from Saskatchewan, in which I said, "Don't you know that, being a Green, you're on the left, and that being on the left, you are supposed to be wholly in favour of abortion 'rights' and stem cell research and euthanasia and all that?"

"Well, no one told me," he replied.

I would probably have voted for him myself if I had lived in Deepest Darkest Saskatchewan.

More on this later.


Anonymous said...

In America, the combination of pro-life views and environmental protectionism is more common. Everyone knows someone with a mom like that. It's very common among Mormons. It's very common among natural birthing advocates. The uber-hippie commune started by Stephen Gaskin, the Farm, offered free residential maternity and postnatal care in reaction to Roe v. Wade. - Karen

Anonymous said...

A very traditional defense of environmentalism. In the Old Law, Moses tells us that if one finds a bird's nest in field, do not destroy both the bird and the eggs. And to leave what is missed by the pickers for passers-by and animals. I interpret these laws as showing respect for God's creation and having concern that wild animals continue in existence. In the laws of Moses there are many things that can be interpreted this way.

An alternative to the animal rights approach is this. A species of animal is a creation of God. No one argues that the painting "Mona Lisa" has rights, but it would be offensive to destroy it. It would be an insult to the memory of Leonardo, and to those who are the intended viewers. How much more so to destroy God's masterpieces, the creatures he has made in different forms.
And these arguments apply a fortiori to human beings, except that in addition in the case of human beings we are dealing with rational beings who possess rights and are made in the image and likeness of God.

Anonymous said...

I'm for paving the whales. And the more times I see David Suzuki on the subway ride, the more intensly I feel it.

Mark S. Abeln said...


My favorite big deep-thought issue is the proper understanding of Christian art and the philosophy of art in general: what it is, and how it ought to be judged in light of philosophical orthodoxy. It is tough, but now I realize that it should be entirely possible to refute the theories of Modernist art.

I've kept your thoughts on a Christian Environmentalism in the back of my mind, for that is obviously important, and the Watermelons unfortunately control the issue.

Reading Tolkien, Lewis, and Sayers, I've been stunned to realize that the problems of Christian Art and Christian Environmentalism have an identical theology, if we consider Creation to be God's Art.

However, we must not accept the modern definition of art as being something merely aesthetic sitting in a museum, but rather take the ancient view that everything made is art, and that art is an intellectual virtue.

This is perhaps Very Important, and ought to be developed more.


Anonymous said...

Now I know that we all know he was a child molester and a horrible man, but on the stopped-watch-twice-a-day theory, I think I might suggest a look at some of Eric Gill's essays on work and art.

Mark S. Abeln said...

Not too sure about Mr. Gill. I just spent some time looking at photos of his art, and while he does some things very well, other aspects of his work are disturbing: and those aspects fit in with his decadence.

I'm find it absurd that people were 'shocked' to discover Gill's perversity long after the fact, rather it seems entirely obvious when looking at his public art.

He was also an advocate of proto-spirit of Vatican II liturgical reform.

I haven't found any of his writings online, so I can't judge any further.

Anonymous said...

"Are some of the questions about the spotted owl, whaling, the appropriate use of resources, the dependence on oil and the internal combustion engine...all that stuff that environmentalists go on about, connected in some way to the questions we so-called 'social conservatives' ask?"

I think there may well be a case for answering 'yes' to that. There are some who will go as far as to sterilise themselves so as to not produce more 'consumers'.

Are the fervent greens genocidal maniacs? Probably yes, but equally probably in a less dignified and human way than the monsters of old, who at least gave their enemies the dignity of acknowledging their existence and sentience. When people go for genocide as a 'moral' and 'green' choice (as in the story linked to) and have not only no compunction but believe it to be a good thing due to 'the environment' with no thought at all for the humanity of their victims, then I think maybe it's gone well beyond genocide.