Letter: Faith doesn’t justify climate devastation

As a lifelong practicing Christian, steeped in the protestant tradition, Bible study and theology, I take exception to Gary Varvel’s suggestion that “faith in God” supports climate change denial, and his incoherent assertion that the Bible somehow teaches that man in fact “cannot … destroy the climate.” God is not a puppeteer who will manipulate human activity or the world to prevent catastrophe. Rather, God created humankind with free will and responsibility, intended but not compelled to be a good steward of the earth.

We all can cite many examples of human-wrought catastrophe that God did not intervene to prevent: the violence and suffering caused by wars and genocides of the 20th and 21st centuries; the accelerating rate of species extinctions and loss of biodiversity caused by human exploitation and habitat destruction; the poisoning of ecosystems with chemical spills and intentional discharges; and—yes—climate change. A naive belief that God will act in the 11th hour to reverse human-caused damage allows the so-called faithful to remain complacent and to continue “business as usual” in the irresponsible exploitation of Earth’s resources.

Renowned Christian theologian Walter Brueggemann makes the point in his classic text, The Prophetic Imagination, that the work of the community of faith entails both what he calls “prophetic energizing” and “prophetic criticism.” Prophetic energizing is the expression of hope and belief in God’s promises for the future (similar to what Varvel was trying to express); prophetic criticism is a radical calling out of all that is wrong with the current situation. Brueggemann says that “real criticism begins in the capacity to grieve, because that is the most visceral announcement that things are not right. … Bringing hurt to public expression is an important first step … that permits a new reality, theological and social, to emerge.”

Varvel’s simplistic outlook skips this essential step, and hence amounts to the sort of “cheap grace” denounced by another leading Christian voice of the 20th century, Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Cheap grace is the easy path that shirks responsibility and pretends that everything is and will be OK without action or change on our part.

Articles like Varvel’s only serve to feed the widespread and growing perception that Christianity is a narrow and irrelevant religion.

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Katherine Simmons

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