“Step on the grass, kill a deer, drill for oil now.”

By October 14, 2020Editorial

Cameras outside the International Space Station captured a stark and sobering view of Hurricane Florence the morning of Sept. 12 as it churned across the Atlantic in a west-northwesterly direction with winds of 130 miles an hour. Photo courtesy of Nasa.

You would be forgiven for assuming that the above words came from the mouth of one Donald J. Trump. I am sure that he would have been quite happy to spout them, as they would sit so easily at the side of his exhortation of the neo-fascist Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by.” But no, they were uttered by a Californian pastor delivering his Sunday sermon to an appreciative flock. And this I find even more sinister.

John MacArthur of the Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California, is an imposing figure, immaculately turned out. He has the sort of proud patrician face that wouldn’t be out of place on the steps of the American senate. I have no doubt that the Republican Party would be delighted to have him there, given that “over the past four decades the Christian Right has become the most reliable and perhaps the most important constituency” within the GOP.

I came across MacArthur’s name while browsing through the daily feed of The Conversation, that brilliant source of independent news and views from the global academic and research community. Intrigued to hear more, I watched and listened to his full sermon. It is at once, both captivating and chilling. I am appalled by his relentless attack on science in front of a clapping, whistling audience with no germ-stopping Covid mask in sight. And then came his punchline, “God intended us to use this planet, to fill this planet for the benefit of man. Never was it intended to be a permanent planet. It is a disposable planet. Christians ought to know that.”

A disposable planet, never intended to be permanent? Gobsmacking stuff. Watch MacArthur’s performance by all means, but if you do, I urge you to also read Paul Braterman’s calm and collected rebuttal. He is Professor Emeritus in Chemistry at the University of Glasgow and really does know something about climate change and how we should be treating the planet.

I am no friend of religion, but even I was truly shocked to hear such garbage from the mouth of a preacher, so ardently delivered to a congregation soaking it all up like a giant chamois mop. Is this kind of warped thinking really espoused and believed in religious movements around the world?

Way back in 1967, Lynn White, a Christian, a conservationist, and a UCLA academic, argued that Nature’s mass destruction at the hand of humankind was an unintended consequence of religious attitudes deeply rooted in history. Environmental scientist Michael Turgeon gives a neat synthesis of White’s thesis. “…the reason why the West has so carelessly abused the natural world is because of its grounding in traditional Judeo-Christian values. God made man in his own image and gave him dominion over the Earth; Nature has no value apart from what it provides us, and thus we are free to exploit it without consequence.”

White’s thoughts and his stalwart expression of them must have stung the wider Christian community. Indeed, in recent decades there has been a move amongst theologians beyond the fundamentalist fringe towards engendering a sense of responsibility for the environment among their followers.

Certainly, the words of Pope Francis should have given this “greening” movement great impetus. In his 2015 encyclical letter, Laudato si had this to say to his billion-strong global flock, “I urgently appeal, then, for a new dialogue about how we are shaping the future of our planet. We need a conversation which includes everyone, since the environmental challenge we are undergoing, and its human roots, concern and affect us all… Regrettably, many efforts to seek concrete solutions to the environmental crisis have proved ineffective, not only because of powerful opposition but also because of a more general lack of interest. Obstructionist attitudes, even on the part of believers, can range from denial of the problem to indifference, nonchalant resignation or blind confidence in technical solutions. We require a new and universal solidarity.”

Hopefully, his words have been a shot in the arm, for that other attempt, the Assisi Declarations of 1986, now seems like yet another tired, well-intentioned grand gesture that has come to naught. This is a great shame as the leaders of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, and Judaism rarely show a united front, especially in respect of healing the Earth. Sadly, it also points to a collective inability to convince their more than five billion adherents worldwide to take action. What an opportunity lost, for this sea of faithful followers must fill every niche in humanity from the most powerful leaders of state and the richest of moguls to the poorest of citizens scraping an existence on the streets of India’s cities and in the unyielding deserts of Africa.

But, the regeneration of a healthy planet is not the responsibility of religion alone. As Turgeon remarks, “Environmental attitudes are rooted in heterogeneous cultures, religions, ideologies, and motivations, and no matter the justification, restoring and protecting the environment is above all a human responsibility.”

I agree wholeheartedly. However, given the seriousness of our global plight and the critical nature of the upcoming elections in the United States, I urge religious leaders and all with a rational voice to stand up to the MacArthurs of this world. Hopefully, there is still time to convince the good citizens of America to vote not to step on the grass or to drill for oil. And, perhaps, to consider that shooting a deer might, for once, not be necessary.