Despite the premise of separation of church and state on which our governance is based, religious principles and beliefs today are frequently mentioned and brought to bear on social issues, legislative initiatives, and other actions of governance that impact us all. We hear analysis of the political influence of the so-called religious right; we hear religious principles applied to arguments for or against proposed laws, regulations, and even appointments of individuals to key posts in government; we hear individual politicians declare their religious beliefs in speeches as the basis for a position or vote, sometimes in opposition to polls indicating differing beliefs of their constituents. We hear GOP candidates, mostly from the religious right, shrilly pledging, if elected, to abolish the Environmental Protection Agency and everything it stands for.
Their opposition extends to almost every environmental issue: the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, climate change legislation, alternative energy, watershed protection, coastal management, fisheries regulation, endangered species protection, national ocean policy, and more. I have never quite understood this, from my own limited religious understanding and knowledge of the Bible, sensing an inherent, inexplicable, irreconcilable contradiction therein.
To explore this further, I recently visited the website of the Religious Partnership for the Environment, founded in 1993 between the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, the National Council of Churches, the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life, and the Evangelical Environmental Network. Here are quotations from that site on water, climate, and ocean.
First, on water: "Throughout the Jewish and Christian scriptures, water is perhaps the preeminent symbol of life, both spiritual and physical. Abundant, pure water, so necessary for human survival and comfort, manifests divine mercy and healing and occasions gratitude and rejoicing."
"The lack of clean water is one of the most serious health issues for the poor around the world. Ensuring an adequate supply is an important goal for economic development, and preventing some from contaminating others' drinking water is certainly a demand of environmental justice."
And then this, on climate: "Although it seems vast, comparatively speaking the atmosphere forms only the thinnest envelope around the mass of the earth. By introducing a few novel gases into the air, we have thinned the ozone layer that protects life on earth from deadly ultraviolet radiation. By burning fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas, we have injected harmful pollutants and particles into the air we breathe. Moreover, we have increased the atmosphere's heat-trapping properties, potentially altering earth's climate for generations to come."
And then this, on oceans, specifically from the Evangelical perspective: "God's oceans may indeed be vast, but they are not invincible to our behavior. For instance, populations of large predatory fish have been reduced to 10% of pre-industrial levels. Nearly one third of the world's fisheries are being fished at their maximum level."
"Current estimates are that 10% of all coral reefs are degraded beyond recovery. Thirty percent are in critical condition and may die within 10 to 20 years. Sixty percent of the world's coral reefs may die completely by 2050. The destruction of coral reefs is indeed unfortunate, because they harbor more than 25 percent of all known marine fish, as well as a total species diversity containing more phyla than rain-forests."
There is much more. But here is their conclusion: "While the current state of God's oceans could tempt us to despair, as Christians we must remember that the One who walked upon the water is ultimately the Lord of Lords, and He has empowered us to care for His waters. As followers of Christ, the protector and Sustainer of all life, we cannot forget His oceans, nor can we think of them as invincible and not in need of our care and protection. That He has reconciled all things is our hope - and what we are called to participate in."
So, if indeed we are called to participate, to care for and protect water and climate and all living things as God's will, why then do we obfuscate and deny the research and science affirming positions quoted here? Why do we act against the interest of human health, economic necessity, and social justice? Why do we invoke scripture and religious belief to act against the very lessons of that scripture and the very essence of those beliefs?
Given this terrible irony, is it not fair to ask those who stand against these interpretations of divine will, who it is in reality that they serve?