Reposted as it is relevant to the ‘Christian not Green post’. First posted 7/8/07, talk originally given at the end of 2006.
Somehow, I forgot to post this one on the blog. Click ‘full post’ for text. You can also follow the link in my sidebar for the powerpoint slides.
LUBH 7 The Green Bible
Good morning and welcome. Apologies for a slightly late start. “The Green Bible” – well as I am sure you are all well aware the Bible contains explicit instructions on how we are to reduce our carbon dioxide emissions, hence the joke. There aren’t, , specific instructions in scripture around most of what we currently consider environmental issues, so for example, global warming. But there are some underlying principles that need to be drawn out which are generally applicable and there is also one specific area where there are some detailed instructions, which is what I will concentrate on today.
So begin with the basic principles which I think are fairly incontestable, God is our Creator, we are his creatures and this makes a difference. The earth belongs to God, this is stated several times the quotation from Leviticus “the land is mine”. It’s fairly explicit and we therefore don’t have final custody for final charge over the earth, we are God’s stewards but we don’t own the land. God is the first gardener, God planted a garden in the East and set man within it – one of ways in which we are made in the image of God. Gardening I will come back to, but God is the first gardener, God is the one who plants us in the land.
In Christ the creation is renewed. I’ll say a fair bit about Genesis Chapter 2, because it’s rather important, but one of the things about Genesis 2 which is the fall, is that it’s matched up and overcome in the incarnation. So that which goes wrong in Genesis 2 we have the opportunity to go right with through Christ. So the fundamental principle. And the vision that God gives to us is of flourishing within a flourishing environment, the land flowing with milk and honey. The vision held out to us in scripture is not some sort of abstract state of soul, it is something very concrete and real and physical and it is within a particular sort of environment. So God is concerned with the environment.
I wish to read out to you one of my all time favourite Old Testament passages, headed the charge against Israel. “Hear the Word of the Lord you Israelites because the Lord has a charge to bring against you who live in the land. There is no faithfulness, no love, no acknowledgement of God in the land, there is only cursing, lying and murder, stealing and adultery, they break all bounds and bloodshed follows bloodshed. Because of this the land mourns and all who live in it waste away. The beasts of the field and the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea are dying.” That’s Hosea Chapter 4, which we will come back to in later weeks.
There is a common language within the prophetic tradition, there are lots and lots of examples, if you skim through Isaiah or Jeremiah you will glean these instances where there is a link between the sin which God sees in the people and the suffering of the land around the people. It’s like the land expresses the symptoms of the sin. “Therefore the land mourns.” And this goes right back to Genesis Chapter 2. The expulsion from Eden, ‘cursed is the ground because of your sin’. There is a direct link between the state of the environment and our state, our sinful nature. And this is a repeated theme throughout the Old Testament, lots and lots of examples.
And one of the fundamental truths coming from that is that there is no hard and fast division between humanity and the creation within which humanity is planted. It is one of the aspects of an incarnational faith and one of the ways in which Christianity is different from gnosticism is precisely in embracing and giving value to the physical world. Gnosticicm sees the physical world as the realm of the devil or the realm of wickedness and to be escaped from, you know we are souls trapped within this terrible flesh and these sparks need to be set free from the physical flesh. That’s gnosticism put very simply. And that’s very much something that Christianity is opposed to, it embraces and gives value to the created world.
So that’s basic background stuff. Three tools are set out in talks so far: idolatry, when we worship, give too much value to something which isn’t God and so our ways of understanding the world become distorted; wrath, being the consequences of our decisions, wrath not in the sense of a malevolent deity, but wrath if in the sense that if you stick your hand in the fire it will be burnt, because the creation has been made according to certain principles; and eschatology, rather than apocalypse, meaning the light of Christ’s return. He will come as a thief in the night so we need to be ready for it. We live in the end times.
Well, the specific thing I want to look at, not in a huge amount of detail, but enough to give a flavour, is about farming, because whilst the Bible doesn’t really talk about global warming or rising sea levels and so forth, since Noah that is – the Bible does talk in a fair bit of detail about how to farm. Leviticus 19 talks about the principles and you are not to farm right up to the edge of the field, nor are you to go back and harvest a second time. You are also, if you plant fruit trees, you are not to take the harvest from the fruit trees for the first three years after planting and the fourth year after planting the harvest from the fruit trees is to be given to God. Be offered up in sacrifice, so for four years after planting a fruit tree you are not to harvest it for your own consumption. Again Leviticus 19, you have got all the material about the Jubilee, but in particular the land itself is not to be farmed every seventh year, the land itself is to have a Sabbath and after seven Sabbath’s you have got the year of Jubilee when there is to be no farming anywhere at all. You are not to farm, you are only to go out and pick the food that is naturally growing. This is the basic principle.
This could be summarised as a radical trust in God’s provision and it deals with the instant concern: well hang on how are we going to eat? And it says in the sixth year God will send such an abundant harvest that it gives enough food for the two years following, not just for the year of the Sabbath, but for the year following when you are back to farming. So underlying this, I really want to draw out two principles. The radical trust in God’s provision but also not extracting from the land the maximum amount that can be gained, you know this putting off the harvesting of the fruit trees. What about year two, look at all that fruit going to waste, but that’s the point, there is an abundance being respected. And we can start talking in terms of the benefits of letting land lie fallow or the benefits of allowing a tree to grow for the fruit to fertilise the soil beneath it but I think that is actually to start rationalising all the commands from God and saying well God’s saying this command because it makes sense. I’m not sure all God’s commands do make sense, but these are the commands.
But really I think that the fundamental thing within it: trust in God’s provision is what is repeatedly emphasised. Think of the Israelites in the desert, grumbling because they are hungry and God sending manna and quail. This is the same principle being applied in a particular place and the idea that you don’t extract the maximum from the land for your own benefit, you leave some for the aliens, the widows, the orphans, you don’t get the maximum amount. And of course, when we come up against this sort of command, hang on this doesn’t make any sense, this is crazy – it is, it is crazy but, but, but, but why do we consider it crazy? What are our concerns? What’s driving us? Is it that we are afraid we are going to go hungry? What are we frightened of, is there going to be famine in the land? Or is it the question of greed? Wanting to make the most produce, make the most money and so forth.
Let’s have a think about Baal. He is rather important in the Old Testament. You can think of him as being the Canaanite fertility god. Baal means simply the son of El, El was the supreme deity. And Baal was originally the storm god, the god of thunder and lightening. So the equivalent of Thor in the Canaanite pantheon. And what happened was you had a sequence through the seasons where you had a mythology and the different God’s conquered each other in turn to represent the turning around of the seasons. But over time, Baal became the dominant figure and he was associated with fertility because the rains allowed the crops to grow, And so Baalism became the dominant worship. The word Baal simply means Lord and often it’s Lord of an area. So each area would have its Baal. Its local Baal. So you get the Baal of Tyre, and the worship of Baal took a very particular form, the worship of a fertility god involves celebrations of fertility and so you had cultic prostitution, in other words you had lots of people taking part in orgies, celebrating the human acts of fertilisation in order to charge up the god with lots of fertility energy.
This is what’s going on with lots of the criticisms in the Old Testament, against the Baal, against the prostitution. Whenever you have the instructions about do not let your daughter become a prostitute and so forth, it’s to do with this worship of Baal. It’s not prostitution in the sense we would understand it today, selling your body for money, it’s to do with fertility worship. And the story of Israel coming into Canaan, and one of the strong impetuses behind God saying you have got to drive out these other people from this land and you are not to inter-marry with them is precisely so that they don’t become contaminated with this fertility worship.
You can look through the Old Testament and it’s one of the major themes. Another thing, it’s a major theme because the people of Israel themselves were caught up in the worship of Baals. Various names even among say David and Solomon’s children, you can see influences from the Baalite mythology into their choice of names. And archaeologically from the excavations done exploring the practices of the Israelites and so sixth and seventh century BC, there are lots and lots of little Baals, little Ashteroths, little fertility gods. You know the people of Israel were not exclusively faithful to Yahweh. It was an ongoing struggle between the living God who’s in charge of it all and creates all things and these fertility gods. And of course one of the key things about worshipping a fertility god is that you are gaining some measure of control or influence over fertility, over the productivity of land. So again what is it being driven by, what’s the desire or motivation behind the worship of Baal? And how does that apply to how we practise our civilisation or agriculture today?
It is a form of idolatry. It’s giving too much importance to something which is not God. Remember we must love the Lord our God with all our heart, and so forth, placing God right at the centre and trusting in God alone, not in our own techniques. And our contemporary Baalism proceeds on the assumption that the world belongs to us, it for us to do with it what we will. That we have the power to remake it. That we can control fertility through our own efforts and we can pat ourselves on the back by the increase in grain harvest in the twentieth century, for example. But what you do have in contemporary systems of agriculture is a systematic exploitation of the land. You know, tell someone from Monsanto for example that you should not harvest for the first three years and then the fourth year you should give it to the church. This is not a plausible suggestion. But even ignoring giving it to the church, the idea that shouldn’t harvest the whole of the field, the thought that you might leave some of the harvest for those who are poor to come and glean. The crumbs from under the table, it’s that imagery. There are no crumbs falling from the table of modern agriculture. It’s all being systematically hoovered up, industrially hoovered up.
And what is it rooted in? Going back to the questions of hunger, fear of famine or it is just greed. Now some examples of how that is applied. I won’t go into this in huge detail, there are lots and lots of sources available if you want to explore it. Monoculture – one of the good things about the green revolution, middle of the twentieth century, is that they systematically assessed what was the most productive grain varieties, and replaced those less productive grain varieties with the most productive, which had a significant impact on grain harvests. One of the ways in which we have been able to feed the population more or less. What it has meant is an incredible loss of diversity. And this is again driven by this desire to get the absolute most possible.
Factory farming. I am sure you are all familiar with the stories of our chickens and pigs and so forth. Fossil fuel fertiliser – which is the big thing which has made the difference, allowing the land to become fertile where it wouldn’t be otherwise and allowing the farming to be done and the grain to be grown. But what you might call agri-business, something where the farmer becomes driven by corporate interests rather than their own link and assessment with the land, the soil itself. You have a systematic driver of agricultural behaviour and practices which isn’t directly linked with the processes of the world itself. It’s driven by financial priorities. I’ll say much more about this next time. Not next week, next time when I will focus in on what a corporation is and does. But this is one example, one area where we can raise questions against what’s going on. That a corporate interest may have no long term interest in the particular area of land. Think for example of the deforestation going on in the Amazon, where you have ranchers coming in to grow cattle, most of which goes up to McDonald’s shops in the United States or in Britain, and what happens is that the land, once the forest has been cut down the land is fertile for about three years and then gets desertified, because the value of the land has been taken up into the cattle and taken off elsewhere, and the value of the land collapses, and all that happens is that slash and burn agriculture simply moves on to the next bit of forest. You know this is one of the prime drivers behind deforestation of the Amazon. This is driven by a commercial logic, it makes sense for a company to pursue this sort of policy, because it means that they can make money. It is not long term sustainable. But within the logic of corporate thinking it makes sense.
One phrase is used to describe it – strip mining the soil. Getting what you can from it and then moving on, not seeing the soil as something that its own integrity, that needs to be taken care of, so that the soil takes care of us. So those are examples of the idolatry and following on from idolatry is wrath. This is the point about exploring idolatry and wrath, that wrath is what will happen to us if we simply experience the consequences of our own actions. Now factory farming I’m sure you’re all familiar with all these stories. And these are just the most prominent within British life, you know, mad cows. Feeding cows the broken down bits of bone of other cows is not very sensible. It might make sense financially, it might make sense in terms of corporate interest because here you’ve got a waste product, “Ah, we’ve got a waste stream, we can put that to good use, that’ll save us money.” But it’s not something respects the integrity of the life cycle of a cow. OK, so some examples.
More importantly, loss of top soil. Thirty to forty tons per hectare average in the third world, seventeen tons per hectare in the United States. Over the last forty years 4.3 million square kilometres of agricultural land has been taken out of production. That’s the equivalent of 30% of the present area of agricultural land. A large part of that is things like the deforestation of the Amazon. But it is not just that, it is across central Africa, South-east Asia and so forth. It’s the urge, it’s the drive to bring in the marginal land into production, which again it makes economic sense in the short-term, but it has devastating consequences in the long term.
A quote for you, “Nothing beside remains.” Recognise it? From Ozymandias.
Two more wrathful consequences. Our system of agriculture is hugely dependent upon the availability of cheap fossil fuels. Primarily in terms of the fertiliser put on it, but also in terms of the transport system, bringing food from a long way away to our tables. For every calorie of food on your plate, ten calories of fossil fuel energy has been expended to get it there. When that fossil fuel energy is taken away – the next ten or twenty years – it will have a huge impact upon how much food is available. It is a Faustian bargain. You know, we have taken the fossil fuel, we have done wonderful things with it, we have managed to sustain the incredible rise in population, but after a set time, just as with Faust, Mephistopheles comes back and says “I’m going to have that back. Thank you I’ll have that price that you wanted to pay.” Fossil fuels are going to be taken away.
I just put GM contamination as one example, perhaps we can talk about that later on but you know all these assurances from the scientist that GM contamination can’t happen. I was reading a story a few weeks ago where there’s a GM station in Iowa, exploring I think it is varieties of corn and their particular variety of corn turned up in Mexico which is quite a way away, you know they were assured “No, no we can’t – it’s completely contained, this variety of corn won’t spread.” And of course it did. Any how one little quote from Leviticus again, “If you defile the land it will vomit you out.” And this has happened serially over time in different parts of the world. Ancient Babylon is now effectively desert, because the people who lived there extracted the sources unsustainably and when the agricultural base got taken away the civilisation collapsed. Of course Baghdad is not too far away but it took a long time to recover.
Similarly Rome, I read an article saying that was hugely impacted by the over-cropping of the hills in Italy, what is now called Italy. A very interesting article I read recently about Florence and the Tuscans about how they abandoned the attempts to defend their land through chopping down the trees to make bows and arrows, and they planted, starting planting trees instead, disbanded the army in order to preserve their local way of life. They realised that destroying their land by chopping down the trees, causing soil run off and so forth, was hugely counter-productive. And the reason why Tuscany is now so healthy and beautiful and productive is because for 400 years they have had this concern with looking after the soil, in particular through planting trees. Just one example.
This raises the wider issues of how to live within our world. The fundamental question going back to the basic principle is that the world and the creatures within it are in inherently worthy of respect. They are not simply tools for us to do simply as we will. Now Job 40, 41 is when God responds to Job’s complaint at the end and says, Where were you when I laid the foundations of the world?” And He goes on and lists all the wonderful things about creation, the Behemoth, the Hippopotamus, and talks about how wonderful it is and how wonderful different areas are within what’s created. And there is a good Psalm as well, I think it is Psalm 104 which has a good description of the water cycle, the donkeys that drink from it and so forth, as a another example.
But fundamentally the environmental crisis that we face is rooted in the spiritual crisis. Going back to this great theme in Scripture, that the wider environment is symptomatic of our state of sin. And if we persist in sin the environment will reflect that in judgemental ways, in wrathful ways. Therefore the land mourns. We have to respect the integrity of creation. That it is not simply for us to do with as we will, that we can’t expect to have no consequences from feeding cattle, dead cattle. OK, we need to respect the integrity of creation.
And the roots of the problem, which is why I spent such time talking about idolatry and science are in a particular scientific attitude, or a technological attitude, which I went into. Remember my phrase, we are radically anti-phronetic. We have no judgement, we have lost our capacity to judge between good and evil in this respect, to listen to what God is telling us, phronesis is the Greek virtue of judgement, of deciding what is the right way forward. Because we have lost these practical virtues, we no longer have any sense of our abominable practices like what led to CJD. We have lost sight of it, we are so meshed in sin that we cannot see clearly. Which is why going back to Scripture can be a very good prod to our sight.
And the consequences of this are all around us. Another good quotation, “The time has come for judging the dead and for rewarding your servants the prophets and your saints, and those who reverence your name both small and great and for destroying those who destroy the earth.” An aspect of the last judgement which isn’t flagged up very often. “Those who destroy the earth will be destroyed.” Book of Revelation. So eschatology, living in the light of the end, living now as if the end was about to come, changing the way we live, living in the Kingdom, all this language, it’s the same thing. We put on the armour of light, in other words we change the way we live to reflect the light which is coming in, we shift to Kingdom patterns of life, we live at peace with creation rather than this mentality of seeking to exploit it. We talk about dominion or stewardship or creation care not domination. Fundamental difference. And the verse, I think it’s Romans 8 – “The creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God.” We live as God’s children within the garden when we don’t have these exploitative attitudes. We have these reverential attitudes. We respect creation as one manifestation of reverence of worship of the Creator.
So specifically, and only very, very briefly, I think learning how to garden. Simply as a way of reopening our eyes to how we are to be linked in with the natural world. Because our civilisation has become so far detached from the natural world. How many people within London for example get their food only ever from the local supermarket? And this episode of what I think of as writing on the wall from September 2000 when we had the fuel crisis. And the supermarkets started to empty, and there was great panic, where does food come from if not from the supermarket? That’s why it’s so important when I was working in Stepney, that was actually the city farm. And we keep on taking all the people in the primary school and the secondary school around the farm so they could actually see where food came from. Because the majority culture is wholly detached from these profoundly important roots in the soil, and gardening is one way of reconnecting with that.
But applying that more widely, becoming more aware of the natural environment on which we depend, so things like in your shopping, we can talk about you have got to go organic, yes, but actually local is more important than organic, just to talk in terms of fossil fuels and global warming and so forth. If you buy organic but it happens to be shipped even by trucks from central England, you are actually using more oil than if you simply buy a non-organic crop that’s grown closer. It’s more important to buy local or even to grow your own than it is to buy organic but buying organic is manifestly crucial. But more fundamentally, simply consuming less. That doesn’t necessarily mean consuming less food but the whole culture of consumption that is driving our economy. And again I’ll focus in on this crucially in our next session when I talk about poverty. But consuming less – you know the phrase – live simply so that others might simply live, it’s that process. And walking lightly on the earth, leaving stuff behind, not extracting the absolute maximum you can get from a harvest at any one moment in time, living mercifully, leaving some behind for the alien the poor, the widow.
Now I want to finish, something from 2 Chronicles, “If my people who are called by my Name will humble themselves and pray, and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” I thought that was a good summary. But I actually want to finish by reading you a poem by Wendell Berry, this chap who I have just discovered and I think is absolutely marvellous, so just ordered two or three books of his to work my way through them in more detail. He is a Christian farmer in America and he is a poet and writer and he has distinct perspective and this is a poem of his called “Manifesto – the Mad Farmers’ Liberation Front.” And I have a copy here for each of you, but I want to read it out first, it goes like this:-
Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.
Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millenium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.
Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion — put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
So long as women do not go cheap
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep
of a woman near to giving birth?
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie down in the shade. Rest your head
in her lap. Swear allegiance
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn’t go.
Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
OK, sums it all up. Questions, thoughts, comments?
Not all fertiliser comes from fossil fuel, night soil for those who aren’t aware is human waste, and it is something where alternatives are being developed. Now quick caveat I am not a financial adviser, please don’t take this, but there is a company in which I have invested called TEG Environmental which essentially takes waste, it’s now getting contracts with local authorities, it takes waste produced by the local authorities and turns it into fertiliser. So it is not fossil fuel based but it has got a distinctly growing market to look forward to.
That was the main burden of last week’s session, but I will recap, I think a good way to think about it because last week I was really talking about Apocalypse and Eschatology, Apocalypse being a sort of a pagan sense of a wrathful God coming to damn everybody, but Jesus uses a different sort of language and talks about living, more language about a thief coming in the night, it can happen very suddenly. And therefore the way of living as a Christian is expecting the end, what Wendell Berry is referring to, expect the end of the world and live in the light of it, and so think of – I know lots of passages, Romans 13 is a good one, about putting on the armour of light. Imagine that we are living in the hour before the dawn, this is the image I used last week, where a light is starting to creep in, and so you can start to see the way of the world, you can start to see what’s the works of darkness and what’s the works of light, OK?
And because we can see the light we know that the sun is about to rise in every sense and we live according to that light that’s coming in. Now that is simply living in the Kingdom. Because it is the Kingdom that is coming and the role of the Church is to live according to that pattern of life which is appropriate in the light. So we live in the light and we turn away from the works of darkness. But this is the Johannine language, some people rejected the light because they loved their own acts, the darkness of their own acts. And so this is, the great crises or judgement in John’s language that is coming in, that Christ has been revealed to us and we either live according to this light which is breaking in upon us, and which is coming, which is living in the light of the end or we remain trapped in our patterns and works of darkness. OK?
So applying that to this, we either carry on with business as usual, ignoring what God is saying to us both in Scripture and in terms of the environmental crisis around us, which reflects our sin back to us, or we start to shift the way we live, away from those destructive practices and more towards what I call Kingdom patterns of life. Does that make sense?
Those three bits, idolatry, wrath, eschatology, those are the three tools I am going to apply in each of the sections, so about the environment this week, about social justice next session, about foreign relations the session after that and then about practices of worship in the church in the session after that, before wrapping things up in the last three, looking at what the church should be doing and what the church is for. So this is the first of four applying those three theological tools.
The next meeting will be the second commandment “Love your neighbour as yourself” and if you want to do some homework, the story in Luke about Dives and Lazarus would be appropriate.
You are getting a resurgence of small scale farming driven by these different values, the problem lies in the fact that the great majority of farm land is maintained and developed and exploited by corporate interest.
Two things really, one is please do return when I do the fourth session on patterns of worship because I will probably indulge in my greatest ever rant at Christian leaders who have really not paid attention to Scripture, to doing the will of God. I do think there is a significant problem about Christian leadership, not just the Church of England, although I will not exclude the Church of England from criticism, but I think there has been a real loss of focus and it’s got deep roots, it’ s because the church, small c, has become trapped by the world and the worldly concerns and by worldly agendas, and I think one of the principal uses of Scripture is in calling us back to what God’s word and agenda is.
Having said that, it is changing, the Eastern Orthodox church about ten years ago were the first church to say that disrespect of the environment is a sin, to actually start classing it as a sin within the pathology of human sinfulness, and you might have heard the Bishop of London, who is strongly influenced by the Eastern Orthodox, picking this up. There’s one of the things I researched for this I came across in 1994, the evangelical churches in the States adopted a statement called Creation Care. It’s definitely starting to move. I think the Pope’s address, I haven’t looked at it in detail yet but two days ago the Pope’s Christmas address was dealing with this topic, and talking about how our stewardship of creation is something that we have a scriptural, a divine mandate to pursue, the care of creation. So I think things are changing, partly I think it is still though a worldly agenda driving it. And that’s one of the things I will go into in more depth, it’s not really about, so often choosing a more environmentally friendly lifestyle is seen as something driven by consumer choice, it’s another option, if you want to be a hippy that’s great, yeah live in a commune, but I will carry on with my corporate interests and so forth…