Thomas Ramey Watson

Christianity and the global environmental crisis

In his seminal 1967 article, “The Historical Roots of Our Ecological Crisis,” UCLA professor Lynn White blamed Christianity for the global environmental crisis:
Especially in its Western form, Christianity is the most anthropocentric religion the world has seen. As early as the 2nd century both Tertullian and Saint Irenaeus of Lyons were insisting that when God shaped Adam he was foreshadowing the image of the incarnate Christ, the Second Adam. Man shares, in great measure, God’s transcendence of nature. Christianity, in absolute contrast to ancient paganism and Asia’s religions (except, perhaps, Zorastrianism), not only established a dualism of man and nature but also insisted that it is God’s will that man exploit nature for his proper ends.

White’s analysis shaped much of the conversation between Christianity and environmentalism over the last four decades — an uneasy relationship if ever there has been one. Many environmentalists follow White, seeing Christianity as a major problem in the face of global climate change and environment crises. Indeed, studies show that theologically conservative Christians overwhelmingly reject global warming, animal rights, environmental activism and species protection.
Despite St. Boniface and his lasting influence of western culture, however, Christianity may not be completely lost to the global environmental movement. Indeed, even Lynn White pointed out that some strands of Christian tradition-most notably represented by St. Francis of Assisi, the nature-embracing saint-spoke to an “alternative Christian view of nature and man’s relation to it.” He proposed that St. Francis be the “patron saint of ecologists.” In one of the most provocative passages in his paper, White said:


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