Many supposedly crucial social issues are really medium-size problems blown up by opportunists. Concern for our environment is not just one of these inflated issues. Though it, too, may represent ego investment for some, the issue itself is real and great. There can be no mistaking that our planet is dying. It is a matter not of if but of when. Everyone suffers from the problem, and everyone shares the blame.
From a Christian perspective, we might ask: So what? It isn’t God’s plan that man inhabit the earth indefinitely anyway. Let’s satisfy ourselves with preaching the Gospel of redemption, which will save people from the wrath to come. There is no hope for the good green earth created by God, so why bother? Forget it. This fatalism, coupled with something of a resurgence of “easy believism,” now crops up in the Jesus-people movement.
God in his ultimate judgment upon the earth may indeed use the instrument of environmental disaster of one kind or another. But we are not certain from his Word that he will take this route. Even if he were to do so, he would hardly ask us to help by being indifferent. The wrath of God will be visited upon earth in his own time and in his own way, and it will come in spite of man’s efforts rather than because of them.
In the meantime, our mandate is to preserve life. This was of the very essence of the Incarnation. Jesus said, “The thief comes only to steal, to kill, to destroy; I have come that men may have life, and may have it in all its fullness” (John 10:10, NEB). To fail to respect life and all other environmental resources is to demean creation and to violate biblical principles of stewardship.
What is the basic problem in the environmental crisis? We agree with Dr. Carl Reidel of the Center of Environmental Studies when he says in the interview beginning page 4 of this issue that values are at the heart of the issue. Our unwritten national goal is an ever higher standard of living. It stems from our bent for acquiring material things to compensate for lack of spiritual fulfillment. The result is exploitation. The only answer to despoliation lies in lifting men above sinful inclinations to a new plane of life and thought—and biblical Christianity does this best of all. (See also “Ecology and Apocalypse,” lead book review, page 20.)
The attempt to make Christianity the ecological scapegoat is without foundation. To “have dominion” over God’s creation no more requires mankind to exploit it than having charge of a secretary requires a man to seduce her. The values system that is at the root of our environmental troubles does not come from the Judeo-Christian tradition. The Bible does not promote affluence. The fault lies not with revealed religion but with those who insist on a life style that is at odds with it. The greatest damage to our environment by far has been done since the Bible ceased to be the cultural norm of the Western world.
The despoliation of our environment is neither a capitalistic nor a communistic problem. It is a human problem, and as such involves the fall of man and his depraved nature that overemphasizes self-interest.
Can something be done to arrest our increasing ecological imbalance? Surely doomsday is not inevitable. However, some of the directions in which modern man is looking will yield only disappointments. Technology, for example, is being appealed to. It can and should be used as an intermediate stop-gap, but experts say it eventually becomes self-defeating and therefore stops short of providing an ultimate answer.
The technological problem is further complicated by the growing population and the urgent problem of seeing that people on earth who can and will work can and will eat. It is problematical whether we can produce enough food to go around through non-pollutional technology.
If the problem is seen as one of values, which it is, then it will become apparent that there is no solution in presently prevailing views of man and his ethics. Ever changing values are an extension of the philosophical thesis that there are no fixed principles or categories. Darwinian theory has invaded so many disciplines that process itself is sometimes regarded as the only ultimate reality. But in this there is no hope for earth. Only as men recognize universally valid principles will we have a basis for controlling pollution and restricting exploitation. Biological evolutionary theory is itself challenged by ecological evidence: man cannot be but another step on the totem pole of nature, and yet be among all other living things the only being capable of disturbing the ecological balance irretrievably. The fact is that in the will of God any form of life can disturb the balance irretrievably, but only man has thus far been divinely bestowed with the capacity of conscious restoration.
Neo-orthodoxy grew out of existentialism, and contextual ethics was a consequence of the theological priority given to subjective, personal encounter. This, in turn, has encouraged exploitation. To make decisions solely on the basis of immediate situations is the height of ecological irresponsibility. And only a return to a pervasive, objective ethic will provide the philosophical tool for averting disaster. The world simply cannot afford to have everyone doing his own thing.
But who is to initiate a reversal? Our inclination in recent decades has been to look to government or to education to solve our problems. But in various areas these “saviours” have let us down. People in our own day seem to be looking for a new dynamic.
Some feel that if only we could restrain commercial interests we would be on our way to ecological recovery. But as long as consumers and stockholders maintain an exploitive value system, there is really no environmental hope. No amount of boycotting and lobbying will work.
If, on the other hand, an influential percentage of rank-and-file citizens were to repudiate an ever progressive affluence, we would then have the foundation for an effective social rollback. And who alone can change the value system? The followers of Jesus Christ! Only a believer in Scripture has other than pragmatic reasons for respecting nature/creation.
The task is staggering. We are talking here of terracide, the stupid, senseless murder of the earth, man’s killing himself by killing the environment on which he depends for physical life. Were Christians of today to take on the challenge of persuading men to change, they would be performing the greatest feat in the Church’s history. And Jesus’ prophecy that his followers would accomplish “greater works” (John 14:12) makes it a distinct possibility.
The Calley Verdict
Few verdicts in recent years have produced such a spate of public response as that which found Lieutenant William Calley guilty of murder. Those who favor law and order cannot fault the judicial processes, nor can critics of America scream “whitewash” as they would have had Calley been found innocent. The case will be reviewed, and President Nixon has reserved the final decision for himself.
The My Lai massacre stunned America, and the anger of the country prodded the military to take action. It has always been clearly understood among modern nations that some acts in warfare are indefensible. Calley admitted he had killed certain people. His defense that he was simply obeying orders did not convince the jury. In passing judgment on Calley they also in effect passed judgment on any officers above Calley who may have given him orders to kill even unresisting captives.
The swell of sympathy for Calley and the plea for clemency cannot shield him or anyone above him from ultimate responsibility for this tragic occurrence. Much of the compassion for Calley springs from the feeling that he may have been a victim used to shield higher-ups and from the knowledge that American soldiers have been killed through the use of women and children as decoys.
The conclusion that Calley is guilty as charged, as would be any others who ordered him to do what he did, seems unavoidable. But war is a brutal and dehumanizing business, and Calley appears to have been unable to rise above a sordid situation. We hope that justice will be tempered with mercy for this one whom we cannot admire.
We are reminded that God will have the last word when all men appear for judgment at the end of the age. Here the Judge of the quick and the dead will render a true and final verdict from which there can be no appeal.
Hans Kung, Papal Gadfly
Like many Protestant churches, the Catholic Church has had to face searching criticism from within its own ranks. On the intellectual plane no critic has been bolder than the distinguished theologian Hans Kung, who recently leveled his attack at a very vulnerable spot: the magisterium, the teaching office of the pope and the church. In Infallible? An Inquiry, just translated into English, Kung plunges a dagger into a vital organ of the Catholic system. The results are not easily foretold.
Kung’s thesis, with which we agree, is simple: Neither the pope nor the church can speak infallibly in matters of faith and morals. Even when a pope speaks ex cathedra, from the chair of Peter, he can err, and indeed some have erred. Kung boldly states, for example, that the seventh century pope Honorius, a Monothelite, was a heretic, condemned as such by church councils, and that no amount of clever theological language can change the facts.
The chief provocation for Kung’s attack was the statement by Paul VI reaffirming the church’s historic position that artificial means of birth control are sinful and thus prohibited for Catholics. Pope Paul was faced with a dire dilemma, says Kung: Either he had to assert that birth-control practices are legitimate and thus admit that church and popes who had consistently opposed them were in error, or he had to uphold the historic teaching so as to maintain the dogma of infallibility, even though he might have wanted to authorize birth control. Paul had to choose between two things he desperately wanted to believe in, according to Kung, and to choose one was to repudiate the other. Kung regards the Pope’s choice of papal and church infallibility as tragic.
Kung believes that the dogma of infallibility cannot be maintained, that many of the faithful find it impossible to accept. And he is convinced that Paul’s decision on contraception stretches the credibility gap immeasurably. What he wants is for the Pope to admit his fallibility and assume a more pastoral position that will satisfy men like himself, overcome persistent Protestant criticism of papal infallibility, and open wide the door to ecumenical advance.
Kung has thrown the ball into the Pope’s lap, and further countermoves beyond those already taken seem inevitable. Paul can hardly allow Kung to go much further; what is at stake is too great. A failure to act would show the world that Peter’s successor does not have the power to maintain the teaching authority of pope and church that he proclaims.
Yet if Paul does act to bulwark infallibility, he may set loose powerful forces that could lead to schism. His position is not enviable. Catholics and Protestants will watch with interest the interplay of forces as the Pope and Kung gird themselves for a showdown.
Intolerance At Harvard
Harvard University’s Sanders Theatre recently was the site of a planned teach-in on Indochina sponsored by supporters of President Nixon’s policy of disengagement. But the teach-in never got off the ground. The teachers were forced off the platform by several hundred student demonstrators whose tactics could be likened to those of Hitler’s Storm Troopers. The students unfurled Viet Cong flags, showered debris on the stage, displayed “murder” banners, and chanted “U.S. out of Southeast Asia” and “Butchers out of Harvard.”
Archibald Cox, a Harvard law professor who is no advocate of current government Viet Nam policies, was shouted down when he appealed for reason and order to prevail. His disenchantment led him to say that “inestimable damage” had been done to “the cause of humanity and peace.”
Apparently Harvard has among its students hundreds who repudiate the true meaning of academic freedom, freedom of dissent, and freedom of speech. These dissidents would without doubt be the first and loudest to claim for themselves precisely what they denied to others at Sanders Theatre. Theirs is the totalitarian mentality, whether of the fascist or the communist brand. It is totally incompatible with Harvard’s motto, “Veritas” (truth), and is as foreign to the purposes of a true university as sand is foreign to the operation of an automobile engine.
Harvard’s president-elect would do well to enter the fray and make it clear to all that his administration will not stand for this kind of injustice and Gestapo-like conduct. Such a step would be especially appropriate in view of retiring President Pusey’s remarks at commencement last year: “In an imperfect world, peopled by imperfect men, our universities still remain the most hopeful of human institutions.… Let us again resolve to draw together in understanding and faith, strong in the experience of Harvard and confident of her power for goodness and truth and peace.”
Jews Evangelizing Jews
No group anywhere in the world should be more interested in preserving freedom of religion, it would seem, than adherents of Judaism. They have suffered so much religious persecution down through the centuries, and are such a small minority in every country of the world but one, that one might expect almost a “knee-jerk” reaction against any infringement of religious freedom, however slight. It is therefore distressing to observe the successful pressure on a number of TV stations to cancel a program that had been scheduled for showing the week of April 4 in a dozen cities (see News, page 33). The program, produced and paid for by the American Board of Missions to the Jews, proclaimed Jesus as Messiah in a format particularly aimed at followers of the Jewish religion. It must not escape notice that the ABMJ and most similar endeavors are conducted by Jews who are Christians.
Non-Christian Jews are currently, and rightly, concerned about abridgments of the freedom of their co-religionists in the Soviet Union. But there is no true freedom of religion without the freedom to try to win others to one’s own views as well as the freedom to change voluntarily from one religion to another. We who are Protestants do not denounce the efforts of Mormons, Catholics, Muslims, Buddhists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and numerous other groups to seek to win us to their movements. We do not think that adherents of Judaism should appear to be so insecure in their own beliefs that they do not wish to have them challenged and alternatives offered.
Those Jews who have taken it upon themselves to bring pressure upon the television stations to cancel this program have done a great disservice to freedom of religion. Not only have they hindered their relatively few co-religionists who might have responded positively to the message of the program, but they have kept Christian and Gentile viewers from seeing how strong the Jewish roots of Christianity are. Instead of pressuring stations to cancel the program, why didn’t those who do not believe its message publicize reasons for Jews to remain adherents of Judaism rather than converting to Christianity?
Of course, the publicity surrounding the cancellation may well generate more interest in the program than otherwise. Showing the film in movie houses with an X-rating for Jews might gain it a far larger viewing audience. But the principle of freedom of religion needs all the supporters it can get. Will not Jews who are not Christians join with Jews and Gentiles who are Christians in protesting the cancellations of this program and call upon the stations to reschedule it?
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