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Sunday Afternoon Sermon: biblical environmentalism

August 30, 2009

The Pope Formerly Known As Ratzinger is a constant source of amazing facts, and here’s his latest: atheists are responsible for environmental degradation.  I bet you didn’t know that; it was certainly news to me.

Let’s examine the biblical approach to environmental protection, shall we? In Joshua 17, the people of Joseph had been “richly blessed”, by which they meant they had more children than their land could support. They complained to Joshua that they didn’t have enough land and what did he tell them?  I’m paraphrasing here:

“Go up into the hills, kill the Perizzites and Rephaites, take their land, and clear the forest for your crops.” When Joseph’s people complained that the hill people had Chariots and other weapons of mass destruction, Joshua said; “You are numerous, you should be able to prevail”.

There are several lessons here, which have not been lost on the religious and powerful. One is that if another nation has something you want, you can kill them and take it because God is on your side. Another is that natural resources are there for you to plunder.  Another is that if a natural resource doesn’t happen to provide exactly what you want, it is OK to destroy it without understanding what it does in the larger scheme of things. (In biblical times, there were great forests in the the area that is now Israel.)

It’s understandable if you didn’t hear about this passage in Sunday school; it isn’t exactly something evangelical Christianity would like you to spend too much time thinking about.

You know what’s responsible for environmental degradation?  Human overpopulation.  The only reason we didn’t destroy nature before was that nature kept kicking our asses.  Now that we can live twice as long, we’re kicking nature’s ass just by our sheer numbers. Which is a poor idea since population control will happen, as my college biology professor used to say, “one way or another.”

We’re smart enough to protect ourselves from disease and starvation, but there’s no way to fix “we’ve run out of world”.  And we are running out; of fish, of clean water, of favorable climate, of biological support.  If we want a world overrun by opportunistic parasites and diseases, we’re halfway there.  If we want our precious cities flooded, we’re on the way.  When you’re on the road to destruction, change course.

The tragedy is that it doesn’t have to be this way. We can control our numbers, we can choose to use only clean technologies, and we can insist on non-exploitive use of technology.  But we need to excommunicate the destructively religious and the heedlessly capitalistic.  Put them on an island that isn’t very far above sea level, and let them ponder global warming.  Or at least, when they start misdirecting the issue, don’t let them get away with it.


  • h/t to PZ Myers and Les Jenkins.

  • By the way, it’s not just the environment that is harmed by the Pope’s anti-condom theology.  Worldwide people are dying of AIDS because the pope just can’t wrap his brain around wrapping a condom where it belongs.  Here’s the problem: it’s nice that the ARV medicine cocktail is now widely available to poor people, but HIV is already becoming resistant to it and with the passage of time more people will suffer and die. As Science Blogger ERV says; “Know how we can shut this nightmare down? CONDOMS.”  Yet somehow the Pope is allowed to parade around telling everyone how “pro-life” he is.
  • Glory!  The blessed Digital Cuttlefish delivers the smackdown in verse, with Atheists over-consuming, says man on gold throne.
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