If God Created the World, do Christians need to worry about the environment?

If God Created the World, do Christians need to worry about the environment?

God blessed them and told them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth; subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the seas and over the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves upon the earth.” — Genesis 1:28

On December 26, 1966, Lynn Townsend White jr, a professor of medieval history at the University of California in Los Angeles gave a lecture at the Washington meeting of the AAAS, that was later published (10 March 1967) in the journal Science. In 1967, Lynne, published an article entitled “The historical roots of present-day ecologic crisis.” Lynn was the very first academic to argue that the shift in perspective introduced by Judaeo-Christianity had opened the door to “disenchantment with the world,” materialism and a new matter-spirit dualism with deleterious ecological effects; his conviction then rests on passages of Scripture incriminating in his eyes. The most quoted remains this famous extract from the Book of Genesis where it is understood that Humanity has a distinct and favoured standing compared to the rest of Creation:

“And God said, “Let us make man in our image and likeness, and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the wild animals and reptiles that crawl upon the earth.” God created mankind in his image, in the image of God he created them, male and female he created them.  God blessed them and told them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth; subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the seas and over the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves upon the earth.”” Genesis 1:26-28

This position of Lynn Townsend White jr, has been a reference by an entire generation of ecologists. 

White postulate that these beliefs have led to humanity’s indifference towards nature which continues to impact in an industrial, “post-Christian” world. He concludes that by exerting even more science and technology to the problem that it will be of no use, that it is humanity’s fundamental perceptions about nature that have to be change; we must abandon “superior, contemptuous” attitudes that makes us “willing to use it [the earth] for our slightest whim.” White suggests adopting St. Francis of Assisi as the exemplar in visualising a “democracy” of creation in which all creatures are respected as equals and that man’s rule over creation are delimited.

Not long after White’s publication, Wendell Erdman Berry, a Christian novelist, poet, essayist, environmental activist, cultural critic and farmer began to examined similar issues. He also traced contemporary environmental attitudes towards medieval Christianity but focused on the teaching of De Contemptu Mundi (contempt for the world). This teaching devalued earthly concerns and life in this world in favour of concentrating on the world to come after the return of Jesus Christ.

Medieval Christian teaching placed little or almost nothing of value on this earth compared to eternity. This idea gave rise to the attitude that creation was provided for no other reason than to serve human needs. From this perspective, the land is simply a means to an end. The world is here to support us, not the other way around; it is a one way street.

If we fast-forward to modern day, we can see that “our science and technology have grown out of Christian attitudes toward man’s relationship to nature.” Because those “Christian attitudes” did not teach that human beings need to take care of the earth, the way was paved for science and technology to become destructive forces for the environment.

Are these attitudes perhaps a result of biblical teachings, or has Scripture somehow been distorted or completely misunderstood?

Does care for creation matter?

Some Christians hold beliefs —that seem to be embedded within Scriptures— which contribute to humanity’s attitude of indifference or exploitation of the Earth’s resources. One of those beliefs emanates from God’s promise to humanity for the times to come.

Christians tightly hold on to God’s promise of a new earth. In the book of Revelation, the consummation of God’s plan for humanity is described as a new heaven and a new earth. In fact, Paul, one of the New Testament writers, states:

“… Indeed, creation itself eagerly awaits the revelation of the children of God. For creation was subjected to frustration, not of its own choice but by the will of the one who subjected it, in the hope that creation itself will be freed from its slavery to corruption and share in the glorious freedom of the children of God. As we know, the entire creation has been groaning in labor pains until now…

So why is the earth “groaning”? When Adam and Eve disobeyed God’s commandment “…you must never eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” the earth bore part of the consequences of that first human sin, the origin of evil. “Cursed be the soil because of you!”  God told Adam. Right from the very beginnings, humans have be a cause for disaster upon the earth. Some have come to the conclusion that because of this, and because of God’s covenant of “a new heavens and a new earth,” current creation needs to be destroyed in order to make way for the new. This pretendedly justifies our soulless approach toward the Earth, plundering and wastefully desecration its resources. So, you may ask, why should I worry about the use of energy, air to breathe, clean water to drink or ensuring that we have clean and fecund soil? Surely God would have provided enough of everything to last until the return of Jesus.

Of course, this thought process assumes that:

  1. the earth is to be exploited for human purposes, 
  2. God’s plans for the earth’s future make it expendable, and 
  3. human beings have no responsibility for the care of the earth and of all of creation. 

However, it ignores the fact that it is God —and not human beings— who determines how long the earth will endure. Humanity whilst we are on earth, have a responsibility to live upon the earth sustainably because we have absolutely no idea as to when the end will come to pass. 

Moreover, the fact that the earth itself is part of what God desires to save through Jesus Christ seems to underline the importance of the earth’s creation —and that destruction is not a part of God’s plan. In fact, biblical Christianity demands of us the care of all of God’s creation, and not —as the capitalist believes— its plunder and devastation.

Creation in Genesis

Although Berry agrees that some of the tenets of the medieval church have contributed toward the plunder and devastation of the environment as civilisation developed, he is equally convinced that these practices have not originate from biblical teaching. From the beginning, the Bible has held us accountable to care for the creation within which we live.

Biblical teaching regarding human beings and creation begins with the simple statement that we are a part of the creation of the earth and not set apart from it. In the Genesis narration, human beings were created on the sixth day, along with everything else that lives upon this earth.

Man —called אָדָם Adam meaning “mankind” [non gender specific]— is formed “of the dust of the ground.” Man is made of the earth —in Hebrew “earth” is אדמה adamah— it means that God literally formed Adam out of the adamah. Even in name, humanity and the earth are connected. And because man is both made from the adamah and inhabits it, it is, therefore, our responsibility to fulfil our future which is connected to a commensurate responsibility on our part to the earth.

However, at some point in Western history, we began to think of ourselves as entirely distinct and separate from the rest of creation, which, increasingly, is known as “nature.” We have ceased to view ourselves as part of the natural world. Perhaps, this is as a result of our separation from God in the Garden of Eden as we also increasingly find ourselves separated from God’s creation as well.

Representatives of God at Creation

According to the Bible, “God created mankind in his image, in the image of God he created them, male and female he created them” For generations, mankind and their theologians and scholars have contemplate the profoundness of what that phrase “in his image” actually alludes to.

In context, the expression would imply some form of delegated role for human beings on this planet. In some manner each and every one of us is expected to represent God to the rest of His world; after all, we are each an image of God upon this earth.

In Genesis 1:28, Adam and Eve are told to “subdue” and “rule” the earth, as those who bear the image of God. In Genesis 2:15 we learn that a mankind has been charged by God to “work [in the garden] and care for it.” But our subjugation and rule on earth, equals to being God’s representatives on earth, in the same manner that God —the same God whom proclaimed His creation as being “very good”— would have been enough.

So what exactly is God’s relationship to His own creation? What precisely is it that we should be representing? And what kind of an image should we actually be reflecting?

Not only did God create the world, but he also provides for and cares for the world throughout the biblical narrative. The Psalms recount how God “pities all of His creation.” Frequently, Jesus refers to God’s detailed attention to creation as he “feeds the birds in the sky and clothes the lilies in the field yet they neither labor nor spin.”

I therefore need to ask, how should those who have been chosen to represent God in his creation relate to it?

Stewards of all Creation

The best illustration of how we should relate to the earth is the concept of a steward, which occurs throughout the Bible time and time again. In biblical terms, Stewardship is the “utilisation and management of all the resources God has provided for His own glory and for the improvement of His own creation.” Christian Stewardship regards the obligation of Christians in managing and utilising intelligently the gifts that God has given. Stewardship in the biblical sense defines our practical obedience in the administration of everything that is under our control, everything entrusted to us. It is the consecration of one’s self and possessions into God’s service. Stewardship acknowledges in practice that we do not have the right of control over ourselves or our property—God has that control. It means as stewards of God we are managers of that which belongs to God, and we are under His constant authority as we administer His affairs. Faithful stewardship means that we fully acknowledge we are not our own but belong to God our creator and to His Son Jesus Christ, our saviour and Lord, who gave His life for us.

Psalm 24:1 declares, “The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it, the world and all who live in it.” That verse makes it quite clear that all of creation belongs to God. This means that humans ultimately do not own the land. As such, it is not ours to abuse. The privilege of living here is a gift, graciously given by a loving God. But we are the ones in charge of this place. We are accountable to the Owner for how we care about it.

This is made evident in the laws given to ancient Israel when they entered the promised land. The land was explicitly described as “given” to them by God. It was a gift. It had not been earned by them as a reward nor had it in way been deserved. They did not create it on their own. God gave it to them, with instructions and proviso’s for its care. The Israelites had received extremely detailed instructions on how the land should be cared for. For example, the fields were laid to rest for a year every seven years in order to give the land “one year of rest in honour of the Lord,” at this time no one may sow the field nor prune the vineyard.

Furthermore, Israel was further admonished that their relationship with the land would be entirely dependent on their unwavering faithfulness to the Lord their God. Any unfaithfulness or disobedience whatsoever would bring upon Israel “unrelenting pestilence, droughts and locusts” the land would be made to suffer. However, God, in His infinite mercy, told them that he would also forgive them and heal the land when “my people … humble themselves and pray to me and seek my presence as they turn from their wicked ways”

Here once again, we can witness the interconnectivity between humanity, creation, and their Creator.

How to take care of creation

Although a certain amount of responsibility can be apportioned to Christianity for being complicit in humanity’s defilement, plundering and destruction of God’s creation, such conduct does not originate from the teachings of the Bible. Correct human use of creation requires an attitude of humility, gratitude, affection, and co-responsibility on our part — not destruction and exploitation.

Care for creation can be expressed in a number of practical ways. Simply paying attention to one’s own consumption, waste, lifestyle and helping to take care of the earth. We can grow our own or choose locally produced food, buy items that are in season and that would inflict the least damage upon the land in their production. We can recycle. We can use waste as fertiliser; we can use water responsibly; we can pick up trash and dispose of it properly. We can walk or cycle if its local instead of taking the car. To get a brief idea take a look at the Dialogue Theology & Science website article “Is Sustainability a Christian Imperative?” By Robert S. White, FRS. [https://www.theologie-naturwissenschaften.de/en/dialogue-between-theology-and-science/editorials/is-sustainability-a-christian-imperative]

There are a wide variety of ways to care for the earth. As stewards of God’s creation, it is our duty and privilege to care for the earth. Read “The Stewardship of Creation” by Russell A. Butkus at The Center for Christian Ethics at Baylor University. [You can download a copy in .Pdf format here.]

You may also find “Study Guides for Moral Landscape of Creation” useful. These guides integrate Bible study, prayer, and worship to help us delight in and care for God’s creation. The guides can be used in a series or individually. You may download and reproduce them for personal or group use. [You can download a copy in .Pdf format here.]

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On the night between 3 and 4 February 1944, the Nazi-fascist raid on the Papal Basilica

On the night between 3 and 4 February 1944, the Nazi-fascist raid on the Papal Basilica

Article translated from the l’Osservatore Romano Monday-Tuesday 3-4 February 2014, p. 4. article by Giovanni Preziosi translated by Fr. Vincent Courtney ESB (csr) The Hermits of Saint Bruno at St. Mary’s Hermitage.

On the night between 3 and 4 February 1944, the fascist raid on the Papal Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls at the Piazzale San Paolo in Rome.

San Paolo fuori le Mura, Rome

Not even their Osservatore Romano, Vatican issued ID card would save them.

After having brought to a successful conclusion the blitz within the extraterritorial complex of Basilica of Saint Mary Major, between 3-4 February, 1944. Under favourable darkness of the night, a Special Service of the police department of the Republic of Salò, directed by Lieutenant Pietro Koch, with a complement of one hundred men placed at his disposal by the new Fascist commissioner of Rome Pietro Caruso, utterly ignoring and without the slightest regard to the agreements enshrined within the Lateran Pact of 1929 and the extraterritorial buildings under the protection of the Holy See, Koch and his men through subterfuge entered into the Benedictine monastery of Saint Paul outside the Walls. The authentic deus ex machina of this operation had also been a former Vallombrosan Benedictine friar, having recently been suspended a divinis [which forbids the person from using authority of their Holy Orders] expressly for joining the Banda Koch (which soon became a by-word for cruelty and violence), was the twenty-eight year old Alfredo Epaminonda Troya also known as Don Ildefonso Troya —better known within the espionage confraternity of the time where he used the pseudonym of Elio Desi — with a subtle cunning, Troya had lured the unsuspecting doorkeeper Friar Vittorino into a trap, who, after a few moments of hesitation, yielding to his insistence, had opened the main entrance gate of the abbey.

Monastery of Saint Gregory the Great on the Caelian Hill

The raid has been described in great detail by the chronicler of the Camaldolese monastery of Saint Gregory the Great on the Caelian Hill: «The notorious commissioner of Rome Caruso with his band of bravacci [braggarts] (…) manages to cross over the threshold of the monastery and commences a night of terror for the hermit-monk’s within the walls of this monastery. Cutting all of the telephone wires thus removing all means of communication with the outside world; He and his men keeps all of the monks locked in a room with machine guns aimed at their chests for close to 12 hours while they search and rummage and pillage throughout. The monks are insulted by the inappropriate manner the monastery of the order was entered and looted by these so called officers. (…) The newspapers give voice about the events and maliciously gossip about it at length, narrating deeds and facts, giving an utterly false account of the true events. A cri de cœur rises up against the Holy See, whom in their extraterritorial and religious houses both men and items reclaimed from the German looters.»

Maj. Gen. Adriano Monti
Lt. Maurizio Giglio Murdered March 24 1944 (aged 23)

Koch’s men stealthily sneaked into the monastery, and literally turned all the hermit-monk’s cells and the apartments of the novices’ upside down. Then, under the threat of death, having loaded weapons pointed at them, Koch arrested as many as 67 people, mostly draft evaders and Jews who had arrived in dribs and drabs since the day the armistice had begun, among whom most notably was Airforce Major General Adriano Monti the Commanding Officer Sicily Air Command, whom had been surprised wearing a cassock, which had been immortalised in a photo taken by the fascists with a camera seized from an American Office of Strategic Services liaison agent, lieutenant Maurizio Giglio, whom had infiltrated Koch’s special service division. Giglio was later captured on March 17, 1944. After a final interrogation suffered on the night of 23 March, on the following 24 morning Giglio, exhausted and unable to stand up, was transported to the Regina Coeli prison. From there, Giglio was taken on a stretcher to the Fosse Ardeatine, where he was murdered, together with the other 334 martyrs, on March 24, 1944.. Among those arrested on this day were nine officers, non-commissioned officers and soldiers of the army, fugitive police officers, carabinieri and nine Jews.

[The Fosse Ardeatine Massacre was a mass killing of 335 civilians and political prisoners carried out in Rome on 24 March 1944 by the German Nazi occupation troops during the Second World War. I wanted to share the poignant words of the memorial found at the Ardeatine:

Wayfarers thirsty for liberty – we were rounded up at random – in the street and in jail – as a reprisal cast in en masse – slaughtered and walled within these pits – italians, do not curse – mothers, brides, do not weep – children, carry with pride – the memory – of the holocaust of your fathers – if our slaughter – will have had a purpose beyond revenge – it is to enshrine the right of human existence – against the crime of murder. We were slaughtered in this place because – we fought against internal tyranny – for freedom and against the foreigner – for the independence of the homeland – we dreamt a free, just – and democratic italy. may our sacrifice and our blood – sow the seed and act as warning for – generations to come. Here we were slaughtered – victims of a horrendous sacrifice – may our sacrifice give rise to a better homeland – and to lasting peace among the peoples.

Out of the depths, I cry to you, o lord. De profundis clamavi ad te, Domine, Domine; –יהוה קראתיך ממעמקים המעלות שיר

Psalm 130 (NCB)
Pope Pius XII

The fascist press could not resist but to use such a glorious opportunity of using the photograph for propaganda purposes, and launched a harsh attack upon the Holy See and against Pius XII a barrage of insulting remarks, labelled with unflattering epithets because, in their opinion, Pius was allowing  this to happen and therefore “these actions mark [you] as a traitor” against the people of Italy. The fascists also got their hands on nine Jews, including the brothers Arturo and Umberto Soliani who, being surprised and the Nazi-fascist bullies arrival as they were asleep in their monastic cells, tried in vain to free themselves, but during the struggle they were savagely beaten up to the point that the next day, when family members received their clothing, they could not fail but noticed that their pyjamas were saturate in their blood.

As soon as Italy had entered the war, the Soliani’s had rushed to the capital city together with their children — four-year-old Alessandro and one-year-old Angelo — and their spouses Lina and Elvira Terracina, who were being hunted by the police commissioner of Brescia Manlio Candrilli [who distinguished himself particularly for his ruthlessness in hunting Jews], who he had been on their case from the day that they had opened a costume jewellery, leather goods and gift items shop called “Alla bomboniera” in corso Zanardelli 7, of the Gardone Riviera area of Brescia. Arturo and Umberto had managed to find refuge at the Abbey of San Paolo, while Lina and Elvira, with their respective children, were given refuge and hid inside a monastery of nuns, the Sisters of Good and Perpetual Help in Via Merulana [whom hid 133 jewish women and children helping them evade the Shoah]. Unfortunately, every precaution, in the end, proved to be in vain; even the identity cards issued to Arturo and Umberto as soon as they arrived in the Benedictine monastery from the Holy See, with the Vatican emblem, which certified that they were both journalists employed by the Osservatore Romano were absolutely useless as they were ignored.

Don Pier Luigi Occelli Partisan Priest

The seriousness of the incident, with the clear violation of the right of extraterritoriality sanctioned by the Lateran Pacts, obviously aroused the indignation of the Holy See which, as soon as it was made aware of the affair by the parish priest of Gesù Buon Pastore, Don Pier Luigi Occelli, the Resistance chaplain, immediately began to protest most vigorously to the competent Italian and German authorities, and without hesitation publishing a detailed background of the events in the Osservatore Romano on February 10, thus countering the article that appeared a few days earlier in the fascist newspaper “La Tribuna”. The denial of the Nazis though, was not enough to placate the irritation of the Vatican hierarchy, so much so that through the Apostolic nuncio in Bern, Monsignor Bernardini, Don Giustino Pancino was instructed to immediately urge Mussolini to take the appropriate measures and resolve the problem.

Abbey of San Paolo

As soon as Lina and Elvira learned what had happened at the Abbey of San Paolo, fearing for the fate of their loved ones, and not wanting to give up, so much so that the latter, although she was in the last months of pregnancy, defied fate, and tried absolutely everything possible, even risking her own life by going personally, first of all, to the director of the Roman prison of Regina Coeli Donato Carretta — whom just a few days earlier had favoured the daring escape made by Sandro Pertini and Giuseppe Saragat, both anti-fascists members of the Socialist Party and future presidents of the Italian Republic — Carretta immediately showed himself indulgent, revealing the possibility of freeing her husband and her brother-in-law backed by a hefty reward that would have allowed him to flee to Switzerland and away from prying eyes so as not to suffer the foreseeable retaliation from the Nazi-fascists. The promise was a tempting one, but where could she have raised such a large sum. And time was beginning to run out?

Sandro Pertini and Giuseppe Saragat

At that point all she had left as a last playing card was to contact the commissioner Pietro Caruso directly. Most certainly Elvira was not lacking courage, so much so that, without too much thought, she rushed to the police station asking to be received by Caruso whom, without hearing her out, ordered her to leave that place immediately otherwise he would have had her arrested because she was a Jew, adding that she had to thank the creature she was carrying in her womb or that he would make provisions to that effect. Unfortunately there was nothing more she could do. Every attempt to save the two men wrecked miserably and with it so also did the hope of ever being able to embrace them again one day.

In fact, together with the other Jews captured at the basilica of San Paolo, towards the middle of February, they were first transferred to Verona, then to the Fossoli transit camp and from there, on May 16, 1944, aboard Convoy № 46, to Auschwitz. from where they would never return.


Almighty God of Our Fathers, we remember the six million people carried out in pogroms and mass shootings; by a policy of extermination through labor in concentration camps; and in gas chambers and gas vans in German extermination camps. These innocents were killed, drowned, burned alive, tortured, beaten and some froze to death. Because of one man, a whole nation was crucified, while the world looked on in silence. In our hearts, their sacred memory will last forever and ever. Amen. God of Our Fathers, let the ashes of the children incinerated in Auschwitz, the rivers of blood spilled, be a warning to all of humanity that hatred is destructive, that violence is contagious, while man has an unlimited capacity toward cruelty. Almighty God, fulfil the prophecy of Isaiah: “They will beat their swords into plowshares … One nation will not lift up a sword against another, nor will they ever again be trained for war.” Amen.

Please, always have the courage not to remain silent when you witness wrongdoing being perpetrated, speak out unceasingly against oppression, hate, use of force, or any other forms of injustice. Remember you could be next at the receiving end of injustice. God calls every single one of us to be peacemakers; God calls us to heal our world which is broken, and within a deep unanimity of the spirit, to work for a world in which justice flourishes, where peace thrives and becomes the norm (Psalm 72:7). Peace is not something that simply materialises from above; peace must be created and maintained by us, being built and maintained by those people who beat their swords into ploughshares (Isaiah 2:4), choosing to spend money for a sustainable and peaceful future rather than on the war machine.

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