by Peter Franklin
Thursday, 13
May 2021
Seen Elsewhere

Is Christianity the anti-green religion?

Christians are torn between plundering nature and protecting it
by Peter Franklin
Pilgrims in Northumbria, where the holy history owes much to Irish missionaries. Credit: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

Paul Kingsnorth is the deepest of deep greens. And yet he became a Christian. Should that surprise us?

In a remarkable piece for First Things, Kingsnorth tells the story of his conversion — and why it took him most of his life to get to that point:

I wanted something more serious, something with structure, rules, a tradition. It didn’t even occur to me to go and ask the vicars. I knew that Christianity, with its instructions to man to “dominate and subdue” the Earth, was part of the problem. And so, I looked east.
- Paul Kingsnorth, First Things

Yes, that’s the problem right there. Christianity, as the religion of the West, is perceived as the ideological foundation of westernisation — including industrialisation and the despoliation that has followed in its wake.

The Bible can be read for passages that appear to justify our impact upon the natural world. Most obviously there is the Biblical passage (Genesis 1:28), to which Kingsnorth alludes, where God says to Adam and Eve: “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

Over-population, exploitation, habitat destruction and human arrogance. It’s all in there.

Except that it’s not. To rip this verse out its context is perverse. Read the chapter in full and you see that God had just created the world and pronounced it “good” — He is clearly not exhorting mankind to destroy it, but to look after it. Read on and things get greener still. For a start, there’s the message that the world as God intended it to be was vegetarian — indeed, vegan (“I have given every green herb for food”). The meat-eating that comes later is a symptom of The Fall — i.e. a profound disturbance of the created order that is caused by and bound up with human evil. 

Obviously, it can’t be denied that the first countries in the world to industrialise — and thus wreak environmental havoc on an industrial scale — were Christian in culture. So perhaps one can understand why so many environmentalists in our own time have looked to eastern religions — or to the paganism of the pre-Christian West — for inspiration.

However, that is to ignore the global history — and pre-history — of humanity’s impact on nature. Yes there are examples of pre-modern societies living in harmony with the environment. But there are many others to the contrary. We were remaking entire landscapes before the Bronze Age. Just look at the disappearance of so many giant mammals and flightless birds: mammoths, woolly rhinos, giant sloths, cave lions, and elephant birds — our pre-modern ancestors hunted them all to extinction. 

Humanity’s dominion over the Earth is a fact. Whether or not that leads to complete environmental destruction depends upon us accepting the constraints of a higher truth. Or, as Paul Kingsnorth puts it:

“As we see the consequences of eating the forbidden fruit, of choosing power over ­humility, separation over communion, the stakes become clearer each day.”
- Paul Kingsnorth, First Things

Join the discussion

  • What a silly article. The Bible in a pre-industrial age where pestilence, shortages and famine were common. ‘Dominion’ did not mean destruction of nature but controlling it sufficiently to guarantee survival.

  • One can read this article two ways. Firstly that there’s merit in the notion that God instructed the human race to steward his creation, but we’ve exploited it instead. Or, that someone is reading his green bias into the bible. That’s no different than the American right reading their bias into the bible. What I find most amusing though, is the idea of the world ‘pre the fall’ being vegan I’ve seen others try to do this. If there’s a book you shouldn’t use to justify your veganism it’s the bible. Most of the Old Testament deals with animal slaughter in a system given from God to Moses. It’s not just that God is ok with animal slaughter, He commands it. Even in the New Testament God appears in a vision to Peter with a smorgasbord of animals & tells him to “kill & eat”. Anyhow, modern veganism has its own religion, handed down from John Harvey Kellog & The Seventh Day Adventist Church. A clear example of a religion being distorted if ever there was one.

  • “Christians are torn between plundering nature and protecting it”
    I like to think I am a Christian. I like to think we should have a balanced existance, in which we can both protect and preserve ‘nature’ and at the same time, use it for our survival..
    I am not a “greeny” nor do I think we should plunder nature.Thus I think the sub heading is total nonsense.

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