POLUTION AND THE DEATH OF MAN By Francis Schaeffer

I posted about this before but I wanted to revisit it again today.

POLUTION AND THE DEATH OF MAN
By Francis Schaeffer


A truly biblical Christianity has a real answer to the environmental crisis.
It offers a balanced and healthy attitude to nature, arising from the truth
of its creation by God; it offers the hope here and now of substantial
healing in nature of some of the results of the Fall, arising from the truth
of redemption in Christ. In each of the alienations arising from the Fall,
the Christians, individually and corporately, should consciously in practice
be a healing redemptive factor

in the separation of man from God,
of man from himself,
of man from man,
of man from nature,
a nd of nature from nature.

Certainly this is true in regard to nature.

A Christian-based science and technology should consciously try to see
nature substantially healed, while waiting for the future complete healing
at Christ’s return. We must ask how Christians, believing these truths, can
apply them practically to the whole question of the environment.

For here is our calling:

We must exhibit that, on the basis of the work of Christ, Christians can
achieve partially, but substantially, what the secular world wants and
cannot get. The Church ought to be a “pilot plant,” where men can see in our
congregations and missions a substantial healing of all the divisions, the
alienations, mans rebellion has produced.

Let me explain that phrase “”pilot plant.” When an industrial company is
about to construct a big factory, they first of all make a pilot plant. This
is to demonstrate that the full-scale plant can work. Now the Church, I
believe, ought to be a pilot plant concerning the healing of man and
himself, of man and man, and man and nature. Indeed, unless something like
this happens, I do not believe the world will listen to what we have to say.
For instance, in the area of nature, we ought to be exhibiting the very
opposite of the situation I described earlier, where the pagans who had
their wine stomps provided a beautiful setting for the Christians to look
at, while the Christians provided something ugly f or the pagans to see!
That sort of situation must be reversed, or our words and our philosophy
will, predictably, be ignored.

So the Christian Church ought to be this “pilot plant,” through individual
attitudes and the Christian community’s attitude, to exhibit that in this
present life man can exercise dominion over nature without being
destructive. Let me give two illustrations of what this might involve. The
first is open-face or strip-mining.

Why does strip-mining turn the world into an absolute desert? Why is the
“‘Black Country” in England’s Midlands black? What has brought about this
ugly destruction of the environment? There is only one reason:

man’s greed.

If the strip-miners would take bulldozers and push back the topsoil, then
rip out the coal, put back the soil, and replace the topsoil, in ten years
after the coal was removed there would be a green field, and in fifty years
a forest. But, as it stands, for an added profit above what is reasonable in
regard to nature, man turns these areas into deserts-and then cries out that
the topsoil is gone, grass will not grow, and there is no way to grow trees
for hundreds of years!

It is always true that if you treat the land properly, you have to make two
choices. The first is in the area of economics. It costs more money, at
least at first, to treat the land well. For instance, in the case of the
school I have mentioned, all they had to do to improve the place was to
plant trees to shield the building they built. But it costs money to plant
trees, and somebody decided that instead of planting trees they would prefer
to do something else with the money. Of course, the school needs money for
its important work: but there is a time when planting trees is an important
work.

The second choice involved is that it usually takes longer to treat the land
properly. And these are the two factors that lead to the destruction of our
environment: money and time-or to say it another way, greed and haste. The
question is, or seems to be, are we going to have an immediate profit and an
immediate saving of time, or are we going to do what we really should do as
Gods children?

Apply this to strip-mining. There is no reason in the world why strip-mining
was compelled to leave western Pennsylvania or eastern Kentucky in its
present condition. Strip-mines as we have seen, do not have to be left this
way: the soil can be bulldozed back. What we, the Christian community, have
to do is to refuse’ men the right to ravish our land, just as we refuse them
the right to ravish our women; to insist that somebody accepts a little less
profit by not exploiting nature. And the first step is exhibiting the fact
that as individual Christians and as Christian communities we ourselves do
not ravish our f air sister for the sake of greed in one form or another.

We can see the same sort of thing happening in Switzerland. Here is a
village up in the mountains somewhere. It has never had electricity. The
people have managed well for a thousand years, in fact, without electricity.
Now, suddenly, “‘civilization” comes, and everybody knows that you cannot
have “”civilization” without electricity, so the decision is made to give
the village electrical power.

This can be done in one of two ways. They can have their electricity in
about three months: just chop off everything, tear the forest in pieces, run
big, heavy wires over the whole thing, and create ugliness out of what was
beautiful. Or they can wait a couple of years for their electricity: we can
handle the cables and the forests with more care, hiding what we need to
hide and considering the integrity of the environment, and end up with
something infinitely preferable: they have their electricity and the village
has its beauty . . . and the only cost is to add two years to the thousand
years that they have been without electricity. There would be some economic
factors here, but the largest one is that of sheer haste.

Or think of the highways-our asphalt jungle in the United States. Think, if
you will, of the way we use our bulldozers across the Swiss mountains.
Almost always the scars and the ugliness are the result of hurry. And
whether it is hurry or greed, these things eat away at nature.

But as Christians we have to learn to say “Stop!”

Because, after all, greed is destructive against nature at this point and
there is a time to take one’s time.

Now all this will not come about automatically. Science today treats man as
less than man, and nature as less than nature. And the reason for this is
that modern science has the wrong sense of origin, and having the wrong
sense of origin it has no category sufficient to treat nature as nature any
more than it has to treat man as man.

Nevertheless, we who are Christians must be careful.

We must confess that we missed our opportunity. We have spoken loudly
against materialistic science, but we have done little to show that in
practice we ourselves as Christians are not dominated by a technological
orientation in regard either to man or nature. We should have been stressing
and practicing for a long time that there is a basic reason why we should
not do all we can do, but we have missed the opportunity to help man save
his earth. Not only that, but in our generation we are losing an
evangelistic opportunity, because when modern young people have a real
sensitivity to nature, many of them turn to the hippie communities or
mentality, where there is at least a genuine sense of nature (even if a
wrong one), because they have seen that most Christians simply do not care
about the beauty of nature, or nature as such.

So we have not only missed our opportunity to save the earth for man, but
this also partly accounts for the fact that we have largely missed the
opportunity of reaching the twentieth century. These are reasons why the
Church seems irrelevant and helpless in our generation. We are living in,
and practicing, a sub -Christianity.

There is a parallel between man’s misuse of nature and man’s misuse of man.
We can see this in two areas.

First of all, let us think of the sex relationship. What is man’s attitude
towards the girl? It is possible, and common in the modern setting, to have
a “playboy” attitude, or, rather, a “‘plaything”” attitude, where “‘the
playmate becomes the plaything.” Here, the girl is no more than a sex
object.

But what is the Christian view? Somebody may offer at this point the rather
romantic notion, “”You shouldn’t look for any pleasure for yourself; you
should just look for the other persons pleasure.” But that is not what the
Bible says. We are to love our neighbor as ourselves. We have a right to
pleasure, too. But what we do not have a right to do is to forget that the
girl is a person and not an animal, a Plant, or a machine. We have the right
to have our pleasure in a sexual relationship, but we have no right
whatsoever to exploit a partner as a sex object.

There should be a conscious limitation upon our pleasure. We impose a
limit-a self-imposed limit-in order to treat the girl fairly as a person.
So, although a man could do more, he does not do everything he could do,
because he must treat her also as a person and not just as a thing with no
value. And if he does so treat her, eventually he loses, because love is
gone, and all that is left is just a mechanical, chemical sexuality, and
humanity is lost as he treats her as less than human. Eventually not only
her humanity is diminished, but his as well. In contrast, if he does less
than he could do, eventually he has more, for he has a human relationship;
he has love and not just a chemical act. It is like the principle of the
boomerang-it comes full circle and destroys the destroyer. And that is
exactly what happens with nature. If we treat nature as having no intrinsic
value, our own value is diminished.

A second parallel may be found with man in business. We have all kinds of
idealists today who cry, “No profit!”

Down with the profit motive!” But men do not work this way. Even Communism
is learning the need to reinstate the profit motive. And certainly the Bible
does not say that the profit motive is wrong as such.

But I am to treat the man I deal with in business as myself. I am to ‘”love”
him as my neighbor, and as myself. It is perfectly right that I should have
some profit, but I must not get it by treating him (or exploiting him) as a
consumer object. If I do this, eventually I shall destroy not him alone, but
myself as well, because I shall have lowered the real value of myself.

So, just as the girl is not to be treated as a sex object but as a person,
so again I must, if I am a businessman, functioning on a Christian basis,
realize I am dealing with another man made in the image of God, and I must
impose some conscious limitation on myself. The Christian businessman will
take profit, but he will not do everything he could do in exacting all the
profit he could exact.

The Old Testament is very plain at this point:

If you take a mans cloak for a collateral,
be sure to give it back to him every night,
because he might be cold at night.
| Exodus 22:26|

No man shall take the nether or
the upper millstone to pledge:
for he takes a man’s life to pledge.
| Deuteronomy 24:6 |

That shows a very different mentality from that which often marks Christian
businessmen. It may be properly called capitalism, but it is a very
different kind of capitalism. It realizes that if we treat other men in
business or in industry as machines, we make ourselves machines, because we
are not more than they are. Indeed, if we make other men and ourselves
machines in commercial relationships, gradually this will penetrate every
area of life and the wonder of humanity will begin to disappear.

Thus again, the Christian does not do all he can do. He has a limiting
principle, and in doing less, he has more, for his own humanness is at
stake. A girl should not be treated as a sex object to be used simply for
pleasure. A man should not be treated as a consumer object simply for bigger
profit. In the area of sex, and in the area of business, to treat persons as
they should be treated, on the basis of the Creation of God, is not only
right in itself, but produces good results, because our humanity begins to
bloom.

In the area of nature it is exactly the same. If nature is only a
meaningless particular, is “‘decreated,” to use Simone Weil’s evocative
word, with no universal to give it any meaning, then wonder is gone from it.
Unless there is a universal over the particulars, there is no meaning.

Jean-Paul Sartre picks this up:

If you have a finite point and it has no infinite reference point, then that
finite point is absurd.

He is right, and unhappily that is where he himself is-an absurd particular
in the midst of only absurd particulars.

So, if nature and the things of nature are only a meaningless series of
particulars in a decreated universe, with no universal to give them meaning,
then nature is become absurd, wonder is gone from it-and wonder is equally
gone from me, because I too am a finite thing.

But Christians insist that we do have a universal. God is there! The
personal-infinite God is the universal of all the particulars, because He
created all the particulars and in his verbalized, propositional
communication in the Scripture He has given us categories within which to
treat everything within His creation: man to man, man to nature, the whole
lot.

Now both the thing that He has made and I, who am also made by Him, have
wonder, awe, and real value.

But we must remember that the value I consciously put on a thing-each on its
own level-will finally be my own value, f or I too am finite. If I let the
wonder go from the thing, soon the wonder will go from mankind and me. And
this is where we live today. The wonder is all gone. Man sits in his
autonomous, “decreated” world, where there are no universals and no wonder
in nature. Indeed, in an arrogant and egoistic way, nature has been reduced
to a “‘thing” for man to use or exploit.

And if modern man speaks of protecting the ecological balance of nature it
is only on the pragmatic level for man, with no basis for nature’s having
any real value in itself. And thus man too is reduced another notch in value
and dehumanized technology takes another turn on the vise.

On the other hand, in the Christian view of things nature is restored.
Suddenly, the wonder returns.

But it is not enough merely to believe that there is a real meaning in
nature, as a matter of theory. The truth has to be practiced consciously. We
have to begin to treat nature the way it should be treated.

We have seen in regard to the pleasure of sex, and in the making of profit
in industry and business, that man must voluntarily limit himself. He must
not be driven either for greed or haste to remove all the self-limitations.
Or we can put it in another way: that we must not allow ourselves,
individually, not our technology, to do everything we or it can do.

The animal can make no conscious limitation. The cow eats the grass-it has
no decision to make; it cannot do otherwise. Its only limitation is the
mechanical limitation of its cowness. I who am made in the image of God can
make a choice. I am able to do things to nature that I should not do.

So I am to put a self-limitation on what is possible. The horror and
ugliness of modern man in his technology and in his individual life is that
he does everything he can do, without limitation. Everything he can do he
does. He kills the world, he kills mankind, and he kills himself.

I am a being made in the image of God. Having a rational-moral limitation,
not everything man can do is right to do. Indeed, this is the problem all
the way back to the Garden of Eden. From the point of view of body
structure, Eve could eat the fruit; Adam could eat the fruit. But on the
basis of the second boundary condition of the moral command of God, and the
character of God, it was wrong for them to eat the fruit. The call was for
Eve to limit herself: to refrain from doing something she could do.

Technologically, modern man does everything he can do-he functions on this
single boundary principle. Modern man, seeing himself as autonomous, with no
personal-infinite God who has spoken, has no adequate universal to supply an
adequate second boundary condition; and man being fallen is not only finite,
but sinful. Thus man’s pragmatically made choices have no reference point
beyond human egotism. It is dog eat dog, man eat man, man eat nature. Man
with his greed has no real reason not to rape nature, and treat it as a
reverse -consumer object.” He sees nature as without value or rights.

In conclusion, then, we may say that if things are treated only as
autonomous machines in a decreated world they are finally meaningless. But
if that is so ‘ then inevitably so am I-man-autonomous and also equally
meaningless. But if individually and in the Christian community I treat with
integrity the things which God has made, and treat them this way lovingly,
because they are His, things change. If I love the Lover, I love what the
Lover has made. Perhaps this is the reason why so many Christians feel an
unreality in their Christian lives. If I don’t love what the Lover has made
-in the area of man, in the area of nature-and really love it because He
made it, do I really love the Lover at all?

It is easy to make professions of faith, but they may not be worth much
because they have no real meaning. They may become merely a mental assent
that means little or nothing.

But I must be clear that I am not loving the tree or whatever is standing in
front of me, for a pragmatic reason. It will have a pragmatic result, the
very pragmatic results that the men involved in ecology are looking f or.
But as a Christian I do not do it for the practical or pragmatic results; I
do it because it is right and because God is the Maker; and then suddenly
things drop into place.

There are things before me which I now face, not as a cow would face the
buttercup-merely the mechanical situation-but facing it by choice. I look at
the buttercup, and I treat the buttercup the way it should be treated. The
buttercup and I are both created by God, but beyond this, I can treat it
properly by personal choice. I act personally-and I am a person!
Psychologically I begin to breathe and live. Psychologically I am now
dealing on a personal level, not only with men and women, but also with the
things in nature that God has made which are less than personal in
themselves, and the old hang-ups begin to crumble. My humanness grows and
the modern technological pit and pendulum is no longer closing in on me.

As a result, then, suddenly there is beauty instead of a desert. The
question of aesthetics is also in place. This surely is something that has
importance in itself, and is not to be despised. It does not have to have
pragmatic reasons to have value. So if we did nothing else in our Christian
view of nature than to save and enjoy beauty, it would be of value, and
worthwhile.

But it is not only that, as we have seen. The balance of nature will be more
nearly what it should be, and there will be a way to utilize nature f or man
and yet not destroy the resources which man needs. But none of this will
happen if it is only a gimmick. We have to be in the right relationship with
Him in the way He has provided, and then, as Christians, have and practice
the Christian view of nature.

When we have learned this — the Christian view of nature — then there can be
a real ecology; beauty will flow, psychological freedom will come, and the
world will cease to be turned into a desert. Because it is right, on the
basis of the whole Christian system — which is strong enough to stand it
all, because it is true — as I stand and face the buttercup, I say,

Fellow creature, fellow creature,
I won’t walk on you.
We are both creatures together.

 

_____________

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