Posts Tagged ‘Christianity’


December 2, 2010

I get invited to lots of “interfaith” events. Most are mislabeled–they aren’t really interfaith, they are “multifaith”, as Ed Stetzer recently put it.  (I usually start my talks by asking if there are any “interfaith” people there–and there usually isn’t anyone.) I suppose people like the word interfaith because it doesn’t sound very threatening.

It also doesn’t sound very interesting.  The main common features of interfaith gathering are that they are usually very poorly attended, and sometimes pretty dull. Those features are related. There just aren’t that many people out there looking for interfaith events to attend. And running our deeply help beliefs through a filter of what everyone has in common tends to screen out the things that give us a real identity. Interfaith events tend to attract the people who are at the edges of their religious traditions, escaping from the core, who are finding freedom in cosmopolitanism and universalism. But they wind up talking in vague platitudes about actual faith, or grossly misrepresenting their traditions.

All of the interesting things about religions are particular things. What makes me a Christian, rather than a Jew, or a Muslim, or anything else, is that I subscribe to a certain number of particular claims about events that I believe actually occurred in human history. I also believe a lot of particular things about God’s revelation to us. I have in some ways a lot more in common with Muslims who are glad to be Muslim, and who know why they are Muslim, than with Christians who are watering down their faith to find the least common denominators.

The abstract things that I believe in common with some other religions are not what makes me a Christian. But they are the things that make me human.

Our commonalities, if they exist, are found in ancient history, not in where we’re going but in where we’ve been–as a Christian I would say we share the image of God, and we are called as image-bearers to tend and keep what is good in human culture and in the rest of creation. There’s a lot of room to care for the common good. The Bible-believers (like me) point out that our charge to steward creation comes long before the special revelation to Abraham and his descendants. Genesis 1:26-28 points to a common humanity and common responsibility we share with all people, not just our co-religionists. I find it useful to point out that the religions are not climbing the same mountain, only to be surprised to meet each other at the top. Where we can get along and work together is down at the foot of our mountains, not at the summits.

Working for the common good can therefore be more than what Francis Schaeffer called “co-belligerency.” Co-belligerency happens when people who would otherwise despise each other agree to hold their noses and work together on an issue (as when feminists and conservatives work together to fight pornography). They may agree on a particular policy, but got there for very different reasons. Common good issues call us back to the most ancient fundamentals of responsibility to something bigger than ourselves, and in the process reminding ourselves of what it is to be human. Even Christians

True believers in other religions are happy when we acknowledge that there are real differences between us. True believers in a squishy interfaithism are less happy to hear that we don’t think we’re climbing the same mountain to God. Perhaps we should have separate meetings for those who believe in the truth of their traditions and those who don’t.

My ground rules for interfaith events:

(1) I’ll be speaking and interacting as a Christian, though I’ll be nice about it.

(2) I don’t do interfaith worship or prayer services. The more something looks like a worship service, the more it should be particular and not general. I’m happy to visit someone else’s church, temple, or mosque, but I don’t want them to blend it with my tradition.

(3) I won’t try to tell people from other religions what their religions say (or should say). I think it is at best meaningless, and at worst unfuriatingly patronizing, for Christians to tell Muslims that Islam is a religion of peace. It means rather more for a faithful Muslim to say it. I don’t want Unitarians telling me what I should believe about the Eucharist and organic food, or eschatology and environmental action. I’ll look to Christian thinkers to help me with that.

NOTE: There are environmental organizations in many states that go by the name “Interfaith Power and Light”. They do good work, helping houses of worship become more energy efficient. They also organize religious people to advocate for policies that fight global warming. They’re obviously pretty wedded to the name at this point, but the name helps to explain why evangelicals have not flocked to their programs. Oh, and the fact that they believe in that whole global warming thing…

The Best Climate Book Yet

December 2, 2009

Well the Copenhagen talks are upon us, and expectations are being played down for what can be accomplished. Even more notable is recent data that shows public enthusiasm on global warming has cooled significantly, indicating that the skeptics are right about one thing: much of the recent attention has been driven by media hype, not by informed concern. That doesn’t change our obligation to learn or to act on what we know. Whatever policies we enact on climate change will need to be sustained for decades, if not centuries, and will have to endure many changes of ruling political parties, so it is worth continuing to work on a public consensus. So why not start with some Christmas reading?! (more…)

Videophilia replacing love of nature

March 16, 2009

In the late 1900s researchers like E.O. Wilson and Stephen Kellert began using the term "biophilia" to describe the basic love of other living things that humans seem to exhibit–an affection that encompassed nature, other species, diversity. So strong an affinity, so powerful an affect, was biophilia that the researchers decided it must be instinctive, built into the human brain by natural selection because it was an aid to survival.

Or else it's part of God's (intelligent, by definition) design–to make gardeners who love the garden. I'm betting on the latter hypothesis.

But there's a competing impulse, a dark attraction that fights for the affection of humans. Is it money? Sex? Power?

No, it's actually video screens. There is a strong negative relationship between the amount of time people spend on the Internet, playing video games, and watching television and movies, and the amount of time people spend outside in nature. Humans seem to have a (built-in? instinctive?) love of flat screen TVs and handheld video devices.

Biophilia is being replaced by videophilia.


Green My Hood

March 5, 2009

Does caring for the environment
always come at the expense of jobs? Is creation care something that
must be traded off against people care? I'm reading a great book right
now that addresses just that issue. I'm reading it with my pastor,
Leroy Barber, because we care about the beautiful but broken South
Atlanta neighborhood our church calls home. Leroy is president of Mission Year and is a speaker at this year's Flourish Conference for church leaders on creation care.

The book is Van Jones' The Green Collar Economy. Van Jones is the founder and president of Green For All,
and his work is significant for Christians who want to do community
development in environmentally-friendly ways and for those who want to
find ways out of the "environment vs. jobs" debate. Jones points out
the many ways in which solving environmental problems can be done with
justice. His position is that as long as we're going to all the trouble
to create a clean energy economy, we might as well make a renewed
effort to tackle discrimination and inequality, too.

He addresses
the involvement of faith communities directly and challenges the
"so-called progressives [who] snarl the word 'Christian' as if it were
an insult or the name of a disease." He presses activists to become
problem-solvers, to become more about "proposition" than "opposition."
In a short list of principles for a new movement, Jones advocates fewer
"issues," more solutions; fewer "demands," more goals; fewer "targets,"
more partners; and less "accusation," more confession.

Leroy's recent post on Sojourners blog captures how he thinks about environmental issues:

it possible to create a new economy in the hood that would create jobs,
lower energy costs, reduce the carbon footprint of an urban
neighborhood, and allow neighbors to get to know one another at the
same time? I think there just might be a way to make this a reality. I
would like to green my hood.

The problem in
urban neighborhoods is that they are some of the most dangerous places,
environmentally speaking. Trash dumps, tow lots, expressways, and
chemical plants create places that are quite unsafe. Our neighborhoods
can begin to help themselves and lower some of the risk by starting their own green projects.
We could hire and train people to do home audits for seniors and
families in homes that are full of lead paint, leaky windows, clogged
gutters, and uninsulated water heaters. This training would give jobs
to people and lower energy bills for residents, as well as reduce the
carbon footprint of the neighborhood.

We can grow neighborhood gardens and farmers’ markets, which would offer places for neighbors to have better access to nutritious food
and vegetables that are otherwise very costly. When we make
neighborhoods walkable and livable, neighbors can get around without
driving, and that means less asthma-causing air pollution, fewer
emergency room visits, and fewer sleepless nights for worried parents. Caring for the environment has hit the hood and is now a major urban issue,
and people of faith have opportunity to offer good news in a new way.
This is no longer just an issue of global warming and saving rain
forests — it is about protecting some of our most vulnerable citizens.

the naked, visiting the prisoner, and feeding the hungry now needs to
include providing clean air, safe streets, and healthy neighborhoods
for our poor urban neighbors. I am committed to greening my hood for a
number of reasons. If you want to learn more about it, you should check
out The Green Collar Economy, by Van Jones. This is his idea, and I have become a fan.

Leroy and I are searching for other Christians who have read The Green Collar Economy—or the related work by Thomas Friedman, called Hot, Flat and Crowded
(Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008)—and who have ideas and stories to
tell about environmental actions that create rather than threaten jobs,
especially in this economy. Please write me if we can feature your work or the work of others you know.

To meet Leroy Barber and other Christian leaders who are looking at environmental issues in a new way, check out the Flourish Conference, May 13-15, 2009 in Atlanta.

Stuck in the Middle on Climate

September 18, 2008

It’s exhausting to be in the middle of highly polarized debates. Part of me wants to be a bridge-builder, a reconciler, a voice of reason. Another part wants to be “prophetic” and to sit in judgment of both extremes. Yet another part tells me I need to be a better listener, which is hard with all the shouting going on.

That’s where I find myself in the climate debate. Far off on one side I see a few secular, elitist—even extreme—environmentalists who have a not-so-latent misanthropy for the world’s poor. This is the worldview that sees population as the fundamental environmental problem. It doesn’t bother them that poorly-designed climate policy might impose onerous burdens on the world’s poor. As an evangelical Christian, I don’t want any part of that.


The international year of cleaning up poop

August 30, 2008

There's kind of a global taboo on talking about poop. [You wouldn't know that hanging out at our house, with two boys aged 8 and 5, but it's true.] The reluctance to talk about sewage, latrines, and toilets has put the cause of improving sanitation in the world's poorest countries years behind where it should be.

2008 is the UN's International Year of Sanitation (did you know?), and in Stockholm last month leaders described the challenges ahead in improving sanitation systems for the world's poor. In contrast to clean water provision, sanitation has lagged behind. This year, the number of people without access to clean(ish) water is down to less than a billion (the number was 1.4 billion last year). Half the world's population now has a pipe with improved water coming into their house.


Location, location, location: Residential choices and Creation Care

April 7, 2008

By Rusty and Joanna Pritchard

Worth a listen: Last week NPR’s Morning Edition aired a pair of stories by Elizabeth Shogren, one about a family that moved out to the Atlanta suburbs, and one about a family that moved intown to a “new urban” development. It’s part of their Climate Connections series. Both stories are about parents trying to do their best by their families, making decisions under lots of constraints. Neither of them created the environment they inhabit; they’re just trying to do their best to live in it.


An Environmentalism for Us All

March 31, 2008
What Rebecca Solnit is arguing in her excellent Orion Magazine article this month is that environmentalists have become the caricature the right paints of them. They often really are a Tax-Raising, Latte-Drinking, Sushi-Eating, Volvo-Driving, New York Times-Reading, Body-Piercing, Hollywood-Loving, Left-Wing Freak Show.
And, Solnit adds: they hate country music, without actually knowing country music. [To a southerner like me, that's a lot more unforgiveable than a penchant for four-dollar cups of coffee.] Liberal elites don't much like poor white people, or their music.
Solnit isn't addressing issues of faith, but I know many folks who have often felt similarly despised by the left for their evangelical beliefs.
Such elite, exclusivist attitudes have weakened the environmental movement. It might even be time to get beyond the idea of an "environmental" movement and to think more broadly about family, economics, class, race, simplicity, and justice than the title "environmental" allows.
Spend some time with the article–it's free on the Orion Magazine website, but I'll tell you, there is no more valuable use of forest resources than the print version of Orion, and this issue is still on the bookstore shelves. You have permission to buy the dead-tree version, just keep it or pass it on.

Pollution, virtue and second-hand smoke

February 18, 2008

Second-hand smoke is a nuisance for non-smokers. When you smoke, you get the enjoyment of the nicotine and you get some health risks too. Other people, third parties, get only costs and no benefits, including your wife, kids, dog, the servers at your favorite pub, etc. Everyone knows now not to smoke around kids. Kids deserve better. Those that do it are despicable sociopaths, and people will let them know. Social pressures are brought to bear.

Pollution is the same kind of problem, but on a larger scale.


Fear Not!

January 22, 2008

A Different Shade of Green
(originally published in PRISM magazine, Jan/Feb 08)

Fear is a powerful motivator. If you can inspire fear, you can get people to do almost anything. (If you can also inspire loathing, you can get them to do anything.)

Evangelicals and environmentalists have a good deal in common. Fear, accompanied by an apocalyptic vision, is a standard tool in their toolboxes. Anyone watching those computer-animated maps of coastal cities flooding in An Inconvenient Truth knows that Al Gore may have a richer end-times imagination than Tim LaHaye. Enviros long ago mastered the knack of making you fear for your life, your health, and your family–and then giving you just enough information about environmental injustice for the poor to take the edge off your self-interested attitudes.