Is Global Warming Biblical?

Much has been said about Rick Santorum’s comment that “We were put on this Earth as creatures of God to have dominion over the Earth, to use it wisely and steward it wisely, but for our benefit not for the Earth’s benefit.”  The statement does reveal that Santorum has little understanding of science, and even less about the underlying purpose of the environmentalist movement.  If he understood either, he would know that the “Earth” neither benefits nor loses the game; the earth will continue to exist, and there will be some form of life on it, long after the human species has suffocated itself into extinction.  It is obvious further that he does not understand that human beings can exist nowhere other than on the earth, so that anything we do that makes it harder for us to exist on this earth damages us.  If we pollute our waters and air, we poison ourselves; if we overfish the oceans, we starve ourselves; if we burn up all our fossil fuels, we immobilize ourselves and destroy our economies.  Meanwhile, the earth continues unfazed by our distress.  The earth has seen species come and go and climatic conditions warm and cool, but it continues.  The earth cares not at all about what kinds of life forms crawl across its surface.  Environmentalists do care about those life forms, particularly the human life form.

But putting that aside, let’s examine Santorum’s statement on the basis of what he intended.  As is well known, Santorum is of decidedly religious persuasion, of a particularly marked “conservative” type.  As such, he articulates the beliefs of large numbers of Christians, fundamentalist Protestant as well as traditional Catholic.  It is common for religious traditionalists to cite the dominion principle, which comes from Genesis:“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.’”  If one is a fundamentalist, one cannot but accept what Genesis says, and one might note that He uses not only the word “dominion” but the word “subdue.”  Thus this passage seems to endorse those actions of mankind that wrest benefit from the earth and also seems to grant us unlimited leeway to do so.

But we should remember that God speaks these words to man prior to the Fall, which would perhaps suggest that what He has in mind is the way a pre-lapsarian mankind would exercise dominion.  The interesting question is, does this injunction continue unamended beyond the moment when Adam and Eve eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and not only fall into a state of sin, but condemn their descendents (us) to be born into a state of sin as well?  Can fallen man be a good steward of the earth?

There is much in the Bible to suggests otherwise.  There is first the fact that Adam and Eve are cast out of the Garden of Eden. The curse, or new injunction if you will, is chilling:

To the woman he said, “I will greatly multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children, yet your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.” And to Adam he said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth to you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

The consequences of the Fall, the pain, labor, and death now visited upon mankind, would seem to negate the idea of dominion, let along subjugation.  Indeed, the mention of thorns and thistles suggests that quite the contrary, that the earth will be cantankerous (“cursed”) and uncooperative and, interestingly, ultimately triumph over man (“you are dust, and to dust you shall return”).  Whatever dominion man was supposed to exercise has clearly been taken away from him, with good reason:  why should a fallen creature exercise power over God’s creation, which several times in the first chapter of Genesis God has pronounced “good”?

Lest anyone mistake God’s intentions, and in hubris presume that we can exercise dominion by other means and without consequences, look at the various punishments meted out by God throughout the Bible to people whose vainglory leads them to believe they can make deals with the Devil and yet avoid the consequences.  Instructive is the story of the Tower of Babel, in which the people of the earth conspire to build a tower which will enable them to climb up to Heaven.  God frustrated their pride by confusing their language into many, thus making it impossible to communicate with one another, and dispersing them across the earth so that they could not unite in plans of pride again.  God had no intention of allowing mankind to overcome its fallen state by its own means.

Of great relevance to the global warming controversy is the story of Noah and the Flood.  The people of the earth had fallen into great evil; only Noah and his family remained righteous.  Therefore, God resolved to send a great deluge of forty days and nights’ duration in order to cleanse the earth of sin.  Only Noah and his family, along with a mating pair of each kind of animal, were saved on the Ark.  This seems to be a clear instance of God using a cataclysmic climatic change to punish human beings for their sins.  There are other instances in the Old Testament of such events, including the plagues visited upon Egypt, a kingdom so powerful and technologically advanced that it could raise the pyramids of Egypt and great temples and obelisks in worship of its god-kings.  It is not surprising that God would use diseases as a means of punishing sinful humans; ever since Adam and Eve had been ejected from the Garden of Eden, mankind has been subjected to various fevers and infectious diseases (bacteria, viruses, prions), to parasitism (tapeworms, botflies, amoebas), famines and droughts.  Ramping them up was a convenient way to visit punishments on the sinful.

Both the Old and New Testaments are rife with prophecies, taken by most fundamentalists and evangelicals as previewing the End Times, that include ample doses of climatic and geological disasters:  floods, plagues, and earthquakes seem to be favorites.  As 2 Peter 3:10 says, “The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare.”  If that is not a description of ecological disaster, I don’t know what is.  And let’s not get into the future as described in Revelations.

The important thing to remember is that in all these instances, God uses earthly disasters to punish sinful humans—it is us who bring upon ourselves these cataclysmic climatic and geological events.  No extraterrestrial death star is needed; the ingredients of punishment are ready to hand here on earth.

It is therefore not contradictory to the words of the Bible nor to Christian tradition to point out that the work of prideful, hubristic human beings is bringing about drastic alterations in the climate and other aspects of our earthly environment that will circle round and attack us from the rear.  There is no reason to believe that such alterations are inconsistent with God’s record in punishing human pride in times past, and no reason to believe that He will spare us from such disasters today or in the near future.  There is no reason to believe that God will not punish us for our money-greed, our consumer-materialism, and our profligate waste of the natural resources He has given us.  Those who think otherwise, those who are fond of quoting the pre-lapsarian verse on dominion, those who think that as Americans we are immune to the consequences of our sins, are as deluded as the people of Noah’s time and as the would-be builders of the Tower of Babel.  They are also unbiblical.  There is nothing in the Bible that says the greedy will be rewarded.  Indeed, Jesus frequently castigates the rich and powerful, not to mention the hypocrites who think themselves better than others (Luke 18:11), and when He tells a rich man that he must sell all he owns and give the proceeds to the poor, and the rich man goes away dissatisfied with his answer, He concludes that “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of the needle than it is for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.”  Of course, there is no greater hypocrisy than that of a rich man who declares belief in God in order to disguise his pursuit of even greater riches and power.  Remember that the next time you hear a corporate executive or oil baron declare that global warming is a hoax and doing anything about it is against God’s will.

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