“Prior to the emergence of the modern environmental movement in the 1960s,” writes Mercer University professor and Christian ethicist David Gushee, “Western Christianity had lost touch with the resources for a creation care ethic that were present within the Bible and scattered in our theological tradition.”
In an excellent piece in the Fall 2010 edition of Flourish magazine (excerpted from his book, Keeping God’s Earth: The Global Environment in Biblical Perspective) Gushee writes:
We did not preach, teach, or practice “creation care” because we recognized neither the contemporary need to do so nor the demands of our faith that required it. Of course there were exceptions, but these were few and far between. Western Christians joined Western culture in its unthinking drive toward modern industrial capitalism and the good life as defined by its technological advances. This is a cautionary tale in Christian cultural captivity.
Gushee explores the theocentric, anthropocentric, and biocentric approaches to developing a Christian theological-ethical posture adequate to address deepening environmental problems. He then discusses at length the emerging sanctity-of-human life ethic and its strengths and weakness in developing a justification for creation care.
In late twentieth-century Christian ethics, a central moral norm emerged: the “sanctity of human life.” The impetus for the articulation of this moral norm in much of the Western world in the 1970s was the full legalization of abortion and, secondarily, the reality or possibility of the legalization of assisted suicide. Even today the term is often used, either by its advocates or its foes, as applying primarily to those two issues. The working definition I have developed for the sanctity of human life has come to be articulated as follows:
“The sanctity of life is the conviction that all human beings, at any and every stage of life, in any and every state of consciousness or self-awareness, of any and every race, color, ethnicity, level of intelligence, religion, language, nationality, gender, character, behavior, physical ability/disability, sexual orientation, potential, class, social status, etc., of any and every particular quality of relationship to the viewing subject, are to be perceived as sacred, as persons of equal and immeasurable worth and of inviolable dignity. Therefore they must be treated with the reverence and respect commensurate with this elevated moral status, beginning with a commitment to the preservation, protection, and flourishing of their lives.”
What makes creaturely life sacred is God’s relation to it, not any particular characteristic we might claim for ourselves or any other creature. Radical theocentrism therefore overrides chauvinistic human speciesism. All creatures bow before the majestic Creator who alone gives them value. In this way, a reframed sanctity of life ethic pulls together all of the themes we have been considering. It is simultaneously biocentric and anthropocentric because it is so deeply theocentric.
If you’re serious about the call of God on Christians to care for His creation, settle in and read the whole article at Flourish. It’s well worth your time.