Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Pantheism vs. Environmentalism

The movie Avatar got a lot of attention as a film. Obviously, much of the attention came as a result of its cutting-edge 3D technology and its financial dominance as the highest grossing film of all time. However, many Christian groups expressed concern over its pagan message www.movieguide.com But, the real question in my mind is: “Does any of this really matter?”

I think it does. It does to the degree that we can discern the line where responsible environmentalism ends and pantheism begins.

In Genesis 1:26, we read:

Then God said, “Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us. They will reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, the livestock, all the wild animals on the earth, and the small animals that scurry along the ground.”

Therefore, implicit in the creation of humanity was the clarification of our purpose. God has given us a role. We are to rule/care for creation in a way that honors and respects the one who created it. John Stott, a highly regarded evangelical scholar, wrote about conservation long before it was “hip” to do so.

If we think of the earth as a kingdom, then we are not kings ruling our own territory, but viceroys ruling it on the king’s behalf, since the king has not abdicated his thrown. Or if we think of the earth as a country estate, then we are not the landowners, but the bailiffs who manage and farm it on the owner’s behalf. God makes us, in the most literal sense, ‘caretakers’ of his property.

John Stott, Involvement: Being a Responsible Christian in a Non-Christian Society

Therefore, being “environmentalists” in the original way the word was defined, actually best reflects what is asked of us in the creation mandate. According to Webster’s Dictionary, here is the definition of Environmentalism.

Advocacy of the preservation, restoration, or improvement of the natural environment; especially: the movement to control pollution.

Now, there are those that want to make the word mean a lot more than that, but I am not ready to give the word away. I think what is often promoted as “extreme” environmentalism is actually pantheism revisited.

What is pantheism? Here is what we read on the World Pantheism website:

Are you searching for a path that focuses on this Earth rather than some imaginary beyond, that makes saving the planet its focus not saving your eternal soul, that respects individual choice rather than pushing prejudice down people's throats, that values reason rather than fanaticism?

Do you find it impossible to believe in supernatural beings, and difficult to conceive of anything more worthy of reverence than the beauty of Nature or the power of the Universe?

Do you feel a deep sense of peace and belonging and wonder in the midst of Nature, in a forest, by the ocean, or on a mountain top? Are you speechless with awe when you look up at the sky on a clear moonless night and see the Milky Way strewn with stars as thick as sand on a beach? When you see breakers crashing on a rocky shore, or hear wind rustling in a poplar's leaves, are you uplifted by the energy and creativity of existence?

If you answered yes to these questions, then you will feel thoroughly at home in the World Pantheist Movement.


Interestingly enough, CS. Lewis (that great Christian apologist) thought that pantheism was more corrosive to Christianity than atheism. And anyone who is paying attention understands that it is a movement that is regaining momentum – certainly with the Hollywood elite.

My own sense of this is that perhaps part of the reason that pantheism is gaining a fresh hearing is because we have fallen short on our own commitment to responsible environmentalism – which is certainly promoted and assumed by what we read in Genesis 1:26. Therefore, as serious students of scripture we only have ourselves to blame if some other group takes up the banner that we were given (and misapplies it in a way that undermines our own faith).

Therefore, instead of being wholesale critiques of what is being proposed, perhaps we can link arms, get creative, and be leaders in a way that champions the cause as God meant for it to be understood.

May the Lord help us to do that together!

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