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Our future, our universe, and other weighty topics

Saturday, October 12, 2013

A Biblical Precept to Fight Global Warming?

A Biblical Precept to Fight Global Warming?
This week there was a report that raised further concerns about global warming. A study found that by 2047 the average country will experience temperatures every year as hot as the hottest previous year on record. For some countries, this will happen as early as 2020. 

There is abundant scientific evidence showing that man-made global warming is a very grave problem. But a large fraction of the people in the US population aren't scientifically literate. Many such people are a lot more comfortable reading the Bible than reading the latest daily update from www.sciencedaily.com.

But what if we could find some passage in the Bible that helps with the fight against global warming? That might help. It would do nothing to persuade non-believers to reduce their carbon footprints, but it might help persuade the orthodox to adopt a more green, low-carbon, planet-friendly lifestyle.

So let's look for such a passage, starting with the New Testament.

For this purpose we must ignore all passages relating to eschatology or theology, as there is no reason why any such passages would cause anyone to do something such as refrain from buying an SUV or buy a smaller house that uses less energy. The passages we should look for are those that relate to morality or lifestyle.

What about the famous adage: do unto others as you would have them do unto you? This was stated in Matthew 7:12 as, “Therefore all things whatsoever would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them.” This precept is known as the Golden Rule, and is found in one form or another in the writings of several different religions.

Interpreted deeply and with foresight, this moral rule would lead us to adapt a lifestyle that helps reduce global warming. We would anticipate that living an extravagant lifestyle helps increase global warming, which will eventually cause great harm to our fellow man; so if we want to do unto others as we would have them do unto us, we should live with a lower carbon footprint. After all, if everyone were to live like extravagant jet-setting millionaires with 4000 square foot houses, the global warming problem would get much, much worse.

However, because there is not a very simple and easy to understand relation between living a carbon-intensive lifestyle and violating the Golden Rule, a passage such as Matthew 7:12 isn't really what we are looking for, which is a nice simple passage that will help people to live with a lower carbon footprint.

But there is such a passage in the Bible. In fact, there's one passage in the New Testament, and another in the Old Testament.

The New Testament passage is a statement by Jesus that is deeply antithetical to the typical assumptions of the average American. The passage is Matthew 19:24, where Jesus says, “And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.”

This statement is, of course, directly opposed to the thinking of the average US citizen, who tends to believe that the most important thing in life is to get rich.

What are the global warming implications of Matthew 19:24? If people followed it, we would not endure a stressful lifelong rat race struggling to end up in life with a big house with two big gas-guzzling cars in the garage. We would instead be happy living ecologically friendly, low carbon, middle class lives, driving small cars, and living in small homes or modest apartments. We would be like the happy green-living person shown below.

poor but happy

So Matthew 19:24 will serve as a good New Testament precept that helps fight global warming. But what about the Old Testament? Can we find such a passage there?

As it happens, there is in the Old Testament a nice passage that can be quoted to help fight global warming. It is an old precept that almost none of us have followed, and almost all of us have forgotten about if we ever learned it.

The passage is Exodus 20:17, part of the Ten Commandments. In the King James Bible, it is stated as follows (I'll use the American spelling of 'neighbor'):

Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbor's.

The part about coveting your neighbor's wife is not relevant to global warming, nor is the archaic part about manservants, oxes, and asses. So we can abridge this passage and state it as follows:

Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's house … nor any thing that is thy neighbor's.

Now this is one heck of a potent precept to help fight global warming.

Think of it. Our high-carbon consumption choices seem to largely derive from coveting (that is, envying) the possessions of our fellow consumers. You see on television that somebody else has got some slick new car or fancy gadget, and you feel envy, thinking to yourself: I've got to have that too. You hear or see that one of your friends or relatives has acquired some big house with 2500 square feet or more, and you say to yourself: I've got to have a house like that. They used to call this “keeping up with the Joneses,” but it's all about coveting the house or possessions of your neighbor.

But imagine if you were to follow the biblical precept: “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's house … nor any thing that is thy neighbor's.” Then you would be perfectly happy living in some small little house or apartment with a much lower carbon footprint. You would also not feel envy at all when your Facebook friend posted an update that included a picture of his big new gas-guzzling car. You would say to yourself, “I'm perfectly happy taking the subway,” or “I'm perfectly happy riding a bike,” or “I'm perfectly happy driving that tiny little car of mine.”

So remember that owning big houses and big cars may be part of the unofficial American credo, but the Bible suggests a different lifestyle.