The ecology of man comes before the ecology of nature, says the pope. Vatican experts pan the Copenhagen conference on the climate. It is a "false departure." Worse, it denies the value of human life.There is a genuine Green Revolution, which fosters the care and protection of creation. But this must not be confused with a false ecological ideology that overlooks the difference of kind (not degree) between man and the subhuman rest of nature. (Yes, I know: just reading that sentence is enough to give an ecological true believer heartburn.) The effect of the leveling logic behind the great "circle-of-life" mythology found everywhere from the Copenhagen Conference on Global Warming to kids movies like The Lion King (otherwise a great movie), is actually not to elevate the subhuman (seals, whales, fauna) to the level of man created in God's image, but to subordinate the human to the subhuman. Hence "Save the seals/whales" gets media priority while the 4000 unborn human babies killed every day in abortuaries across our land gets absolutely no air time, because it's considered -- 'yawn' B-O-R-I-N-G! -- and who besides froth-at-the-mouth Fundies and Papists would have a problem with a civilized woman's right to choose anyhow? So it is thought.
Which takes me back to a book Francis A. Schaeffer wrote long ago in the seventies entitled Pollution and the Death of Man (Reprinted by Crossway, 1992), in which he presents a popular apologetic for a Christian ecology and a quite-insightful critique of the assumptions underlying the aforementioned leveling logic.
Reading again the titles of his chapters, I find it almost nostalgic that he takes his first ("What Have They Done To Our Fair Sister?") from the twenty-minute-long song by Jim Morrison and the Doors in 1967, "When the Music's Over" (from the album "Strange Days"). Our "Fair Sister," of course, is planet Earth, and as Jim Morrison sings,
What have they done to the Earth?This line of thinking attributes all of the ecological evil in the world to the totality of Western tradition, embracing everything from its aboriginal patriarchal religions of dominion over the earth (Genesis 1:28 -- "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over [it]") to the development of scientific mastery of nature. By the same token, everything that is good and ecologically sound on this view comes from primitive animism, peace-loving native peoples (Kevin Costner's Dances with Wolves, James Cameron's Avatar -- otherwise both very well-made and highly entertaining movies).
What have they done to our fair sister?
Ravaged and plundered and ripped her and bit her
Stuck her with knives in the side of the dawn
And tied her with fences
And dragged her down ...
Schaeffer also explores the generally pantheistic assumptions underlying much of the modern ecological thinking, which says that we humans are ultimately no more than the grass. After exploring other inadequate answers, Schaeffer discusses a properly Christian view, which must take into account the fallen and broken dimensions of creation, as well as the restorative dimensions of grace and renewal that bring genuine healing. One appendix in particular, by Lynn White, Jr., deals with the historical origins of the modern ecological crisis and endeavors to substantially exonerate Christianity from the sorts of accusations and insinuations made in popular culture and even academe.
[Footnote on Cameron's Avatar -- a brilliant cinematic spectacle, to be sure! However, one of the more perversely ironic moments in the film, as far as its embrace of pantheistic paganism, was when the protagonist, Jake Sully, as an Avatar, finds himself praying to a sacred tree of the Na'vi, the indigenous inhabitants of Pandora. Any mention of the Holy Name of JESUS and all of Hollywood would have broken out in hives. But a cinematic hero prays to a tree, and that's taken for venerable reverence and profound piety. O tempora o mores!]