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“Phony Theology”

For environmentalists, the long campaign leading up to our Presidential election has been a wasteland. There has been no serious discussion, by Democrats or Republicans, of whether and how America can reduce its very large carbon footprint on the world. Candidates have attacked each other as less able to grow the economy, without questioning the assumption that expanding the Gross National Product is the gold standard for evaluating a President’s domestic success.

Climate scientists, on the other hand, tell us that our climate is changing dangerously because heat-retaining greenhouse gases have increased in the earth’s atmosphere. Most accept that the increases are due primarily to human activities, especially mining long-buried coal and other hydrocarbons and burning them. Objective observers emphasize that the planet is getting warmer quickly, and most agree that increased greenhouse gases are a cause. Economists know that free markets can diminish consumption of a commodity, such as oil, whose use has “externalities” (bad side effects), by means of increasing its price. But there is no political muscle behind doing that; the dialogue is still about lowering the price of gasoline rather than about discouraging consumption, as indicated in a  New York Times headline of February 19, 2012, “High Gas Prices Give G.O.P. An Issue to Attack Obama.”

Rick Santorum, a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, has recently taken the discussion beyond ignoring the environmental impacts of federal government policies. Santorum has publicly claimed that the Obama Administration promotes “radical environmentalists” who believe that “man is here to serve the Earth” which Santorum characterized as “phony theology.” Santorum detailed his beliefs in a national news show as follows: “The earth is not the objective. Man is the objective, and I think that a lot of radical environmentalists have it upside down.” I took him to mean that man can somehow get by without a healthy planet.

I acknowledge that I have met adults who believed that the earth would end within their lifetimes, and that the only really important issue was salvation. For those of us who expect that our physical world will be around for millions of years, Santorum’s splitting man from the Earth doesn’t make sense. We are biological creatures who need air, water and food, all of which depend on a healthy biosphere. It seems like a no-brainer that degrading the earth degrades man, but there are obviously influential people who disagree with that link.

I asked my minister, Unitarian Universalist Reverend Daniel Kanter,for his reaction to Santorum’s “phony theology” viewpoint, and Dr. Kanter responded:

“Is man here to serve the earth, or earth here to serve man?  This is the question that Santorum raised about President Obama’s tendency to support the former. I assume he is setting up the contrast by supporting the latter statement. I am guessing Santorum is trying to make a reference to the biblical language in Genesis that says, “Man shall have dominion over the earth.”(Gen. 1:26) What ‘dominion’ means is the question. Often it is interpreted as control or the right to its resources.

“I would say one’s interpretation has more to do with one’s understanding of the concept of ‘rule.’ In some translations the bible says, “Man shall rule over all the earth.” If humanity is to ‘rule’ over the earth then the question is how should humanity rule. With all the stories of mistakes the royalty make in their heavy handed rule over their kingdoms in the bible, Rick Santorum might want to read a little deeper.

“And more than Santorum’s environmental policy, what might be on display here is his understanding of ‘rule’ itself. But setting that aside, I would hope our leaders have a sense of ‘fair rule’ over the earth which means that stewardship of resources is the highest value. If we are stewards in our ‘ruling over all the earth’ we are caring for it in sustainable ways for generations to come rather than promoting short term gains that put the earth’s resources in jeopardy.”

Even if Santorum is correct that “The earth is here to serve man,”  degrading earth’s natural systems that man depends on for life by his excessive, unwise consumption doesn’t make sense.


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