Religious Studies

Christianity: beliefs about care of the planet

The relationship between human beings and the earth is increasingly complicated and urgent. Every day there are stories about pollution, global warming and animal species facing extinction. Religion is responding with views on the environment and our responsibility for it.

Christian belief about the environment

Although human beings are seen as the most intelligent life form on earth, they are responsible for almost all the damage done to the planet. If we imagined the earth is aged 46, all the damage done has taken place in the last 60 seconds of the earth's life.

Christians say in the Apostles’ Creed:

I believe in one God, the Father, the almighty, maker of heaven and earth.

Christian teaching about caring for the environment comes from the Bible:

Then God said, 'Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.'… God blessed them and said to them, 'Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.'

Genesis 1:26 and 28

Some Christians have interpreted this story as giving people the right to exploit the environment. However, most people see themselves as being responsible for the world created by God and they have to make their own decisions about how to do this.

The Bible has very little else specific to say about the environment, but it explains the principles of stewardship (responsibility) for God’s creation:

In the Old Testament the Jews were told to rest the land once every 50 years so that it would produce more in the future (Leviticus 25:8-11). They were also ordered not to destroy trees when they were attacking a city:

When you lay siege to a city for a long time, fighting against it to capture it, do not destroy its trees by putting an axe to them, because you can eat their fruit. Do not cut them down. Are the trees of the field people, that you should besiege them?

Deuteronomy 20:19

God's earth

It is clear that the earth still belongs to God not to humans:

The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.

Psalm 24:1

In the New Testament Jesus stresses God’s concern for life:

Consider how the lilies grow. They do not labour or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendour was dressed like one of these.

Luke 12:27-28

Many Christians do celebrate the environment by holding harvest festivals each year when they thank God for the harvest.

Contemporary views

The Christian church has recently become more concerned about the environment. The Roman Catholic church made a statement about it in 1988:

The earth and all life on it is a gift from God given us to share and develop, not to dominate and exploit. Our actions have consequences for the rights of others and for the resources of the earth. The goods of the earth and the beauties of nature are to be enjoyed and celebrated as well as consumed. We have the responsibility to create a balanced policy between consumption and conservation. We must consider the welfare of future generations in our planning for and utilisation of the earth’s resources.

The World Council of Churches said:

The dignity of nature as creation needs to be bound up with our responsibility for the preservation of life.

The Declaration on Nature, Assisi, (1986) said:

Christians repudiate all ill-considered exploitation of nature which threatens to destroy it and, in turn, to make man the victim of degradation.

Pope Benedict XV1, 2007, said:

Care of water resources and attention to climate change are matters of grave importance for the entire human family.

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