“Green Guilt” is the title of an article published last month (Jan 10th) by The Chronicle Review and written by Stephen T. Asma, a professor of philosophy at Columbia College Chicago.
The premise of the article is that humanity has a “natural propensity toward guilt and indignation.” Throughout history, this guilt over “our very existence” was challenged into aggression with each other. When that was not possible, due to social and religious rules, we “engage in a kind of self-denial, or self-cruelty.”
You can see our veiled value system better if you contrast it with the one that preceded Christianity. For the pagans, honor and pride were valued, but for the Christians it is meekness and humility; for the pagans it was public shame, for Christians, private guilt; for pagans there was a celebration of hierarchy, with superior and inferior people, but for Christians there is egalitarianism; and for pagans there was more emphasis on justice, while for Christians there is emphasis on mercy (turning the other cheek). Underneath all these values, according to Nietzsche, is a kind of psychology—one dominated by resentment and guilt.
With the decline of Christianity in the West, something had to rise up and take over the role of directing our “feelings of guilt and indignation”:
Environmentalism, as a substitute for religion, has come to the rescue. Nietzsche’s argument about an ideal God and guilt can be replicated in a new form: We need a belief in a pristine environment because we need to be cruel to ourselves as inferior beings, and we need that because we have these aggressive instincts that cannot be let out.
Instead of religious sins plaguing our conscience, we now have the transgressions of leaving the water running, leaving the lights on, failing to recycle, and using plastic grocery bags instead of paper. In addition, the righteous pleasures of being more orthodox than your neighbor (in this case being more green) can still be had—the new heresies include failure to compost, or refusal to go organic. Vitriol that used to be reserved for Satan can now be discharged against evil corporate chief executives and drivers of gas-guzzling vehicles. Apocalyptic fear-mongering previously took the shape of repent or burn in hell, but now it is recycle or burn in the ozone hole. In fact, it is interesting the way environmentalism takes on the apocalyptic aspects of the traditional religious narrative. The idea that the end is nigh is quite central to traditional Christianity—it is a jolting wake-up call to get on the righteous path. And we find many environmentalists in a similarly earnest panic about climate change and global warming. There are also high priests of the new religion, with Al Gore (“the Goracle”) playing an especially prophetic role.
Now that you have the jest of the article, here a few of my thoughts:
1… Environmentalism – I first heard about this article through Dr. Albert Mohler’s radio program. During this program, Mohler, who is the president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, went on the offensiveness against anyone who supports taking care of the earth. For him, and a lot of Believers, to be a Christian means saving souls. Period.
This is where I disagree with Dr. Mohler.
The more I read the Bible, the more I see God’s heart for all of creation – animals, plants, earth, and humanity. This does NOT mean that animals and plants are equal with humanity – by no means! Humanity was made in the image of God with a purpose: to tend the garden – to be a steward of the earth and everything in it.
As such, I believe that we should care about “leaving the water running, leaving the lights on, failing to recycle, and using plastic grocery bags instead of paper.” I will even go as far as to stay that if we don’t care about these things, we are in effect, being very selfish and greedy – both of which are considered sins in the Bible.
2… Guilt – Yes, humanity has a bent towards guilt. It is a result of sin and the fallen state of humanity. Jesus came to destroy sin, death and all its effects – including guilt.
As Slaves and Followers of the One True God – the Creator of Heaven and Earth – we should be the most guiltless people on the planet. Paul told the church that “everything is permissible—but not everything is beneficial. Everything is permissible—but not everything is constructive”. (1 Corinthians 10:23)
In other words, we should not be the guilt ridden folks that we are. We have the freedom of Christ!! It is not about reading your Bible, praying, going to church, doing good deeds! Yes, those are good things – but they are to be done out of a heart of service; out of love for Jesus.
Not guilt. Not fear. Not manipulation.
Love that leads to joining Him in His mission of redeeming His creation for His glory and His honor.
If there was one sin that the church as a whole needs to repent, this would be it. We have followed the wrong voice into a pit of despair – laying aside the freedom of Christ for the chains of guilt.