Green Guilt

“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.

My Thoughts

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.

0 thoughts on “Green Guilt”

  1. I was thinking about some of these concepts yesterday – in relation to the paper I’m writing on “Avatar.” I was thinking about how Pandora represents the world we long for – where we are connected to nature and each other, a paradise that is not corrupted. This is something we should be longing for – and working for, as much as possible.

    It does seem like some extreme forms of environmentalism do become like a religion for people. I thought some of the things the article was saying can be true – there is almost a religious fervor in environmentalism for some people. I was thinking about what differentiates that extreme form from a good, healthy form. I think it is when our entire hope is placed on us bringing about that paradise through our efforts. There is the idea that we can create a perfect world through recycling, etc. But even if we were all to do all those things, the world would still be broken, and we would still be sinful, and we couldn’t achieve the paradise we long for.

    Not that we shouldn’t still work toward that paradise – but with the recognition that only God can fully bring it about. I was thinking about Paul asking if we should keep on sinning since we are saved by grace (Rom. 6:1). Likewise, just because we can’t bring about paradise on earth, should we not be doing what we can to work toward it? But the motivation is different – it’s not that through trying hard enough we can bring it about, but that we are responding in hope to his promise of a future new earth and desiring to participate in his work.

    The writer of the article seemed to see religion just through the lens of guilt – that we have to work harder to save ourselves. Whereas the real message is that God is doing the saving and we are responding.

  2. Agreed.

    BTW – in theological terminology, you are describing a type of “inaugurated amillenial/historical-premillenial eschatology”. Or, in other words, humanity is to live on earth as if the “new” heavens and earth were already here (inaugurated). Since it is God who is bring about this change and not humanity, it would not be a postmillennial eschatology, but amillenial or historical-premillenial eschatology (dispensational-premillenial eschatology by definition does not promote the inaugurated nature of the Kingdom of God).

    In addition, I would argue that not are we to join God in redeeming His Creation now, but in the future there will be an event that will culminate in the redemption of all of creation, allowing God to walk among His people as promised (i.e. apocalyptic eschatology).

    Or, if you want a one liner: “inaugurated apocalyptic amillenial/historical-premillenial eschatology”


  3. Ah – now I know the terms for it. But we’re supposed to live “as if the new heavens and earth are already here?” How is that possible? It seems like we have to recognize that we still live in a fallen world.

    I would agree with you that there will be a future event that will bring about the redemption of creation. Right now, we can work to be closer to that ideal, instead of farther, but it can’t fully happen now.

  4. =) ah. you have hit upon the focal point of the ‘here-and-not-yet”. Inaugurated eschatology states that the Day of the Lord had happened in the person and ministry of Jesus. However, we are still waiting for the fullness of the Kingdom to come. As such, we are currently living between the ages where we have access to the Age to Come while still living in the Present Evil Age.

    A practical example would be praying for the sick. Sometimes God heals the person – which is a mark of the future age – and sometimes He doesn’t – a mark of the present evil age.

    Another example would be the Holy Spirit. The prophets said that when the End comes, God would pour out His Spirit upon the people (Joel). Acts 2 details this “end time” event where the Age to Come has broken into the present age.

    I could go on…but I don’t have room.

    BTW – other eschatology views include:

    a) “realized eschatology” – everything in the Age to Come has come into the present age. There is no more waiting – we just have to “live it” and have “faith”. Variations of this can be found in Pentecostalism and the Prosperity churches.

    b) “delayed eschatology” – I would say that this is the most common among churches today (even though most scholars would agree with inaugurated eschatology). This view states that we are waiting for the Kingdom to come. All the church can do today is bunker down, try to save souls and wait for the end to come.

    Note, of course, there are different levels of beliefs within each of these categories – but those are the main ones.

    oh – btw, you might be interested in knowing that the term “inaugurated eschatology” was coined by N.T. Wright, an Anglican Bishop and theologian. =)

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