Balancing Act

It was the first day of spring, and the sight that greeted one Maryland couple was enough to drive even a pacifist to a gun store. The Browns carefully planted eighty tulip bulbs last fall. Two days after the last winter snow melted, they went out to see how their tulips were doing. What they found were row upon row of gnawed stumps. Hungry deer had chewed up every tulip in the yard. It's a familiar complaint wherever woodland is turned into habitat for humanity. It's a recipe also for a battle between the environmentalists and officials -- or sometimes a recipe for venison. The controversy continues to rage in Maryland. Some say we should let hunters deal with the problem. Others insist the real problem is people. They view the great outdoors as a pure, harmonious place where nature, including all those cute animals, would be much better off if humans would just get lost. But should we really put the welfare of Bambi and Thumper ahead of human welfare? How you answer that question depends on whether you think that nature is meant for man, or man for nature. As theologian Michael Novak writes in National Review, humans "are made by their unique endowment of liberty to be provident over their destiny." One important way to exercise this providence is to take care of our habitat. But those who attempt to do so often find themselves up against environmental militants who seek to elevate nature above humanity. They see nature -- the pristine mountains, waterfalls, lakes, and forests -- as a sublime, purer order that rebukes the order man has made, Novak writes. The fact that nature has through most of human history exercised cruel, killing dominion over man has been repressed. Nature is now viewed, implausibly, as simply beneficent. This, Novak says, "is the great psychic drama being played out in the modern environmental movement. Mythic elements of great power are involved in it." This means that Christians must proceed cautiously when it comes to the claims of the professional environmentalists. Many of the "underlying arguments are not about policy only, but about quasi-religious visions of the pure, the good, and the nurturing." These visions are dangerous, because they diminish the value of humanity. A case in point: Environmentalist Carol Christ says, "We [humans] are no more valuable to the life of the universe than a field [of flowers]." And some radical types advocate killing humans to make more space for other species. By contrast, the Scriptures give us a high view of nature without sacrificing a high view of human life. Genesis teaches that we are created in God's image -- and that we are charged with caring for the rest of God's creation. Sadly, many Christians tend to forget the stewardship part. If we want to turn over a new leaf, we must seek out the most accurate, non-politicized information about environmental problems. Then we must get behind realistic strategies to solve them. So the next time you catch deer chomping on your tulips, the answer is not to start looking for a gun, but for solutions -- solutions that recognize both a high view of humanity and the biblical injunction to care for God's good creation. For further reading and information: Michael Novak, "Blue Is True," National Review, 10 March 2003 (as posted on American Enterprise Institute's website).
  1. A. Miller, "Too many deer," Washington Times, 8 December 2002.
Michael B. Barkey, ed., "Environmental Stewardship in the Judeo-Christian Tradition: Jewish, Catholic, and Protestant Wisdom on the Environment," Acton Institute, 17 April 2000. Mark Hartwig, "Earth Day Got You Down?", Boundless, 19 April 2001. Pete Letheby, "Religion, ecology flowing in the same current," Grand Island Independent, 28 March 2003. Roy Maynard, "It isn't easy being green," World, 11/18 May 1996 (free registration required).


Chuck Colson



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