For the past two weeks, my life has been consumed by #PlantGate — the name the internet bestowed upon furor surrounding a chapel service at Union Theological Seminary, where I work.
In the service, participants were encouraged to speak directly to plants and confess the harm we have caused the natural world, our ingratitude for its bounteous gifts. A tweet summarizing the chapel quickly went viral: We were called idolaters, pagans and just plain crazy. Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, devoted an entire 25-minute podcast to decrying our “heresy.”
Within days, dozens of conservative outlets wrote hit pieces, including Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, InfoWars and Breitbart. While the service has been endlessly rehashed online — and I have little interest in repeating breathlessly that we were not, in fact, worshipping plants — I’ve found myself ruminating about why this particular service caused such an uproar. I think the answer helps explain one reason it’s so difficult to make progress in responding to climate change.
Twitter responses often returned to a common theme: As one representative tweet put it, “My relationship to plants is that I have dominion over them and can use them in any way that benefits the crowning glory of God’s creation, mankind.”
Now, obviously, this is nothing new. For centuries, strains of Christianity have propagated the notion that God created the natural world for humanity’s use, often citing the first chapter of the Bible’s Book of Genesis: “God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.’”
Christians have erroneously used this verse to argue that it is our divine right to dominate and subdue the natural world. This belief is inextricably tied to a cosmology that sees human beings as the apotheosis of creation, and understands other life solely in relation to ourselves. Evangelicals’ outrage about Union’s plant chapel was so vociferous precisely because they correctly identified the Rev. Cláudio Carvalhaes’ rationale behind the service — treating plants as divinely created beings.
It would be a mistake, however, to understand this conflict as solely an intra-Christian struggle. The truth is, plenty of folks who don’t identify as Christians still believe it is our right as humans to dominate the natural world.
Even environmentalists’ defense is often anthropocentric. Folks argue that we must change in order to save our society, because sea-level rise threatens cities, or to preserve natural parks for human enjoyment. While these sentiments are understandable — and more virtuous than ignoring this reality — they still reinforce a worldview that understands nature first and foremost as a function of what it provides humanity.
Our refusal to see the natural world as holy and sacred in its own right — worthy of honor, dignity and respect — is at the heart of our ecological abuse. Portraying the Earth as a collection of resources to be consumed is a pernicious lie, and one that must be uprooted if we want to heal.
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Source: Religion News Service