The Bible, Religion, and the Environment

Authored by: Ronald A. Simkins

Routledge Handbook of Environmental Anthropology

Print publication date:  August  2016
Online publication date:  August  2016

Print ISBN: 9781138782877
eBook ISBN: 9781315768946
Adobe ISBN: 9781317667964

10.4324/9781315768946.ch12

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Abstract

The Bible and religion have played an important role in contemporary discussion about the environment since the mid-1960s. In 1967, when Lynn White, Jr, in a brief yet seminal essay, “The Historic Roots of our Ecologic Crisis,” traced the origins of modern Western science and technology to the medieval Christian worldview that was inspired by the biblical cosmology, he transformed the environmental crisis into a religious problem, with Western Christianity and the Bible bearing a huge burden of guilt. According to White, the biblical religion, with its idea of linear history and perpetual progress, robbed the natural world of its enchantment. Nature was transformed from a subject to be revered to an object to be used. White says (1967: 1205), “By destroying pagan animism, Christianity made it possible to exploit nature in a mood of indifference to the feelings of natural objects.” Moreover, the biblical cosmology, in which humans are created in the image of God and given dominion over nature, separated humans from nature, enabling humans to share, in part, God’s transcendence. From this cosmology, Western Christianity emerged as “the most anthropocentric religion the world has seen” (White 1967: 1205). Because, as White argued, modern science and technology developed out of and shared the axioms of this Christian matrix, the environmental crisis cannot be addressed simply with more science and technology. Instead, the problem is with religion: “What people do about their ecology depends on what they think about themselves in relation to things around them. Human ecology is deeply conditioned by beliefs about our nature and destiny—that is, by religion.” (White 1967: 1205).

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