Why We Don’t and How We Can Care for Creation (Reason # 7): We have a right to do what we want!
Why we don’t care for creation. We have a foundational belief in the United States in the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. We have a desire to get government out of our private and public lives so that we have maximum rights to pursue our lives as we want. This guarantee of freedom is a hallmark of our society.
We also believe that we should have freedom with responsibility. There is a strong value to look out for others. And our laws set limits on us to provide consequences when our behavior brings certain kinds of harm to others.
However, this is not the whole story. Often it is the case that people believe they are being moral by choosing what they have a right to do. We know the question: Why do you do that? And we know the answer: Because I can! We think that if we have a right to do it, then that makes it right. For example:
· I worked hard all my life for my money and if I want to turn my air conditioning down to 66 and my heat up to 75, I’ll do it.
· This is my property and these are my trees. I have a right to cut them down if I want to.
· That stream runs through my property. If I want to divert it for my use, I’ll do it.
· This is my yard. If I want to use herbicides and pesticides to get rid of weeds, I will do it.
Such attitudes make it almost impossible to make collective decisions for the common good—to protect our environment, to preserve our fresh water, to lower carbon emissions, to prevent toxins in the run-offs to our waterways, and much more.
How we can care for creation? (By changing our attitudes). We can learn from the Bible that we are to do what is right not what is our right. Consider St. Paul.
The Apostle Paul understood this as a way to address the problems in his churches. He championed freedom—but he had a different approach.
· “For freedom Christ has set us free. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for evil,” he told the Galatians.
· To the Corinthians, he said, “Everything is permitted [in principle]. Yet not everything builds up [the community].
· In Corinth, when some felt free to eat meat offered to idols (which Paul permitted), others would never eat meat offered to idols and were offended by those who did. So Paul told those who ate meat that had been offered to idols to stop doing it, because they were offending their brothers. Paul himself said, “I would never eat if it harmed a brother.
· Paul understood that he had a right to receive remuneration for his apostolic work, as other apostles did. However, he chose to support himself and he refused to take money. He did this for the sake of the gospel, because he wanted people to know that the gospel was free.
· Paul would often refuse to use his power as an apostle when he could have. He writes to Philemon, not as an apostle but as an old man who is in chains. He writes: “I have enough boldness to command you to do the appropriate thing, but I would rather appeal to you on the basis of love.”
· Philemon had a right and expectation in the society to hold slaves. One-third of people in the Roman Empire were slaves. Yet Paul asks Philemon to relinquish that right and free his slave Onesimus—so that he can be “aware of every good deed possible among us for Christ’s sake.”
Can we change our understanding so that we do the right thing rather than doing everything we have a right to do?
How we can care for creation? (by changing our behavior)
It is interesting that much of the New Testament enjoins behavior that is counter intuitive—just the opposite of what we think is our right according to legal privileges and the conventional wisdom of our society. Consider these sayings:
· Love your enemies.
· Do not resist one who is evil.
· Do not return evil for evil. Return a blessing.
· Whoever wants to be great among you will be least of all.
· Sell your possessions and give alms to the poor.
· Whoever wants to be most important is to be everyone’s slave.
· Whoever has done a good deed for those in prison, the hungry, the naked, has done it to me.
· Whoever wants to save their life will lose it; whoever will lose their life for me and the good news will save it.
Can we change our behavior also toward all creation so that we hear both the cry of the poor and vulnerable and also hear the cry of Earth? Can we live in a way that is contrary to conventional wisdom? Can we live in a way that truly cares for creation? Such as:
· Drastically limit our use of energy for the common good
· Stop participating in the consumer culture
· Eat local organic food low on the food chain
· Refuse to use toxic products in the house or garden
· Buy Fair Trade products even when they cost more.
· You can go on from here!
We have a right not to do these things. But will we choose otherwise—as a matter of Christian commitment and spiritual discipline for the sake of the common good?