Are Christians More Committed to Caring for the Environment?

There as a recent conversation on Andrew Sullivan’s blog about atheists, Christians and the environment that caught my attention and I think a response is in order.

The instigator for the discussion was a statement by the Pope that centered around Christians and the environment. His address had this curious statement:

Is it not true that inconsiderate use of creation begins where God is marginalized or also where His existence is denied? If the human creature’s relationship with the Creator weakens, matter is reduced to egoistic possession, man becomes the “final authority,” and the objective of existence is reduced to a feverish race to possess the most possible.

The implication is that somehow atheists are prone to ravage the earth while Christians are rooted in a creatureliness that lends itself to a responsible relationship with the environment.

There was some interesting back and forth at the Daily Dish in response to this. With one person reporting that they’d never met an atheist that wasn’t concerned for the environment and another suggesting that indeed those lower class Europeans are more atheistic and less environmentally aware. I can’t speak to the situation in Europe but in America we actually do have more than anecdotes to rely on in understanding the relationship of faith and the environment.

According to a study reported in the book Unchristian, the actual lifestyle differences between people identifying as “born-again Christians” and those who are "non-born Again Christians" do not are minimal, but surprisingly “recycling was less common among born-again Christians (68 percent versus 79 percent)” - page 47.

A recent pew study on religion and American life states that;

“Although a majority of every major religious group in the United States supports stricter environmental measures, there are some differences in degree. For instance, only slim majorities of members of evangelical and historically black Protestant churches (54% and 52%, respectively) support the imposition of stricter environmental laws. Members of non-Christian faiths, by contrast, are much more likely to believe that stricter environmental regulations are worth the economic costs. More than two-thirds of Jews (77%), Buddhists (75%), Hindus (67%), Muslims (69%) and the unaffiliated (69%) support stricter environmental laws. Further, more than seven in ten atheists (75%), agnostics (78%) and the secular unaffiliated (72%) say stricter environmental laws are worth the cost, with somewhat lower levels of support for environmental regulation found among the religious unaffiliated (59%).” page 104 of linked article

As a Presbyterian pastor with evangelical roots, I am sorry to report that Christians in America aren’t the exemplars the pope makes us out to be. I agree that the church and people of faith should be leading the way when it comes to concern for issues of sustainability and the environment, but it just hasn’t been the case. This reality is one of my motivating factors for writing this blog.

If anyone is interested in exploring more of the connections between faith, food and sustainability I’ll be teaching a class next week through the eministry network called”The Kingdom of God is Like a Farmer’s Market: Exploring the Intersections of Food, Faith and Justice.” Go here and scroll down for the class info.