Somewhere around second grade I became a confirmed environmentalist. It was near the heyday of environmentalist propaganda films, movies like, Say Goodbye (1971), Bless the Beasts and the Children (1971), and The Lorax (1972) movies I was to see repeatedly throughout my elementary school career; and they had a profound impact me.
Still emblazoned in my mind is the scene in Say Goodbye of the last of a remaining colony of black-tailed prairie dogs being systematically blown to smithereens by some ranchers. Here is a cute little prairie dog, sitting on it's haunches with his buddies, greeting them with a little prairie dog kiss – then BOOM! The little rodent was gone, vanished in a cloud of blood and flesh. Traumatic to say the least; little girls were crying, and my lip was quivering. Or the scene in Dr. Suess's The Lorax where the last remaining Truffula Tree is given to the child in hopes that someday the forests will return. Of course, I know now this was a really bad idea; to take the last remaining seed of a species and hand it to a child? What exactly would a child do with that seed; leave it in his box of legos? What kind of conservation effort is that? Not to mention it would be virtually impossible to grow an entire forest from a single seed, and that forest would be horribly prone to disease and genetic inbreeding. But I digress. At the time, I wanted to be that child.
After being a leftist and agnostic for some years I converted to Christianity in college. It wasn't one of those gradual 'started-going-to-church-and-eventually-saw-the-sense-of-it' sort of conversions, but rather a 'Saul-to-Paul-knocked-off-my-horse-and-and-forced-to-recant-all-I-had-been-up-to-that-point' sort of conversions. I spent some years after searching, discussing, debating, reading and praying about how my former ways of thinking meshed or didn't mesh, as it were, with Scripture and Christian thought. Come to think of it, I am still doing that. There have been many 'ah-ha' moments, and, I must say, a few disappointments. One of those disappointments was the general consensus of Christians at the time about environmentalism. For the most part it was poo-poohed as a secular idea meant to place the love for this this world over the value of the next. I also heard of course, as is common in evangelical circles, the invective that the earth is passing away, and trying to save it would not only be futile, but would also take time away from our real mission, which is to partake with Christ in the salvation of humans.
Quite obviously, both of these are true, though I was always faced with the niggling thought that I still keep my house clean, despite the fact that it too will someday 'pass away'. Ok, an honest confession here – previous roommates, and my wife will point out to me here that in reality, I am slob, and am not all that inclined to keep a house, or room, or desk 'clean', despite any desire I think I have for clean water or air; but I would counter that I have become better at that, thanks primarily to the cruel tutelage of my spouse.
Nonetheless, early on in my searching, I found some comfort in a book by Francis Scheaffer, called Pollution and The Death of Man. In it he strikes a well balanced view, reminding us that though we are unique creatures in terms of our relationship with our Creator, we are still part of creation, and need to value the rest of creation as a result.
Recently, I have been interested in (though I have yet to read) a book called Crunchy Cons by Rod Dreher. The subtitle, possibly as long as a reasonable essay, reads as follows:
How Birkenstocked Burkeans, gun-loving organic gardeners, evangelical free-range farmers, hip homeschooling mamas, right-wing nature lovers, and their diverse tribe of countercultural conservatives plan to save America.
I haven't read it yet, but the primary theme seems to be one I have thought about for sometime – that as we re-orient our lives around God's priorities; our relationship with Christ, with other believers, living sacrificially for our family, our churches, and our neighbors, our priorities change. We should come to care more about the lives of others than we do about material things; and that changes the way we effect the environment. We don't necessarily do it for that reason, but it is a by-product of those choices.
And this makes sense; because just as the early '70's not only brought us a raised environmental awareness, it also, unfortunately, brought into play forces that were destructive of relationships – between husbands and wives, parents and their children, between neighbors and communities. The reality is that in a fractured and broken society, where lives are disconnected and spiritually empty, few people personally make healthy choices for themselves or the world around them; but as lives are restored and transformed by Christ, their choices change, and greater goods are possible.
We can see this clearly in the book of Acts after the church is established – a new community was created out of the cloth of the then Jewish and Roman society:
Acts 2:41 – 47
So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls. They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles' teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles. And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need. Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.
Here we see a snapshot of how the Holy Spirit changed the 1st century community of Christians; their priorities changed, their interests changed, and eventually, the world changed.
To really change the way people treat the world they live in, even ultimately how they think about the environment, one must change priorities and the choices individuals make; and the only real way I have seen that done, is for people to be transformed by the power of God.
In short, if we want to save prairie dogs, we have to save people.