I don’t believe in “creation care”. 1 Creation care is too little too late. We are past the time when any of the changes that creation care advocates recommend will make any significant difference in our environmental situation. Recycling, changing light bulbs, riding bicycles, or starting a garden will not be sufficient to address the magnitude of the challenge before us.
I suspect creation care is a moralistic cover for our ongoing complicity in an evil system that is wreaking havoc on this planet. Creation care doesn’t recognize the depth of the mess we’re in. We are, as psychologist Bill Plotkin has asserted, an adolescent society that has not yet come to grips with what being a mature human being in this world requires. 2 We use more energy to live our lives each day than any society in human history. We sustain an extractive economy that utilizes nonrenewable resources which have taken thousands of years to develop, and then expends them in a matter of decades.
Governments and corporations are working together now to do whatever it takes to keep this economic system going. We will drill deeper wells, cut down more trees, fight more wars, and cause more and more environmental chaos; all for the sake of economic growth and having more.
But we don’t have to monitor the ozone layer, measure melting glaciers, or count species depletion to know the destruction we are causing. We carry the environmental crisis in our bodies. We carry it in our bones. We talk about “environmental illness” as if the environment is killing us; but the environment is not our enemy. We are killing ourselves. The problem is not “out there”. 3
I don’t believe in creation care because the creation doesn’t need our care. The planet will survive even if the human species became extinct. The natural environment is astonishingly robust and resilient. West Virginia’s strip-mined mountains, the land fills in Calumet, and the polluted beaches in Louisiana horrify us. We should be angry and we should work on as many fronts as possible to end these violations of the earth. But nature will eventually flourish once again. We get fooled because the natural world works differently than we do. The time of the earth is not human time. Nature is not interested in speed.
The Bible tells us that God does not ignore the environmental destruction of our civilization. If need be God will enforce the Sabbath rest that God intended from the time of creation. Listen to Leviticus 26:34-35:
Then the land shall enjoy its Sabbath years as long as it lies desolate, or you are in the land of your enemies; then the land shall rest, and enjoy its Sabbath years. As long as it lies desolate, it shall have the rest it did not have on your Sabbath when you were living on it.
These verses are about Sabbath. They explain one reason why Israel is in exile. They are in exile because they did not give the land the rest it needed. God sends them away. The land “shall have the rest it did not have . . . when you were living on it.” God enforces Sabbath.
The environmental destruction being waged upon this planet is the result of our neglect of Sabbath. Hebrew religion took Sabbath so seriously they believed God had woven the Sabbath principle into the very grain of the universe. The pinnacle of the seven-day creation story was not the creation of woman and man, but Sabbath – the seventh day. If the people honor the Sabbath and “keep it holy” they and their children will be blessed. If the people will not honor the Sabbath then God will intervene and the land will lie desolate until it finds its rest. “It shall have the rest it did not have.”
Globalization has peaked and is already coming to an end. It is literally running out of fuel. Globalization is a finite process; despite its surface health and the appearance of being a powerful force overcoming all cultural and natural obstacles. Globalization is already coming to an end. The world will either willingly enter into a post-carbon age or be forced to do so. The earth “shall have the rest it did not have.”
But clearly globalization still has a lot of fuel left in the tank. The fact that it is a finite process fueled by finite physical and spiritual resources (yes, the demonic principalities and powers are also finite!) does not mean that globalization is not a force to be taken seriously, to be struggled against and to be resisted with every spiritual weapon at our disposal. Sabbath is one of those weapons.
Globalization is a set of practices contrary to everything that Sabbath demands. We cannot serve globalization and Sabbath. Sabbath is a revolutionary practice contrary to everything that the global economy demands. The work of Sabbath is perhaps the primary form of communal resistance for Christians in the years ahead. But our practice of Sabbath must be much broader and more systemic than just taking a regular day off. 4
The work of Sabbath will confront globalization head-on in terms of our energy use. One place I am looking to with hope and encouragement in these dark ages is the Transition Town movement. 5 Transition Towns is an international grassroots network of communities working to a post-carbon society. The aim of this movement is to equip local communities for the dual challenges of climate change and peak oil.
The key word for the Transition Town movement is not “creation care” but “energy descent” and the key practice is not “sustainability” but “resilience”. The human use of energy that began its ascent at the time of the Industrial Revolution must now begin to descend. “Energy descent” refers to the continual decline in the net energy it takes to support human society. This descent will be a long, bumpy, and perilous journey.
In working toward energy descent the crucial capacity that we need to develop is “resilience”. Resilience is the capacity of a system to absorb disturbance and reorganize while undergoing change. Resilience is the capacity of a local community to not break down as the environment around it becomes unstable. Resilience is a way of avoiding despair or being paralyzed by the overwhelming challenges ahead.
I do believe there are reasons to be hopeful. A post-carbon world beyond globalization need not be a barren, apocalyptic nightmare. Christians must once again do the work that Jesus called us to in announcing the kingdom of God. By announcing that kingdom Jesus was challenging us to begin re-imagining the shape of our lives. This is our calling today as well. 6
What does human life look like, what does Christian community life look like on the other side of peak oil and climate change? Given the certainty that dramatic changes are ahead of us how can we begin to live differently right now? We must begin to live into this coming Sabbath with the deep conviction that this will not be a lesser life than we have lived, but in fact a better life, a fuller life, a more beautiful life, a more abundant life. If we do not respond to the global crisis on our own, then God will enforce Sabbath, and the “land will have its rest”.
- While I am not specifically targeting the Evangelical Environmental Network’s Creation Care initiative they are a very good illustration of the inadequate response I am addressing. See http://www.creationcare.org/blank.php?id=39. ↩
- Plotkin actually calls it a “patho-adolescent society”. See Nature and the Human Soul: Cultivating Wholeness and Community in a Fragmented World, by Bill Plotkin (New World Library, 2007). ↩
- Inescapable Ecologies: A History of Environment, Disease, and Knowledge, by Linda Nash (University of California Press, 2007) ↩
- The biblical and theological foundation for the work of Sabbath can be found in The Biblical Vision of Sabbath Economics, by Ched Myers (Church of the Savior, 2002); and The Biblical Jubilee and the Struggle for Life, by Ross and Gloria Kinsler (Orbis Books, 1999). ↩
- http://www.transitionnetwork.org/ is the central website. The variety of community initiatives under the Transition umbrella can be investigated here: http://www.transitionnetwork.org/initiatives ↩
- Theologian Timothy Gorringe’s 2011 lecture at the Trinity Institute is an insightful theological analysis of the Transition Towns movement: http://www.trinitywallstreet.org/webcasts/videos/conferences-classes/trinity-institute-lectures/radical-abundance-timothy-gorringe ↩