Christians, Jews and Muslims share two common stories about the creation of the world and the relationship between God, humans and “the environment.” Is the repetition of these stories in 21st century Australia good news for other forms of life in this part of the world?
At a shallow level, possibly. At a deeper level, no.
At the shallow level, followers of these faiths are increasingly emphasising the more ancient of the two creation stories, which calls humans to serve and protect the Earth (often translated in the narrow sense of till and keep, revealing our agricultural bias). The first creation story, with its emphasis on man (yes, man) treading down and having dominion over life on earth has a little less currency. At the very least environmentalists and socialist/capitalists have a creation story each.
But at the deeper level, these stories have little to offer in the way of good news for life, or even specifically for humans.
Most people of these faiths accepted long ago that these stories contain theology (ideas about God and humans) rather than science. Anybody who is nervous about abandoning a literal understanding of Genesis need only read the stories of Noah and the flood. Everyone knows it. Christians often read out the final promise in worship: a lovely promise from God to never flood the Earth again. The rainbow is a sign of the promise.
But therein lies the rub- God just did flood the Earth. Murdering almost every animal on the planet. Hardly environmentally friendly! God killed a lot of humans that month. Supposedly they were wicked, but surely that can’t apply to the newborn babies and unborn foetuses? Noah’s Ark is the story of the largest scale environmental catastrophe, genocide and mass abortion in human history. Thank God we have been delivered from taking that story literally. I am sure the animals thank God for that deliverance too, since after the flood God decides to make the men the bosses over all the animals of earth- “Into your hands they are delivered!” To show just how wise God’s choice was, Noah goes straight out and gets drunk, stumbles into bed naked, then curses his son Ham and his descendents into perpetual slavery because Ham sprung him!
If events really happened as described, then God is directly responsible for the largest scale environmental catastrophe, genocide and mass abortion in human history! The God of the literal Genesis accounts is nothing but bad news for the environment and humans. (It is not the God Jesus talked about- love your enemies, pray for your persecutors, do not resist evil with evil, be merciful as God is merciful…)
We keep going backwards through Genesis, and see that the story of Adam and Eve is itself backwards. Thank God. We know this because of the sciences. Science cannot prove a theological idea, but it can certainly disprove some of them! Thank God, studying our environment through sciences like geology, evolution and ecology has liberated us from some of the theological errors in the creation stories of the worlds three major faiths.
The story of Adam and Eve and their disobedience is backwards. They supposedly spoil God’s perfect world of harmony and bring pain, sickness and death into the world. God made a lovely perfect, environment, and we ruined it. Everything bad in the world is human’s fault! We are fallen, 100% bad news for the Earth, even for ourselves. This is the version of the Christian story which I most often come across, even in 21st century Australia! Even most Christians who reject a literal historical reading of Genesis still unthinking accept the theology of Genesis, as interpreted by most Christians through the ages. Ancient Christians had an excuse, we do not.
The story of the Fall is backwards! Humans didn’t create pain and death. Pain and death lead to humans. If the existence of humans is good, then pain and death are good. Pain, for the most part, keeps us safe. Death, as part of natural selection, makes room for new forms of life and new babies.
So we have more good news- Not only is God not a mass murderer condemning all animals to slavery under men (Noah’s Ark), but “it” is not all our fault!
The sciences also liberate us from the misconception that humans are in control of the planet. It is the microbes, and then the plants, which drive the cycles of life on Earth. We are a very recent arrival, and we will be gone soon, most likely. While we are here we should try to enjoy life, and live it, rather than control it. We should experience it richly, so that through us God can experience it richly.
Further, by showing the intimate genetic and ecological links between all Life they show us that if there is any such thing as an image of God on earth, it is Life, not just humans. Life in all its evolutionary past and ecological present. Reflecting on the sciences reminds theologians that every aspect of life on Earth contributes to God’s richness of experience, and therefore has value. Life, as the image of God, contributes to our richness of experience of God. Without reverence for Life, there is no reverence for God. How can we love the creator, whom we cannot see, if we do not love the creation, which we can see?
Rev. Dr Jason John