Third Quarter, 2002
The environment - maintaining our home
The impact of our beliefs and choices

If we hope to find any answers to major issues, such as climate change, we must consider our human beliefs. - Peter Harris

WHILE WE ARE OFTEN able to analyse with some precision what causes an ecosystem to fail, or map out the steps needed to reduce the unsustainable resource consumption of a city, we often are at a loss when it comes to dealing with the human behaviour that lies behind the most persistent problems. If we hope to find any answers to major issues such as the destruction of biodiversity or climate change, we must consider our human beliefs. It is our beliefs and choices that determine the way we treat our world.

Ironically, this essential task flies in the face of the most cherished convictions of industrialised societies, which are responsible for most of the problems. During the past three centuries, strenuous attempts have been made to edit out of public discourse any consideration of belief, in favour of a more neutral or apparently objective apprehension of reality. In truth, such pseudo-objectivity is more a form of cultural blindness, since individualism and materialism - which are
values and beliefs in themselves - lie more or less consciously at the heart of industrialised society. Members of societies built around alternative beliefs can see this clearly, even if we are unaware of it. Our inability to look beyond technique, process or method in order to be clearer about our choices and beliefs becomes particularly disabling as globalisation gathers pace, impacting every corner of the planet with the culture and values of Western society.

A further irony is that those very societies and organisations most implicated in the damage have nominally shared a Christian heritage, which ought, by its basic convictions, to have encouraged the emergence of a very different model for society.

Despite all of this, a genuine movement for change is emerging in the Christian church world-wide. Driven by the growing influence of leaders in developing countries, a radical re-evaluation of the implications of Christian belief for the care of creation is finding practical expression in a multitude of projects across the globe. At the same time, a challenge is being posed to mainstream Christian churches and organisations in the so-called developed nations, who have until now coexisted too comfortably with ideas and values that are in reality hostile to Christian belief.

So what might be the distinctively Christian contribution to the struggle for creation's well-being? It may be that the work we actually do is little different from other groups. Many of the steps that must be taken are now obvious to all, even if the will to take them is lacking. Perhaps the most important contribution Christians can make at this stage is to insist on the relevance of belief and values to the very practical questions that arise, and to show how those beliefs can apply in practice toward the goal we share with many others of bringing about some restoration on earth. 

Peter Harris is author of Under Bright Wings, and Founder of A Rocha, a Christian environmental awareness and advocacy group with branches in several countries. For further information about A Rocha, visit their website at www.arocha.org.

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