Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Fossil Fuels and Offending God

Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association said that when we don't use fossil fuels that we are hurting God's feelings.  He compared it to an experience he had when he was six years old: “I opened up a birthday present that I didn’t like, and I said it right out, ‘Oh, I don’t like those,’” the radio host recalled. “And it just crushed — and the person that gave me gift was there. You know, I just kind of blurted it out, ‘I don’t like those.’ And it just crushed that person. It was enormously insensitive of me to do that.”  He then explained that, “And you think, that’s kind of how we’re treating God when he’s given us these gifts of abundant and inexpensive and effective fuel sources, and we don’t thank him for it and we don’t use it."

Now, I am not going to debate whether or not we can hurt God's feelings, that is actually a good theological debate, in which I would agree with Fischer that we can disappoint and upset God.  No, what I really want to do is commend Fischer on his creative, nay brilliant use of logic and applying it to a social situation.  Consider the possibilities, we can all join the Lutherans in a good beer without guilt because, "God made it so barley and hops turn into a wonderful alcoholic beverage perfect for social occasions.  Those tea-totaling Methodists of the early 1900's with their prohibition agenda hurts God's feelings."  Or better yet, "We should spend as much time as possible appreciating the female (or male) form and giving thanks to God for making such beauty.  Covering it up just offends God." "And my neighbor, who has been such a jerk lately; well, God made my fist so that is could meet his face in just such a way as to draw blood.  Not punching him would be a sin."  We can now justify practically anything, even, "God put those chemicals in marijuana, coca plants, and poppies so that we might go on trips to happy happy Ozland, where the trees are orange and the jackalopes talk.  And if God put them there we better use them."

Okay, so yes, I am being sarcastic.  The whole idea of justifying an action because God put something there is silly, and luckily most people realize this -- that's why this story made News of the Weird. If you aren't convinced, let me point out that Fischer could just have easily said that God is offended because we aren't using wind turbine energy, or nuclear energy, or solar energy.  God gave us those too.  But he wouldn't say that because he is trying to justify an old fashioned approach to creation:  "God made it for humans to use up."  That was the thinking of the Imperialist era. Human exploitation of the earth was okay because our sole purpose as human beings was to run around and use up the stuff of the universe that God gave us.

As an example, listen to this Biblical argument made by the Cornwall Alliance’s Calvin Beisner, “The wicked and lazy master was the one who buried his talent in the ground and didn’t do anything to multiply it,” Beisner explained. “That’s essentially what those who say we need to stop using oil, coal and natural gas are telling us to do. Just leave those resources buried in the ground, rather than pulling them out and multiplying their value for human benefit.”

Beisner is referring to a passage of scripture in which a master gives a large sum of money to each of his three servants. The first servant doubles the money and gives the doubled amount back to the master.  The second also earns a sizable interest on what he was given and is also praised for increasing his master's wealth.  The third just buried the money in the backyard, and is chastised for not having done anything with the master's money.  Beisner is suggesting that God is giving us resources, like oil, coal and natural gas, as a gift -- like the money -- and that not using them is like burying them in the backyard.  In other words, use them to create something more, no matter what the consequences.

Thankfully most of us have moved past this line of thinking. As we watch our natural resources be used up, many Christians have a very different observation, "Even the one who buried the treasure in the ground didn't spend the ten talents for his own personal gain." Can you imagine a fourth servant saying to the master, "I know that you gave those ten talents to me, and so I went out and spent them. But here's a t-shirt I bought with the change."  You think the Master was hard on the one who simply buried them, what do you think is going to happen to the one who spent the money?  The parable never suggests that the servants use the money for their gain or in Beisner's words "for human benefit", it is to be used for their master's gain ie. God's benefit.

Sane people understand that it is the intentions of our actions, as well as their resulting impacts on ourselves, our neighbors and our world that make something good or evil. Using fossil fuels does result in some good things -- our quality of life is improved.  But there are also consequences -- consequences that Beisner and Fischer want to ignore and deny: global warming.  If the use of these fuels is in fact slowly altering our world; and causing harm to it, and by extension causing harm to ourselves, then we must conclude that these natural consequences are punishment for refusing to be good stewards of what God has given us. Which means that Christians should be listening very closely to the warnings of climatologists -- because if they are right, we must repent and rethink our approach to nature.

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