Is Pollution God’s Fault?
A GROVE of towering redwood trees. A moody rain forest. A vast blue ocean hurling itself against a rocky coastline. A desert in springtime carpeted with color. A range of glistening peaks rising above dark-green forests and shimmering blue lakes. Scenes that once brought forth in hushed awe the exclamation, “God’s country!”
But now a new breed of men look at dirty, brown air, rivers choked with industrial waste, dead lakes and poisoned soil, at the ghettos of the big cities that resemble garbage dumps and say, “God’s country.”
Pollution, they say, is God’s fault. The peg on which they hang their charge is the statement in the Bible at Genesis 1:28, which says: “God blessed them and God said to them: ‘Be fruitful and become many and fill the earth and subdue it, and have in subjection the fish of the sea and the flying creatures of the heavens and every living creature that is moving upon the earth.’”
That statement by God was the beginning of pollution, claims British historian Arnold J. Toynbee, in an article in Horizon, Summer ’73, and reprinted later that year in the Readers Digest. It was entitled “The Genesis of Pollution.” But Toynbee is only one of the latest on a long list of similar accusers.
In the magazine Science, March 10, 1967, Lynn White, Jr., said, in the article “The Historical Roots of Our Ecologic Crisis”: “By destroying pagan animism, Christianity made it possible to exploit nature in a mood of indifference.” He contended that “Christianity bears a huge burden of guilt” for the “worsening ecologic crisis.”
White’s article was incorporated into The Environmental Handbook, prepared in 1970 by Friends of the Earth. In that same year the Sierra Club released its handbook Ecotactics, and, on pages 82 and 83, said: “Man’s aspirations so far have been guided by the god of Genesis. For the most part, we have been proud of our subjugation of the planet. Now we are finding that our aspirations have been misguided and destructive.”
University of Pennsylvania’s Ian McHarg, in his book Design with Nature, published in 1971, said: “Indeed, if one seeks license for those who would increase radioactivity, create canals and harbors with atomic bombs, employ poisons without restraint, or give consent to the bulldozer mentality, there could be no better injunction than this text (Genesis 1:28). Here can be found sanction and injunction to conquer nature—the enemy, the threat to Jehovah.” Many others, including some clergymen, join in this cry that pollution is God’s fault.
The crucial question is, When God told the first pair to subdue the earth and have dominion, did he thereby, as Toynbee says, “license Adam and Eve to do what they liked with it”? Was this Jehovah’s purpose? Or was his purpose for man, made in God’s image and likeness, to be earth’s caretaker, its steward for the welfare not only of man but also of plants and animals? Rather than hurl reckless charges to grab attention, a wise person will first learn the facts. As the Bible cautions, “To answer a question before you have heard it out is both stupid and insulting.”—Prov. 18:13, New English Bible.
Divine Regard for Plants and Animals
When placed in Eden, man was not licensed to do with it as he wished. He was restricted in its use. As the Bible says, he was “to cultivate it and to take care of it.” Plants were not for man’s use only. They were also given as food “to every wild beast of the earth and to every flying creature of the heavens and to everything moving upon the earth in which there is life as a soul.”—Gen. 2:15-17; 1:30.
The law that God later gave to the nation of Israel showed how man was to “subdue” the earth. He was not to exploit it to exhaustion, but, rather, every seventh year was to be “a sabbath of complete rest for the land.” Whatever grew of itself that year was to be unharvested. It was to be left for poor people as well as “for your domestic animal and for the wild beast that is in your land.”—Lev. 25:3-7.
Today over eight hundred species and subspecies of life are reported to be near extinction. Is this what God purposed when he told man to have dominion? Other God-given laws to Israel show the Creator’s concern for animal life. For example, the bull that trod out the corn was not to be muzzled, as it had the right to eat some of the grain. A bull and an ass were not to be yoked together on the plow—it was unfair to the smaller, weaker animal. A neighbor’s beast of burden was to be relieved if in distress even if its owner was one’s enemy, and even if it was the sabbath day.—Deut. 25:4; 22:10; Ex. 23:4, 5; Luke 14:5.
And when we are told that God clothed the lilies of the field in a beauty and glory surpassing even that of King Solomon, that does not sound like a divine license issued to destroyers, does it? Defoliation and “scorched earth” policies of modern warfare are not carried out with divine approval.—Matt. 6:28, 29.
So the facts show that the charge of the Bible’s critics that God is to blame for the earth’s pollution is without foundation. Then what about the solution that these same critics offer as a remedy? How sound is it?
Polytheism and Pollution
These individuals who blame God for the pollution all hammer at the same theme, saying that since the cause of the ecological crisis is religious, the remedy also must be a religious one. They say that Judeo-Christian monotheism, that is, the belief in one God, must be replaced with polytheism or animism, the belief that many gods inhabit the hills, streams, trees, birds and animals, and that these many gods must be worshiped.
Lynn White, Jr., says that before the animists cut a tree, mined a mountain, or dammed a brook, they placated the spirits in charge. McHarg tells of the Indian hunter that made a lengthy apology to the bear before killing it, explaining that he needed its skin and its meat. But for all the animists’ worshipful attitude, in the end the tree was cut down, the mountain was mined, the brook was dammed, and the bear was killed—if it stayed around until the speech making was over.—Compare Romans 1:20-23.
Today Buddhists, Hindus and Shintoists worship myriads of gods, giving reverence to animals, plants, sun, thunder, wind, rocks, and so forth. Has their polytheistic worship helped to cleanse the earth? Well, consider an example. An article on Hinduism in the 1971 edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica says: “All rivers and hills are more or less divine, and the extreme holiness of the Ganges . . . needs no emphasis.” Has that “extreme holiness” kept the Ganges River free of pollution?
No. An Indian journalist told a visitor to the “Holy City” of Benares, located on the Ganges: “All you need for Benares is a strong stomach and an open mind.” A recent New York Times article shows how some Indians “wish that along the banks of the Ganges there were more attention paid to simple sanitation than to complex devotions.” It is indeed a polluted river.
Nor have Shintoism and other animistic religions protected modern Japan from flagrant pollution. Says a 1974 United Press International news release: “The Japanese government today is waging what could turn out to be a life-and-death struggle to clean up the environment.” Polytheistic religion has not prevented pollution. Certainly it is not the remedy to the problem.
Cause of Pollution and the Remedy
Essentially, there are two causes for earth’s pollution: ignorance and greed on the part of mankind.
Many men have not willfully polluted the earth. The oceans, for instance, have become virtual dumps simply because people for centuries labored under the incorrect view that these have an inexhaustible capacity for refuse. Says ocean expert Captain Jacques-Yves Cousteau: “Each month we now pour so many millions of tons of poisonous waste into the living sea that in perhaps twenty years, perhaps sooner, the oceans will have received their mortal wound and will start to die.” Man’s ignorance is starting to catch up with him.
Of course, greed has played a major part in pollution. People have continued to demand things far beyond their needs, and technology has endeavored to satisfy this demand. This has kept factories running, spilling their effluents into waterways and belching particle-laden smoke into the atmosphere. More automobiles than ever congest the roadways, fouling the air we breathe. Man’s present way of life has converted many things once considered luxuries into “necessities.” So the polluting they cause is not likely to end as long as this system lasts.
To cite Genesis 1:28 and blame God for pollution betrays ignorance of Jehovah’s many admonitions to care for the earth and its plants and animals. To subdue need not mean to oppress. Dominion need not be destructive. Weeds are valuable in many areas, but not in our gardens. Lions and tigers are fine in jungles, but not in our city streets. Can we not subdue weeds and grow lettuce without killing off the birds and the bees? Can we not control and use animal populations without slaughtering them into extinction? Must we deify streams to have pure water, or worship the wind to have clean air, or bow down to mountains to have uncontaminated soil?
The genesis of pollution is not Jehovah’s mandate to man to be earth’s caretaker. Rather, earth’s inhabitants become morally polluted before they pollute their physical environment. It is a moral breakdown, a pollution of ignorant people by greed. It is a case of cause and effect. The cause is polluted people; the effect is a polluted environment. The remedy is an educating and cleansing of people, then the cleansing of the environment will follow. Remove the cause, and the effect also disappears.
As a person sows, so he reaps. But it is stylish today to deny this, to push blame elsewhere, to dodge personal responsibility. Criminals say they are not to blame—society is. Polluters say they are not to blame—God is. So the folly goes.
Moreover, in a science-soaked, atheistic society, it has become popular to put the blame on God. And if in the process these godless men can make it sound erudite and have the slanders come from the lips of prominent personalities, so much the better. A few years ago prominent clergymen pronounced God dead. Now they, in effect, resurrect him to be their scapegoat by implying in their opinions that he is to blame for man’s ecological problems. Will it work? Is it justified? Certainly not!
The slums and garbage dumps, the dust bowls, the stinking rivers, the dying lakes, the poisoned oceans, the sick soil, the foul, fume-filled air, and the growing list of endangered species—all these bespeak man’s ignorance and greed. Face up to all this pollution, see it for what it is, and listen to the proclamation that it makes: “Man’s polluted country!”
But do not lose heart, you lovers of God and all that he has made! The heavens still proclaim the glory of God, and earth’s wonders still speak of his eternal power and majesty. Take heart in what Jehovah says of our time: The “day of retribution has come. Now is the time . . . to destroy those who destroy the earth.” (Rev. 11:18, NE) How heartening to know that God will soon carry out his original purpose and see that the earth is properly ‘subdued’—to his glory and to the lasting good of all creation!