Schaeffer’s important classic outlines a theology of ecology, arguing for a renewed understanding of the creation account and a return to the biblical mandate of godly stewardship.
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About the Author
Francis A. Schaeffer (1912–1984)authored more than twenty books, which have been translated into a score of languages and sold millions worldwide. He and his wife, Edith, founded L'Abri Fellowship international study and discipleship centers. Recognized internationally for his work in Christianity and culture, Schaeffer passed away in 1984 but his influence and legacy continue worldwide.
Udo W. Middelmann is president of the Francis A. Schaeffer Foundation. He is a graduate of Covenant Theological Seminary and a longtime worker at Swiss L'Abri. Udo and Debbie Middelmann have five children and three grandchildren.
Read an Excerpt
"What Have They Done to Our Fair Sister?"
Some time ago when I was in Bermuda for a lecture, I was invited to visit the work of a young man well-known in the area of ecology. His name was David B. Wingate. He was especially known for his efforts to save the cahow bird from extinction. The cahow is a little larger than a pigeon and breeds only on a very few islands near Bermuda, just off the main island. Wingate struggled for many years to increase the number of these birds. As we went around visiting the nests, we were talking together about the whole problem of ecology. He told me that he was losing ground in his battle, because the chicks were not hatching in the same proportion as before. If they had continued at the previous rate, he would have been well on his way to success. Instead, he found that fewer and fewer were hatching. What was the reason? To find out, he took an embryo chick from the egg and dissected it. Its tissues were found to be filled with DDT. Wingate was convinced that this accounted for the drop in the hatching rate.
The startling thing about this is that the cahow is a sea-feeding bird; it does not feed anywhere near land — only in the middle of the ocean. So it is obvious that it was not getting its DDT close to shore, but far out in the Atlantic. In other words, the use of DDT on land was polluting the whole area. It was coming down through the rivers, out into the ocean, and causing the death of sea-feeding birds.
When Thor Heyerdahl made his famous voyage in the Kon Tiki, he was able to use the ocean water quite freely; but he later said when he tried to cross the Atlantic in a papyrus boat, the ocean water was unusable because of the large amount of rubbish.
A man in California very vividly pointed up this serious problem. He erected a tombstone at the ocean-side, and on it he has carved this epitaph:
The ocean born — [he gives hypothetical date] The oceans died — A.D. 1979 The Lord gave; man hath taken away Cursed be the name of man.
The simple fact is that if man is not able to solve his ecological problems, then man's resources are going to die. It is quite conceivable that man will be unable to fish the oceans as in the past, and that if the balance of the oceans is changed too much, man will even find himself without enough oxygen to breathe.
So the whole problem of ecology is dumped in this generation's lap. Ecology means "the study of the balance of living things in nature." But as the word is currently used, it means also the problem of the destruction man has brought upon nature. It is related to such factors as water pollution, destructive noise levels, and air pollution in the great cities of the world. We have been reading and hearing of this on every side from all over the world.
Near the end of his life, Darwin acknowledged several times in his writings that two things had become dull to him as he got older. The first was his joy in the arts and the second his joy in nature. This is very intriguing. Darwin offered his proposition that nature, including man, is based only on the impersonal plus time plus chance, and he had to acknowledge at the end of his life that it had had these adverse effects on him. I believe that what we are seeing today is the same loss of joy in our total culture as Darwin personally experienced — in the area of the arts and general life, and in the area of nature. The distressing thing about this is that orthodox Christians often really have had no better sense about these things than unbelievers. The death of "joy" in nature is leading to the death of nature itself.
In the 1960s and early 1970s when there was a profound interest in the philosophic basis for life and the problems of life, this sort of anxiety was even being expressed in the area of "pop" music. The Doors had a song called "Strange Days" in which they said:
What have they done to the earth? What have they done to our fair sister? Ravaged and plundered, And ripped her and bit her, Stuck her with knives in the side of the dawn, And tied her with fences and dragged her down.
At any rate, people everywhere began to discuss what could be done about it. An intriguing article by Lynn White, Jr., on "The Historical Roots of Our Ecologic Crisis" was published in Science magazine. White was a professor of history at the University of California at Los Angeles.
In his article he argued that the crisis in ecology is Christianity's fault. It is a brilliant article in which he argued that although we no longer are a Christian world, but a post-Christian one, nevertheless we still retain a "Christian mentality" in the area of ecology. He said Christianity presents a bad view of nature, and so this is carried over into the present-day post-Christian world. He based his allegations of a "bad view of nature" on the fact that Christianity taught that man had dominion over nature and so man has treated nature in a destructive way. He saw that there is no solution to ecological problems — any more than there is to sociological problems — without a "base." The base of man's thinking must change.
In ecology in the 1980s there is not much writing or discussion on the basic philosophies underlying the consideration of ecology. This is parallel to the lack of philosophic pornography, philosophic drug taking, philosophic films, etc. However, in ecology, as in these other areas, the thought-forms of the 1980s were laid in the earlier period of the 1960s. At that time there was much serious consideration, writing, discussion and expression concerning the worldviews underlying all these areas.
People are now functioning on the ideas formulated in that earlier period — even though those so functioning do not consciously realize it.
As Christians, we should know the roots in order to know why those who speak and act against Christianity are doing so, and in order to know the strength of the Christian answer in each area. If we do not do this, we have little understanding of what is occurring about us. We also do not know the strength of what, as Christians, we have to say across the whole spectrum of life.
The articles of Lynn White and Richard Means, from the later part of the 1960s are, I think, still the classic ones concerning the area of ecology.
Modern man's viewpoint in the post-Christian world (as I have dealt with in my previous writings) is without any categories, and without any base upon which to build. Lynn White understood the need of a base in the area of ecology. To quote him: "What people do about their ecology depends on what they think about themselves in relation to things around them. Human ecology is deeply conditioned by beliefs about our nature and our destiny — that is, by religion." Here I believe he is completely right. Men do what they think. Whatever their worldview is, this is the thing which will spill over into the external world. This is true in every area, in sociology, in psychology, in science and technology, as well as in the area of ecology.
White's solution was to ask, "Why don't we go back to St. Francis of Assisi?" He contrasts St. Francis with what he saw as the "orthodox view" of men having the "right" to despoil nature. "The greatest spiritual revolutionary in Western history, St. Francis proposed what he thought to be an alternative Christian view of nature in man's relationship to it. He tried to substitute the idea of the equality of all creatures, including men, for the idea of man's limitless rule of creation."
Both our present science and our present technology, according to White, are so tinctured with orthodox Christian arrogance toward nature that no solution for our problem of ecology can be expected from them alone. He said that technology is not going to solve the problem because it is powered with its view of dominion over nature, which equals limitless exploitation. "Since the roots of our trouble are so largely religious, the remedy must also be essentially religious, whether we call it that or not. We must rethink and refeel our nature and destiny. The profoundly religious, but heretical, sense of the primitive Franciscans for the spiritual autonomy of all parts of nature may point out a direction. I propose Francis as the patron saint for ecologists."
The discussion of this was picked up and carried further, and aroused much interest. In the Saturday Review of December 2, 1967, Richard L. Means, who was associate professor of sociology at the College of Kalamazoo, Michigan, quoted White and extended White's concept and asked: "Why not begin to find a solution to this in the direction of Pantheism?" In fact, he tied this call for a solution based upon pantheism into what he called the "cool cats" of the generation in their interest in Zen Buddhism. He is saying here, "Wouldn't it be a solution if we just said, 'We're all of one essence'?"
So here pantheism is proposed as an answer to our ecological dilemma. But is it an answer at all? That is a question we must now consider.CHAPTER 2
Pantheism: Man Is No More Than the Grass
Why not try to find a solution to this in the direction of pantheism? Here we find a use of the concept of pantheism by a Western scientist, a sociologist, in his effort to solve modern man's problem in relationship to the saving of nature — i.e., the ecological problem. This man seemed to be trying to use pantheism in a very specific way — not as a real, religious answer at all, but merely in a sociological or a scientific, pragmatic way.
Richard Means's article was entitled "Why Worry About Nature?" Means begins the article by quoting Albert Schweitzer: "The great fault of all ethics hitherto has been that they believed themselves to have to deal only with the relation of man to man." He thus quoted Schweitzer as saying ecology is a problem of ethics, but that man's only concept of ethics has been "man to man." Later Means said, "The notion that man's relation to nature is a moral one finds very few articulate champions, even among contemporary religious writers." He proceeded to refer to Harvey Cox's book, The Secular City. Cox, of course, is a very liberal theologian and at that time a proponent of the God-is-dead theology. Means said that even with Cox, "the city is taken for granted and the moral dimensions of Cox's analysis are limited to man's relations to man within this urban world, and not with the animals, the plants, the trees, and the air — that is, the natural habitat." It should be remembered that much modern theology is in the direction of pantheism, and thus Means' suggestion of a pragmatic pantheistic base for solving our ecological problems fits naturally into the climate which reaches all the way from the vague pantheism in much popular thinking today to the theological faculties.
Means went on to refer, interestingly enough, to Eric Hoffer, who was a popular American folk philosopher. He was a longshoreman who said many really profound things and had become very popular indeed with intellectuals. "Eric Hoffer, one of the few contemporary social critics who have met head-on the issue of man's relationship to nature, has warned in these pages of the danger of romanticizing nature" ("A Strategy for the War with Nature" in Saturday Review, February 5, 1966). Romanticizing means that one looks at nature and projects into it man's reaction. So one would look at a cat and think of it as though it were reacting as a man reacts. Hoffer very properly warned against this. However, his solution (according to Means) ends like this: "The great accomplishment of man is to transcend nature, to separate himself from the demands of instinct. Thus, according to Hoffer, a fundamental characteristic of man is to be found in his capacity to free himself from the restrictions of the physical and the biological." In other words, Hoffer was really not proposing that we should come to terms with nature (not as far as Means understood him anyway). What Hoffer was saying is that man has to transcend nature.
It should be said that it is correct to reject the romanticizing of nature as an answer or a solution. First, nature, as it now is, is not always benevolent; and second, to project our feelings and thoughts into a tree would mean that we would have no base upon which to justify cutting down and using the tree as a shelter for man.
Those who are familiar with Koestler's The Man and The Machine will recognize Hoffer's ideas to be merely a more poetic form of his concept. Koestler, along with Adler (The Difference in Man and the Difference It Makes) and Michael Polanyi of Oxford, attacks the classical view of evolution, at least pragmatically; these men were united as far as saying that it is leading us in the wrong direction. But Koestler in The Man and The Machine came up with the final solution by pleading with science to make a pill to bring together the upper and the lower brain. For Koestler, the lower brain deals with the instincts and the emotions, and the upper brain deals with the intellect and reasoning. According to Koestler, the real problem lies in the separation of the two. The point to be made here is that Hoffer's idea of man's "getting on top of" his nature in order to free himself from the restrictions of the physical and the biological is, interestingly enough, in the direction of Koestler's concept.
Reverting to Means' article, he went on to ask and answer an important question. Remembering that he was proposing the thesis that man's relationship to nature is a moral and not just a scientific crisis, his question and his immediate answer provide a brilliant snapshot of modern man: "What, then, is the moral crisis? It is, I think, a pragmatic problem."
Here was a remarkable combination of phrases; the moral dissolved into the pragmatic. He started off with a moral crisis, but suddenly all one is left with is a pragmatic problem. "It involves the actual social consequences of a myriad of unconnected acts. The crisis comes by combining the results of a mistreatment of our environment. It involves the negligence of a small businessman on the Kalamazoo River, the irresponsibility of a large corporation on Lake Erie, the impatient use of insecticides by a farmer in California, the stripping of land by Kentucky mine operators. Unfortunately there is a long history of unnecessary and tragic destruction of animal and natural resources on the face of this continent." Of course the pressure becomes greater on a world scale, and he was certainly right in pointing out that there is a serious problem. But that does not change his problem of dealing with the problem! He wanted a moral base on which to deal with the ecological problem, but soon all he had is the word moral. And what he was left with was the pragmatic and technological.
As one faces the growth of population, the ecological problem becomes even greater. In Switzerland, an excellent example was beautiful Lake Geneva and the difference since we came to Switzerland thirty-two years ago — a major difference. Happily, the Swiss have, at great expense, begun to clear up Lake Geneva, but the growth of population on its shores required a major effort. Left to itself, the lake could not have cared for the population growth.
As the pressure gets greater worldwide, upon what basis, different from the one we have employed in the past, are we to treat the nature which is our environment and upon which our life in this world depends? As the Sierra Club calendar for 1970 put it, "The moon, Mars, Saturn ... nice places to visit, but you wouldn't want to live there." Human life depends on the uniquely balanced environment of this world.
Means went on to talk about the passenger pigeons, of which there were once many in the United States; but they had become extinct. The same could be said about the seal industry. "The trouble is, however, we do not seem to learn very much from these sad happenings for (to the anguish of men who have thrilled to the images created by Herman Melville and the great white whale) such marine scientists as Scott McVay believe that commercial fishing is endangering the whale, the last abundant species in the world. For those more inclined towards the cash nexus, there goes a profitable industry." He continued that it is not only an economic loss, but that "for those of us who have a respect for nature — in particular, for our mammalian kinsmen — the death of these great creatures will leave a void in God's creation, and in the imagination of men for generations to come." The use of Means' phrase "in God's creation," which for many Christians would inspire hope as to the kind of answer he might give us, must not be misunderstood, as I will point out later.
Then Means touched on the other basic issues, referring to the mighty Hudson River and the Great Lakes and the state of the air we breathe. Because of these matters and hundreds like them we can see why men are wrestling, in a way that they have never wrestled before, with the problem of ecology. There is a true dilemma. Modern man has seen that we are upsetting the balance of nature and the problem is drastic and urgent. It is not just a matter of aesthetics, nor is the problem only future; the quality of life has already diminished for many modern men. For the future, many thinking men see the ecological threat as greater than that of nuclear warfare.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Pollution and the Death of Man"
Copyright © 1970 Francis A. Schaeffer.
Excerpted by permission of Good News Publishers.
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Table of Contents
1 "What Have They Done to Our Fair Sister?", 7,
2 Pantheism: Man Is No More Than the Grass, 15,
3 Other Inadequate Answers, 37,
4 The Christian View: Creation, 45,
5 A Substantial Healing, 63,
6 The Christian View: The "Pilot Plant", 79,
7 Concluding Chapter by Udo Middelmann, 97,
Appendix A: The Historical Roots of Our Ecologic Crisis Lynn White, Jr., 121,
Appendix B: Why Worry About Nature? Richard Means, 45,