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I’ve received a flurry of questions about the relationship of Christianity to the environment. The issue involves a subject addressed in Genesis. God tells Adam and Eve to subdue the earth. Clearly, this is not immoral. Hurting others while doing so is. This is the essential framework for Christian environmentalism.

Modern environmentalism, however, is focused less on human beings and their betterment and more on the earth as a metaphysical entity. Here we have a perspective that is directed against a command of God to the human family to keep the garden. Of course there are many legitimate concerns that fall under the category of environmentalism, from a need for clean water and air to the irrational idea that the jungle is morally superior to the garden.

Despite the recent baptism of extreme environmentalism into the cause of the Christian religion, its roots are actually with the third century dualistic religion known as Manichaeism. Its founder was Mani, a resident of Babylon. He posited two great forces in the universe: the light that is associated with the soul and pure spirit, and the dark that is associated with the body and matter. The obligation of the human person is to relinquish all dependencies on matter and body and instead to reflect entirely on matters of the spirit. Now, let me be clear here. I am not saying that a concern for clean air and water, and even a worry about endangered species, is heretical. The solutions to specific environmental problems are always at hand, coming not through the curbing of market and commercial activity but by firming up private property rights and enforcing strict liability rules.

To be concerned about such matters is compatible with Christianity, and obviously so. But this alone will not satisfy the radical environmentalists, for their vision of the proper ordering of man’s place in the universe draws from a completely different strain of belief. That such a belief is now being woven into the fabric of Christian leftism, in many ways, represents a repudiation of a past emphasis on human well being.

The Acton Institute has a division devoted to researching these increasingly important issues. Thank you for your much needed support!


Rev. Robert A. Sirico, President