Tag Archives: environmentalism

It’s Time to Invade the Amazon

A headline in yesterday’s Atlantic read “The Amazon Fires Are More Dangerous Than WMDs.” My wife made roughly the same point to me when news of the fires broke days ago: “Why don’t we send the military or something?” That high brow news magazines and commonsensical elementary school teachers share the same response to the problem suggests that the nature of the crisis and the appropriate American response to it are widely known. If the US is going to spend trillions of dollars to maintain the world’s largest, best-funded military, it should be able to fight fires as well as terrorists. I don’t pretend to understand the logistics of how that would work exactly (strap a water balloon to a drone?), but the principle is so rudimentary, so obvious that it should be a no-brainer. In a century defined by aggressively interventionist US foreign policy, the US cannot consistently insert itself into one country in the name of bombs that don’t exist but refuse to insert itself into another country where the bomb has already gone off and is burning up the very air we breathe. The hypocrisy is evident (universally, apparently).

It’s time the US government introduced a little parity into the way it treated global crises. If migrants deserve military mobilization, this crisis certainly does–if for no other reason than because the devastation of another Latin American economy cannot help but exacerbate the immigration “problem” here. It’s my hope that people and governments–around the world–do more than jockey and tweet in the face of global catastrophe. After all, what’s the point of the Leviathan state if it has its tentacles in every aspect of our lives and does nothing to save them when they are in peril?

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Why I Don’t Care about SR15 and the End of the World

Back in October, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change published a special report (known now as SR15) on the importance of keeping climate change below 1.5 degree Celsius in order to prevent catastrophic changes to the global ecosystem. It sent shockwaves through much of the interested news media, particularly its recommendation for radical and immediate reductions of carbon emissions if the goal is going to be met.

Observing a high school government class earlier this week, some students were discussing these latest apocalyptic predictions and what could or should be done about them. With that great convinction and imprecision that characterizes impromptu high school debates, students broke down into two broad categories. Either they believed “we have to do something because like I think it said we’re all going to die by 2040 or there will be no more oceans or whatever” or else they argued that “climate change is just part of the way the world is; it’s normal; so if what we’re doing works for us then, I mean, why bothre changing?” I was appalled, mostly by the gross misunderstanding of the scope and nature of the problem by both camps.

Let me start by pointing out (if it needed to be said) that I am not a climate change skeptic. The world is warming and humans are a significant cause of that. My acceptance of these facts is rooted less in a clear understanding of the scientific evidence than in a clear understanding of history. When the climate changes, whatever the cause, there are dramatic and global effects for humans. Global warming at the end of the Last Glacial Maximum eventually provoked a radical alteration of the way humans had organized their socieites for hundreds of thousands of years. Global cooling in the 13th and 14th centuries fueled disease outbreaks that devestated the global population. The climate is changing, and that means radical changes for human society. (For evidence that we caused the change this time, we need only look to the coincidence of global warming and rapid global industrialization.)

The changes that are happening to the global climate right now are of a magnitude that the world has not seen since the outset of human civilization. I typically use the Ice Age to talk to my students about this, pointing out that for the last 10,000 or so years the world has been in a pattern of roughly half a degree of temperature fluctuation. The existence of human society as we know it is requires that consistency to flourish. Ryan Glaubke addressed the same point exceptionally well in a recent Quillette article:

We should remember that it isn’t so much the survival of our species that is at stake, so much as the survival of our society. Civilization, as we know it, got its foothold during a particularly placid time in our planet’s climate history. Little ice ages and medieval climate anomalies notwithstanding, the Holocene epoch—spanning the last 10,000 years, give or take—has featured a prolonged and relatively stable warm period that proved a suitable backdrop for the development of agriculture, cities and all the flurry of human activity that these permit. The downside is that the societies we have built are predicated on the stability of that same climate system….This era of stability ended roughly 150 years ago, at the dawn of the Industrial Revolution….Global mean temperature already has risen approximately 1°C since 1850. To find a comparably abrupt climate shift, we’d have to venture back 130,000 years, to a time just before the Earth plunged into its most recent Ice Age. To find carbon dioxide concentrations comparable to those we observe today, we’d have to go back much further—three million years, in fact.

Glaubke says there is good reason to be pessimistic about the fate of the earth (or rather the fate of human civilization as we know it). The purpose of his article, however, is to inspire just the opposite: climate optimism. He notes that the apocalyptic cynicism of many is actually hampering the ability of climate activists to get anything done. When we stress the nigh-insurmountable scale of the problem in the hopes of scaring people to action what we actually scare them into is cynical resignation. In short, people turn into that aforementioned high schooler whose response is, “It’s gonna happen anyway, so I’ll just keep doing me. You do you, boo boo.” Glaubke says that only confidence in the solvability of climate problems will inspire action.

Okay. But I still don’t care about whether we hit the 1.5 degree mark. Or if human society as we know it crumbles. Or if we technology is the vehicle that will carry us to our climate salvation or the rope with which we’ll hang ourselves. I just don’t care.

Glaubke, the woke high schoolers, and the climate skeptics alike all share a common conviction that the problem resolves into a question of whether and how we should act to acheive a certain (perhaps impossible) climate goal. That, to me, is precisely the problem. We ought to steward the environment well not because we may all be dead if we don’t but because having a right relationship with the non-human world is a moral good in itself. From a spiritual perspective, it doesn’t matter if humans fix the problems we created. It only matters that we repent of having created them.

A Christian approach to the problem is neither to make an idol out of the environment and worship at the alter of its preservation nor to take the all-too-common evangelical approach of use and abuse in the name of “God will destroy the world anyway.” A Christian approach recognizes that virtues like justice, modesty, self-control, and respect for all God created extends to our behavior toward the non-human world. The best way to convince Christians to become environmentaly responsible and to live in ways that are sustainable ought to be to appeal to those core Christian virtues that govern our interactions with each other and with God. It shouldn’t rely on parsing scientific reports about arbitrary markers of climate catastrophe. It should be intrinsic to our moral lives. What is right is right regardless of what the UN says. And protecting and healing the environment is right, whether or not it saves civilization as we know it.

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Parsing Justice: Jill Lindsey Harrison’s Pesticide Drift

Image by MIT Press

In the course of batting around with a colleague the possibility of doing a paper about a biblical approach to environmental justice, I picked up Jill Lindsey Harrison’s Pesticide Drift and the Pursuit of Environmental Justice and, candidly, was disappointed. For those who are not familiar with the environmental justice movement, as I wasn’t until recently, it is an attempt to correct what are seen as deficiencies in earlier environmental activism. It does this by recognizing the overlap between environmental and social justice problems, especially the disproportionate environmental burden born by those who are socially and economically marginalized and the same peoples’ lack of voice in crafting environmental policy. Though the movement has been around for decades, and gained steam in the nineties, recently historians (like Ted Steinberg and Thomas G. Andrews), sociologists (like Harrison), and activists have begun to stress more and more that when environmental disasters “strike,” they affect the poor and racial minorities more acutely than anyone else. It is a trenchant critique of the system, one that demands the attention of any and all concerned either with environmental ethics or with social equity. I certainly do not want to imply by my critique of Harrison that there is some flaw in the environmental justice perspective. My problem with Pesticide Drift is more academic and less foundational.

Harrison’s book is not, first and foremost, an apology for environmental justice, though she does more than her fair share of preaching. Instead, she turns her critical eye on the movement’s own perception of its place in the greater environmental discussion to point out an error in thinking among environmental justice advocates.

My aim in this book is to both uphold and amend this EJ argument. This book pivots around…a case that illustrates in sharp, present detail how the workings of “raw power” shift the burden of pesticide pollution to the bodies of California’s most marginalized and vulnerable residents. That said, I also challenge the claim that environmental inequalities exist because mainstream (i.e., non-EJ) environmental politics are devoid of justice. I contend instead that environmental inequalities emerge from the cruelty and malfeasance, but also from the ways in which many well-intentioned actors are engaging in efforts to make California agriculture more environmentally sustainable.

Or, in other words, the road to the toxic contamination of Hispanic communities is paved with good intentions. It strikes me as something of an obvious point, but one that undoubtedly still needed to be made considering how haughty activists can be in the presentation of their causes as just and their methods as the lone means of achieving that justice. So, with the aim of exploring how alternate theories of justice have unintentionally collaborated with pesticides to create an environmental and social disaster, Harrison gives an overview of the pesticide drift problem in southern California and the many fateful ways that individuals, industry, and the regulatory bodies of the state have failed to prevent it.

Except that Harrison never actually proves her central claim, that there are other theories of justice operating in the various responses to environmental issues. That is not, of course, to say that she is wrong. Her proposition, having been stated, is so self-evident that it undoubtedly will stand without a proper defense. Her book, however, lacks a raison d’être without it. Harrison proposes the existence of two alternate theories of justice: the libertarian and communitarian. The former sees justice as primarily concerned with upholding personal property rights. The latter holds the community is best positioned to locate and enact justice. It is a simple taxonomy, so simple that it elucidates nothing for the reader. It would be just as convincing to say that a libertarian sense of freedom is centered on private property, or a libertarian conception of personal well-being. Or you could leave out “justice” altogether and say that libertarians focus on private property. Communitarians focus on the community. It says nothing about “justice” to collapse an entire worldview into it: Christian justice is cristocentric, utilitarian justice stresses utility. Harrison had the opportunity to explore the notions of justice–the ideas, the impulses, the cultural drivers–that inspire these alternate responses to environmental issues, but she declined to pursue any deeper than the most superficial definition of what “justice” might mean outsider her own movement.

Instead, she spends the majority of her time taking libertarianism and communitarianism to task more generally. (After all, not having defined their visions of justice with any rigor, it would be hard to do otherwise.) Libertarians have a false hope in the power of the person working in concert with the market. Individuals, while laudable in their efforts to farm sustainably, inevitably lack the ability to affect such a systemic issue as pesticide drift and struggle with the economic disincentive to do so. Industry, less laudable (why is not clear) has an even more powerful economic disincentive to create sustainable farming techniques, not when the pesticide industry is a multi-billion dollar quasi-monopoly for a handful of companies. Politicians, incentivized by industry, are content to shirk off their responsibility in exchange for campaign contributions. Communitarians are similarly naive in their assumption that a community can correct a structural issue in society and achieve social justice. Even agrifood advocates, the rank and file of the sustainable agriculture activists reading Michael Pollan and shopping at Whole Foods, reflect the kind of wealthy middle class assumptions about choice that cannot function for the impoverished communities that bear the brunt of environmental injustice. The problem with both mindsets is that problems of the size and scale of pesticide drift “require substantial government intervention” (189).*

Harrison is more than willing to set out detailed proposals for how to enact the environmental justice vision of justice on a national level, and for those who are interested only in exploring environmental justice policy, I can with all sincerity recommend (at least the last chapter of) Pesticide Drift. But for anyone expecting to have presented a compelling new intellectual framework for considering the way justice operates in environmental politics, Harrison proves an unforgivable tease. The book which will explore justice as an environmental concept in pre-EJ environmentalists, in industry, or in alternate political philosophies cries out to be written. Perhaps, if time and good fortune permit, we may yet make a contribution to that discussion by considering the implications a biblical approach to justice might have for environmental justice. In the meantime, Harrison has promised to fill a void and only stepped in to show us how empty it still is.

*(It is here that the regular reader will expect me to launch into a tirade about the gross inadequacy of the state to achieve anything of lasting good. I did just that in my personal conversations with my colleague who, like Harrison, seems to believe that after fifty years of intensive federal environmental legislation, the reason we are not seeing the kind of improvements we want is because we are simply not surrendering enough power to the state. I won’t distract myself with that nonsense here.)

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The Wisdom of John Burroughs

An interesting thought from nineteenth century naturalist John Burroughs:

Truly, man made the city, and after he became sufficiently civilized, not afraid of solitude, and knew on what terms to live with nature, God promoted him to life in the country.

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The Wisdom of Benton MacKaye

Benton MacKaye is not a figure most are familiar with. Avid hikers will know him as the originator of the Appalachian Trail, but most know little beyond that. I don’t exclude myself from that category, as I only just encountered an in depth treatment of him in Paul Sutter’s history of the wilderness movement, Driven Wild. It was there that I came across this incisive quote about the nature of cities and the need of humanity to reestablish its connections with the natural world:

The modern metropolis is the product, not of its immediate region, but of the continent and the world. It is a nerve center in a world-wide industrial system. Less and less is it indigenous; more and more is it standardized and exotic. It depends on tentacles rather than on roots. The effect of an unbalanced industrial life, it is the cause of an unbalanced recreational life. For its hectic influence widens the breach between normal work and play by segmenting the worst elements in each. It divorces them into drubbing mechanized toil on the one hand and into a species of “lollipopedness” on the other.

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The Road to Hiroshima Is Paved with Good Intentions

Mark Fiege’s Republic of Nature is a work of sufficient size and importance to warrant a full review of its contents. William Cronon, rock star of the environmental history world, offered significantly more effusive praise in his foreword: “It is surely among the most important works of environmental history published since the field was founded four or more decades ago. No book before it has so compellingly demonstrated the value of applying environmental perspectives to historical events that at first glance may seem to have little to do with “nature” or “the environment.” No one who cares about he American past can ignore what Fiege has to say.” Nor should they. Fiege’s work–which takes nine standard topics in American history and refashions them to include environmental history–demands engagement from scholars and its easy style invites it from the general public. Necessarily, a work which is linked by a common methodology rather than a common chronology or theme will be somewhat uneven, but Fiege succeeds more often than he fails in challenging the standard historiography and revolutionizing the way environmental history applies to more “conventional” history. But, as much as Fiege’s work demands full engagement, a particular chapter has so seized my attention as to compel me to stop the general review there and turn to a more particular issue: the development of the atomic bomb and Fiege’s attempts to justify it or, at the very least, mitigate the responsibility of the scientists involved.

In a chapter entitled “atomic sublime,” Fiege directly challenges the traditional historiography of the Manhattan Project. The interpretation of the scientists as cold, rationalists with an instrumental view of nature has dominated our collective memory of the makers of the atomic bomb. Instead, Fiege proposes to proceed from the assumption that “the atomic scientists and their families felt a deep affinity for all that was human, natural, and good.” This is, not in itself, an objectionable conclusion. In fact, the assumption that natural scientists should have a love of and fascination with nature is admirable. The problems arise, however, with Fiege moves beyond this to argue that the drive of the scientists to make the bomb proceed from this love of the natural and the good rather than in spite of it. Thus, at the close of the opening section of the chapter, Fiege drops this bomb (so to speak):

Perhaps a powerful attraction to nature in all its guises, whether pine trees or submicroscopic particles, encouraged intellectual processes that enabled the scientists to imagine and design the bomb. Perhaps–and here is a truly unsettling thought–the bomb was the fulfillment of all that was human, natural and good.

That is, sure enough, a deeply unsettling thought. It is, in fact, one that I find acutely unsettling given my prejudices against violence in general and against the bomb in particular. That anything which is inherently good can lead to something so unequivocally evil as the atrocities perpetrated at Hiroshima and Nagasaki seems to me so impossible on its face as to be easily dismissed. And yet, as a historian, I compelled myself to give, as far as I was humanly able, a fair reading to Fiege’s argument. I hoped that perhaps, at the end, I would find that the scientists had been coerced into creating the bomb by the government(which I am always happy to cast as the ultimate enemy) or that they had had been duped by the military about the applications of their new technology, that it would function only as a deterrent. Unfortunately, Fiege only convinced me that the scientists fooled themselves.

Fiege offers a very compelling, if sentimental, portrait of the love of the scientists for nature. Each had been drawn into science through some love of and curiosity about the natural. Fiege likens scientific research to the explorations of Victorian adventurers (whitewashing over the imperial designs of both). He tells of the times at Los Alamos where, when they were not engulfed in creating weapons of mass destruction, the scientists hiked the canyons and searched for rare cacti and waxed poetic about desert sunsets. At Los Alamos “the scientists fashioned a community that embodied their life-affirming values.” It was these very values that led them to collaborate on the atomic bomb.

How is that possible? Fiege stresses that the scientists sincerely believed that a single use of the bomb would be so dramatic, so devastating, that it would inaugurate an era of world peace–ultimately saving more lives than it took–and fling the doors of society open to allow a utopian global community. The description would be comic had Fiege intended it as a farce, but he truly believes that the scientists, through purely humanitarian motives, were compelled to create the most destructive weapon in human history. Never mind that anyone with a high school level grasp of history could have easily demonstrated that bigger weapons make for bigger wars, not peace. The scientists, as the day of completion drew nearer, began to have these same realizations but, rather than abandoning the project, instead convinced themselves that a benign demonstration of its power would be sufficient to establish their idyllic society.

These were among the most brilliant men and women in history, and what Fiege has demonstrated is not their pure motives but the ability of brilliant people for brilliant rationalizations. It is impossible to deny the obvious confluence of the greatest successes in atomic science and the most destructive global war in history. What’s more, it is difficult to not assume that the one caused the other, especially since the specific purpose of the scientists at the Manhattan Project was to develop a super weapon for use against the Germans and Japanese. What motivated the creation of the atomic bomb was precisely what motivated World War II: fear and self-interest. Fiege notes that in spite of their humanitarian concerns, scientists flocked to Los Alamos to create the bomb. In spite of their moral qualms about its use, they completed the project.

The true nature of their motives is apparent enough in their language and behavior. Just as it is apparent that wartime fervor drove the scientists to Los Alamos in spite of their theoretical reluctance, the reaction of the community at Los Alamos to Hiroshima testifies to their true feelings whatever their theoretical moral turmoil. “When news of Hiroshima reached Los Alamos, the atomic community celebrated. The revelry was spontaneous and intense. ‘We jumped up and down, we screamed, we ran around slapping each other on the backs, shaking hands, congratulating each other,’ Richard Feynman wrote.” The party continued on into the night, was formalized in a meeting in the town auditorium where Oppenheimer gave a speech received by resounding cheers, and repeated itself when the bomb fell on Nagasaki, though Fiege is careful to point out that, for Nagasaki, “the spirit just wasn’t there.” The scientists could convince themselves they were for world peace not victory, but when success and victory were at hand, they gave no thought to life or peace or morality. Instead, they indulged in the self-delusion typified by David Bradbury, child of Los Alamos, who later advocated the use of atomic weaponry for population control but insisted that he was “not pro-war. I’m most strongly pro-nature, pro-earth, pro-tree.”

It was a beautiful and thorough deception, no doubt, but it was still false and ultimately incomplete. The scientists, history remembers, went on to regret their mistake, to see the atomic bomb for what it really was. A horror, both in principle and in its tragic application in Japan. An enormity of the modern mind that is without justification and without legitimate purpose. That this realization hit only when the war was over and a cessation of hostilities (but by no means peace) was won demonstrates the true root of the scientists motives. They were engaged in an epic struggle for nation or, if you prefer, self-preservation. They were not, as Fiege concluded, pursuing the good, the beautiful, the true with an innocent curiosity and in a context of “openness, toleration, and democracy.”* As much as Fiege may wish it were so, the heart of war is not “deep moral ambiguity” and the scientists are not absolved by their good intentions. In fact, Fiege neglects to entertain the seemingly logical conclusion that they had no such benign intentions, only convincing rationalizations. It is in the clear distinction between motives and justifications that Fiege’s interpretation flounders.

Republic of Nature is worth every penny of its price, both for the times when it is compelling right and the times when it is unnervingly wrong. The success of any historical work is in provoking critical reaction, and while Fiege is unsuccessful in redeeming the Manhattan Project through environmental history, he is at least capable of forcing the reader to reconsider it. The final judgment, however, remains the same. Fiege’s is a wonderful book, even if at times it has a perverse logic. The reader ought to find repugnant (and blatantly hypocritical) the attempt to sanctify the atomic assault on Japan with the passing observation that most of the civilians killed had acquiesced to Japan’s “military conquests, slaughter of civilians, and suicidal resistance,” but it is this same willingness to challenge conventional interpretations that convincingly reinterprets the Salem witch trials as a conflict between the ideal and the real in nature. The reader simply must keep in mind that not all history is in need of revision.

*(Here Fiege is at his most disturbing and his most inadvertently brilliant when he points to the dark fact that democracy allowed the US and Britain to create the bomb and authoritarianism prevented Germany from achieving the same end. Suddenly it seems that if ever their were a critique of democracy, the atomic bomb is it.)

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In Other News

Death, as usual, abounds in the news, and, what’s more, it never seems wanting for unusual ways to strike at us. Consider the unfortunate death of the one week old panda cub at the National Zoo today:

“Panda keepers and volunteers heard a distress vocalization from the mother, Mei Xiang, at 9:17 a.m. and notified the veterinarian staff immediately,” the statement read, in part. “The panda cam was turned off and the staff were able to safely retrieve the cub for an evaluation at 10:22 a.m. Veterinarians immediately performed CPR and other life-saving measures but the cub did not respond.”

Dennis Kelly [elaborated,] “[Mei Xiang] got up and moved from where she was holding the cub and made a honk. The keepers and scientists tell me that a honk was an unusual sign to make, and we surmised that it was a distress call.”

“It was just beautiful,” said the zoo’s chief veterinarian, Suzan Murray. “Beautiful little body, beautiful little face, the markings were beginning to show around the eyes. [The cub] could not have been more beautiful.”

The zoo believes that it may have a cause of death pinpointed by Monday. On Tuesday, Cleve Foster is scheduled to die. For the third time.

[T]wice over the past year and a half, Foster has come within moments of being [executed by the state of Texas], only to be told the U.S. Supreme Court had halted his scheduled punishment.

On Tuesday, Foster, 48, is scheduled for yet another trip to the death house…

Pal’s relatives haven’t spoken publicly about their experiences of going to the prison to watch Foster die, only to be told the punishment has been delayed. An uncle previously on the witness list didn’t return a phone call Friday from The Associated Press. Foster, however, shared his thoughts of going through the mechanics of facing execution in Texas — and living to talk about it.

The process shifts into high gear at noon on the scheduled execution day when a four-hour-long visit with friends or relatives ends at the Polunsky Unit outside Livingston.

“That last visit, that’s the only thing that bothers me,” he said.

Giving death row inmates four hours in which to say goodbye to their loved ones face to face is an inadequate but humane gesture in an otherwise inhumane process. Making them relive that trauma for the third times very nearly approaches what should be universally recognized as torture. Cruel and unusual though it is to be brought repeatedly to the brink and then snatched back, all totally against one’s will, it is hardly the only form of cruelty humanity has devised and mastered.

Poachers are escalating their assault on Africa’s elephants and rhinos, and conservationists warn that the animals cannot survive Asia’s high-dollar demand for ivory tusks and rhino horn powder. Some wildlife agents, customs officials and government leaders are being paid off by what is viewed as a well-organized mafia moving animal parts from Africa to Asia, charge the conservationists.

Seeing a dire situation grow worse, the animal conservation group WWF is enlisting religious leaders to take up the cause in the hopes that religion can help save some of the world’s most majestic animals.

…The poaching numbers are grim. The number of rhinos killed by poachers in South Africa has risen from 13 in 2007 to 448 last year, WWF says. Last year saw more large-scale ivory seizures than any year in the last two decades, it said. Tens of thousands of elephants are being killed by poachers each year.

There is nothing quite like slaughter for profit to get humanity back in touch with its roots. Thankfully, conservationists are trying “new strategies.” Long recognizing that poaching is a moral problem, apparently the WWF is only just realizing that religious leaders should be part of the solution. “Faith leaders are the heart and backbone of local communities. They guide and direct the way we think, behave and live our lives,” Dekila Chungyalpa, the director of WWF’s Sacred Earth program, said, adding later: “I think this is the missing piece in conservation strategies. … WWF can yell us much as we want and no one will listen to us, but a religious leader can say ‘This is not a part of our values. This is immoral.'”

As far as death goes, this is just the tip of the iceberg.

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Christ, Jain, and the Ethic of Non-violence


It would be blatantly dishonest to suggest that my attraction to Jain was not closely tied to Jain’s most conspicuous ethical feature: ahimsa (the symbol for which is pictured on the left). Ahimsa, as a principle, corresponds closely to Western ideas like pacifism, non-violence, or non-harm, though–as with all peculiarly foreign concepts–it would be wrong to simply equate it with any of these. It is, in some respects, a richer and more comprehensive understanding of nonviolence than is found in many Western streams of pacifist thought. At other times, however, it lends itself to a shallower and more thoroughly material understanding of non-violence that Christianity may, at times, legitimately critique. The primary text to be examined on the question of ahimsa is the Sutrakrtanga written by Sudharma, a sixth century B.C. Jain monk.

The serious, even extreme, nature of Jain non-violence is immediately apparent both to the casual observer of Jain monks and to the casual reader of Jain texts. Sudharma specifies that the principle of “non-killing” should extend to all “living beings whether they move or not, on high, below and on earth.” He criticizes Buddhist monks for not following this principle: “Eating seeds and drinking cold water and what has been prepared for them, they enter upon meditation, but are ignorant of of the truth and do not possess carefulness.” The true practitioner of Jain strives not to destroy even the microscopic life that exists in water or to unthinkingly consume life simply because it has been offered as alms. Even admitting that some inadvertent killing is inevitable in life, the Jain monk takes extreme measures to avoid it and is penitent when he falls short. This is reflected in the First of the Mahavrata, or Five Great Vows, of Jain: “I renounce all killing of living beings, whether subtle or gross, whether movable or immovable. Nor shall I myself kill living beings (nor cause others to do it, nor consent to it). As long as I live, I confess and blame, repent and exempt myself of these sins, in the thrice threefold way, in mind, speech, and body.”

One of the most interesting common focuses of ahimsa and Christian non-violence is the way each faith explicitly extends the definition of violence beyond mere action. Both in the Mahavrata and the Sutrakirtanga, Jain teachers emphasize that it is not enough merely to avoid killing. One must vow to neither cause it nor consent to others doing it; “Master of his senses and avoiding wrong, he should do no harm to anybody, neither by thoughts, nor words, nor acts.” This translation of active sin into the heart of the sinner was the ethical revolution which Jesus brought to Judaism in the Sermon on the Mount. In his initial volley with the Pharisees and their legalistic application of the Law, Jesus takes up the question of murder: “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.” In the strongest possible terms, Jesus insists that it is not enough to merely not act in violence, which may be avoided simply for fear of the consequences or cowardice or lack of opportunity. As he will explain in the next passage with regard to lust, the very inclination to violence is a spiritual act of violence. In both Christianity and Jain we find a more comprehensive form of non-violence than contemporary political forms of pacifism offer. To commit to non-violence requires a total transformation not only of what one does but also how one thinks and how one experiences the world.

The most most substantial practical difference between Jain and Christianity should be obvious: Christians, overwhelmingly, don’t have a problem killing, cooking, and eating animals. Jain, in contrast, takes its version of the golden rule and applies it indiscriminately to all life: “…a man should wander about treating all creatures in the world so as he himself would be treated.” It is here where the Jain tradition offers its most pertinent critique of Christianity. Let me immediate clarify that I am by no means commending the wearing of protective masks, the methodical sweeping of the ground wherever one walks, or even thoroughgoing vegetarianism. Jesus was almost certainly not a vegetarian, and he certainly didn’t insist that his followers practice it. Quite the opposite. There is, however, an extent to which Christians have historically taken too great a license with the teaching that humanity has “dominion over” creation. It is critical that Christians remember that humans were not created distinct from creation but distinct within creation, and that our dominion is intended to be as regents of God. There is no reason that Christians should adopt the Jain version of the golden rule and follow it down the path toward ethical vegetarianism (among other applications of ahimsa), but we may appropriate reformulate it as to heighten our own sense of duty within creation: rather than “treat all living things as you would want to be treated,” perhaps, “govern creation as you would expect God to govern it.”

The reason Christianity does not accept the Jain understanding of the at least apparent scope of non-violence is because Jain has, in some sense, a more superficial understanding of what violence is and at what it may directed. Jain seems to understand ahimsa as applying to primarily acts of physical violence against biological life. Ahimsa is not as stridently applied to issues, for example, of economic, social, environmental (in a non-biological sense), and institutional violence which Christianity has stressed with varying degrees throughout its history. Peace is, for both Christianity and Jain, among the highest if not the very highest ideal, but in Christianity, the idea of peace is much more than merely non-harm toward life. It is an image of physical and metaphysical harmony where all creation is finally it accord with the Creator. Peace is the narrative of Micah 4, where in addition to the cessation of war all people flock to the mountain of God to receive instruction there and obedience to God becomes the hallmark of human existence. In this vision, as in so many other images of eschatological peace, the earth still gives up its fruit for the sustenance of all life as God had always intended it to, and in the eating of it there is no hint of violence. Thus, even while the Jain emphasis on peace as the ultimate goal appeals to Christians and teachings such as “the enlightened ones that were, and the enlightened ones that will be, they have Peace as their foundation, even as all things have the earth for their foundation” resonate, it must always be remembered that the peace of God is something more than non-violence. It is a peace which surpasses understanding, one which is better summed up in the parallelism of the psalm “Turn away from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it” than in the teaching of Sudharma, “He should cease to injure living beings…for this has been called the Nirvana, which consists in peace.”

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William Lloyd Garrison Turns Over in His Grave

In a largely symbolic gesture, PETA is suing Sea World for keeping slaves:

A federal court is being asked to grant constitutional rights to five killer whales who perform at marine parks — an unprecedented and perhaps quixotic legal action that is nonetheless likely to stoke an ongoing, intense debate at America’s law schools over expansion of animal rights.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals is accusing the SeaWorld parks of keeping five star-performer whales in conditions that violate the 13th Amendment ban on slavery. SeaWorld depicted the suit as baseless.

First and foremost, the action is highly amusing, as all sideshow attractions are intended to be. The political cartoons of swearing in orcas in open court basically draw themselves. More pertinent, however, the action highlights the fundamental incompatibility between the ideology of groups like PETA and a theologically motivated environmentalism. In spite of considering myself a person who is most decidedly for the ethical treatment of animals, I cannot endorse a PETA paradigm which understands the role of animals in creation as somehow identical to that of humanity. However we interpret it, Scripture clearly indicates an economic if not an ontological distinction between humans and animals. We have a different role in the cosmic salvation plan than orcas.

In truth, however, PETA’s argument is entirely consistent with the materialist understanding of the world which presents the clearest alternative to a faith-based understanding of the cosmos. Science would have us believe that the difference between Homo sapiens and Orcinus orca is one of human perspective. We see all animals as distinct from all humans only because we are on the inside looking out. An objective viewpoint reveals that the relationship between humans and animals is most like that between cheddar and cheese. If one species of animals has the right to self-determination and is legally protected from enslavement, then it is for Sea World to explain why another species of animals–distinct only in incidental ways–should not be afforded those rights. There are pragmatic or egocentric arguments to explain it, but PETA’s argument is by no means as absurd as it appears at first blush. In fact, it likely only appears odd because we have a shared cultural heritage in the Judeo-Christian understanding of humanity. Would Sea World even exist of native shamanism had continued to dominate in the Americas?

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