I’m aware you have been feeling the brunt of a headline-seeking media over your interview with the Radio Times, accompanied by some fairly nasty tweets, and do sympathise.
I am writing to you in my capacity as Churches and Theology Director for the Christian environmental charity, A Rocha UK. I would like to invite you to come and see with me first-hand some of the great work being done by Christians around the country to protect and restore the natural world.
We agree on so many things, Chris, and I love what you do and stand for. I agree particularly with your comment about our risk averse society and how kids aren’t getting out and about anymore like they (we) used to. In fact I was speaking on just that subject at a conference recently.
As we are fighting for the same things, I was saddened to read your opinion that Christianity encourages us to exploit everything and I would like to suggest, in all humility and politeness, that you have misunderstood the Christian faith.
If we believe in a God who abuses and tramples on things then, yes, to be made in the image of that God would lead us to do the same. But the God of the Christian (and Jewish) faith is a God who loves and cares, nurtures and sustains, protects the vulnerable and fights the cause of the oppressed. To be made in that God’s image (as I believe we have been) thus leads us to act likewise.
The view you hold was popularised by Dr Lynn White Jr in an article for the magazine Science in 1967. It has been discredited so many times since then that it is quite frustrating to hear it repeated (have a look at what Dave Bookless, Director of Theology for A Rocha International, wrote about it here). The fact is that any world view which puts humans on a pedestal above nature will have devastating consequences. Distortions of Christianity influenced by Greek philosophy have done this, but so have versions of Islam, unbridled capitalism, secular scientific humanism, atheistic communism and so on.
Your comment saddened me because it flies in the face of what is happening in the contemporary conservation movement. I was surprised to hear it coming from someone of your calibre.
Indeed, I am sure you know that the roots of the wildlife conservation movement largely lie with committed Christians such as John Ray, Gilbert White and John Muir, and that some of the key figures in many of the larger secular environmental NGOs are themselves Christians.
Your comment ignores the work that my own organisation, A Rocha, has been doing for the last thirty years, with work in twenty countries around the world, and that of millions of Christians who are involved in caring for nature because of their faith.
There is now significant recognition that faith communities (Christian and others) – which represent 80% of the world’s population – give an ethical basis for the value of non-human species that the conservation movement otherwise struggles to articulate. In a world where hope is often so hard to find, we need to be working together, not alienating one another.
And so, again, I am inviting you to meet with myself and others (we have quite a few mutual friends actually!). I would love the opportunity to share A Rocha’s vision with you, to show you the practical action being taken by many Christians around the country, and to conspire together as to how we can work to change this country for the good, acting in ways that take care of all its inhabitants.
I look forward to hearing from you.
With all best wishes,
Dr Ruth Valerio
Churches and Theology Director, A Rocha UK