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Attempts to illuminate our brief mortal existence

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Christianity and Climate Change: Part 2

My wife and I recently listened to a recording of a lecture entitled “Christianity and Climate Change: Understanding the Range of Responses.” The speaker was Janel Curry, Dean of Research and Professor of Geology, Geography, and Environmental Studies at Calvin College, and she gave the lecture in October of 2007 and again in May of 2008 as part of Calvin College's seminar series on Christian perspectives in science. If you are interesting in exploring the relationship between Christianity and science, the web page for the seminar series is an excellent resource.

This is part 2 of a 3 part series.

In my last post, I looked at the first factor in Curry's framework – eschatology. This post will discuss the second factor – integration. Integration represents a tradition's formulation of the relationship between God, nature, and humans. To illustrate a highly integrated worldview, Curry relates the story of a farmer in Iowa who told her that the number of birds on his farm had decreased during the 1980s farm depression. Curry's analytical mind quickly jumped to changes in land use patterns as an explanation for this phenomenon. She asked the farmer about her idea, and he responded by saying that it was the “state of humanity” during that time that caused the number of birds to decrease. The farmer viewed nature and humans as integrated, not as two unrelated things.

Curry discusses two traditions that have a high level of integration in their theology – Reformed and Catholic (can you tell yet that she is from Calvin College? :). The Reformed tradition views people and nature as tied together because they are both parts of God's plan for Shalom. Redemption in this tradition is all-encompassing, not just limited to humans.

The Catholic tradition also has a high level of integration. Curry specifically points to the National Catholic Rural Life Conference as an example. This organization views nature and humanity as being very closely related. Their website states the following: “...creation has an integrity and an inherent value beyond its utility or usefulness for human beings. Human beings are meant to be responsible stewards of creation, and indeed we can say that we work in harmony with God as co-creators. Just as God is one, the web of life is one and we are its caring stewards.”

Traditions with a low level of integration are dualistic – they emphasize the gap between humans and nature. Curry specifically points to her research involving seminary students. Baptist seminary students tended to conceptualize nature, humans, and God as very distinct entities. Some viewed nature as something that God does not directly interact with – instead, God interacts with humans who then interact with nature.

What are the implications of integration? A higher level of integration leads to the idea that all choices, even ones about the environment, have spiritual implications. Choices of what cars to drive, where to buy food, what companies to support – all of these have spiritual implications. There is nothing that is “outside” the realm of spirituality in a highly integrated tradition. Also, somewhat obviously, a high level of integration leads to high value being given to the earth. This relates back to eschatology and the accompanying views of nature. If nature is integrated along with humanity in God's plan of redemption, then nature will hold more importance then it will if it is viewed only as a neutral stage upon which God interacts with humans.

Here are some important questions for you to think about and respond to relating to integration:

  1. Is the earth worth saving? Does it have any intrinsic value? Or is it just a “backdrop” for the salvation of humans?

  2. What is the extent of redemption? Is it limited to humans?

  3. Do choices relating to the earth have spiritual implications?

  4. What is your vision of what the human/nature relationship should look like? What is the vision of your tradition?

Eschatology and integration. Two down, one to go :). In my next post, I will finish with a discussion of the responsibility factor. Interestingly enough, the Mennonite tradition will make an appearance in this one :).

Note: The focus of this series is not on climate change in and of itself, but rather on responses to climate change. Please do not try to argue about the science in the comments. If you are interesting in learning more about climate science, the following resources may be helpful: NASA's Earth Observatory, a website by Scott Mandia, and the IPCC AR4 FAQs.


  1. Where science, humanism, and Christianity clash is at the point where redemption & saving include a certain amount of dying.

  2. True. But it is "a certain amount of dying" that has purpose (namely "redemption and saving").

    Perhaps you could expand on your thoughts?