Presidential candidate, Rick Santorum, criticized the theology of Barack Obama recently, calling it “phony.” I’ve been thinking about what a legit theology might look like today.
Santorum’s remarks come in the context of statements about the environment and human consumption (thanks, Facebook friends, for helping me see this). Santorum criticizes Obama’s approach to ecological issues and how those affect environmental policies. Santorum claims Obama’s approach is not biblical.
Thanks, Rick Santorum
I’m grateful to Santorum for bringing up this subject. I’m convinced that Christians need to examine more closely what the Bible has to say about humanity’s relation to the world and other creatures.
The Bible offers many texts from which we could draw for constructing an adequate theology of creation. But the text most address comes in Genesis 1:26:
God says, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and … (etc.)”
The key word here is “dominion.” Some translations use the word “stewardship” or some variation. After all, "dominion” sounds like “dominate.” Still others prefer the phrase “care for creation” or “covenant with creation.”
Unfortunately, humans have sometimes dominated – in quite unhealthy ways – other creatures on our planet. And humans have exploited the planet’s resources for unhealthy ends. The examples are numerous. I see examples often as I hike my home state of Idaho, but there are many more around the globe.
At the center of discussion for Christians seems to be what we mean by “dominion” or “care for creation.” The biblical text is not clear.
These issues comprise what many call “ecology theology.” This approach to theology tries to ascertain how humans ought best respond to their fellow creatures and the land on which they live.
Which Candidate Cares for Creation?
Santorum's statements about Obama's theology came at a political pep rally. So we should't read too much into them. Pep rallies encourage hyperbole, not careful reflection.
I must admit, however, that when it comes to environmental issues, I’ve been more impressed by measures promoted by Obama’s Democratic party than Santorum’s Republican Party. I’m speaking in generalities, of course. But I like the Democratic track record more than the Republican one on the environment.
The vast majority of societies and organizations intent on protecting creatures and the environment side with Democratic candidates over Republican ones. I don’t agree with all of these groups’ agendas. But it does say something important when so many pro-environment groups back Democratic nominees.
One of my favorite theologians on issues of theology and nature is Sallie McFague. In her book, Super, Natural Christians, McFague contrast two ways of relating to creation.
When we relate to creation with what McFague calls, “an arrogant eye,” we try to control, exploit, and dominate creation. But when we see creation through what she calls “the loving eye,” we see creatures as subjects, we acknowledge creation’s mystery and complexity, and we see ourselves as interdependent with creation.
Many of my fellow Christians have either an arrogant eye or an indifferent eye when it comes to issues of ecological health. They seem often too worried about being called a “tree-hugger” and less interested in thinking seriously about the planet God incarnates.
Of course, Christians can come to different conclusions about how to care for creation. Christians can come to different conclusions about how to combat global warming/climate change/whatever you want to call the heating up of the planet. But we should agree that God calls us to care for other creatures and the world in which we live.
I don’t know what Rick Santorum has in mind for his theology of the environment. I hope, however, he is more interested in loving creation than arrogantly exploiting it. I will look more closely at his past record on environmental issues should he get the Republican nomination for president.
I hope whoever eventually gets the Republican nomination is interested in loving creation. And I hope the same for Barack Obama. We need leaders who lead the charge in caring for and not exploiting God's earth and its inhabitants.
A phony theology ignores the charge that humans ought to care for creation. A phony theology thinks God cares only for humans. A phony theology cares only about the afterlife.
A robust biblical theology affirms God’s care for all creation. And that theology and those who affirm it encourage us to join God in this caring activity.