I’m taking an Environmental Policy course as part of my Political Science minor, and something we’ve discussed is the role of the Dominant Social Paradigm versus the New Environmental Paradigm.  Another name for the DSP is a Human Exceptionalism Paradigm. Paradigms are epistemological thought patterns: “a philosophical or theoretical framework of any kind”, similar to ideologies, memes, a frame of mind, way of thinking, what have you. All of which interest me greatly, because our personal behavior is dictated by the cultural values of our society, which can be compiled into these paradigms. Paradigms are like a religion with (most of) the mysticism distilled and removed. Anyway, here’s a flowchart that explains the relationship between a DSP/HEP and the NEP (though I don’t understand the purpose of the arrow marked “social change”. I wish I could get ahold of the paper)

HEP is the traditional way of thinking – anthropocentric and industrialized sociological progress, which progresses towards a consumptive culture because of its disregard for biodiversity and ecology. NEP suggests a new philosophical framework, or a different cultural value system, the likes of which people like Derek Jensen are screaming for

“there absolutely needs to be the creation of a new culture with new values (or, really, tens of thousands of cultures, each emerging from its own landbase, including the re-emergence of extant indigenous cultures). But the people involved in that cultural creation must see themselves as part of a resistance movement that supports and encourages action against the forces that are dismembering our planet, or, at least, that doesn’t actively discourage organized resistance whenever the subject is raised.”

Of course, paradigms are more powerful when they have a mythological base to build the superstructure upon. Artificial social movements with an intellectual foundation like Marxism and Esparanto are usually not nearly as successful as a culture with a long, colorful history of art, literature and philosophy justifying and extolling its virtues, like Christianity, capitalism, and just about every state actor on the planet from France to Japan. You could extend that argument to help explain the failure of African countries, created from artificial colonial divisions which contained and divided various tribes with their own cultural histories. But I digress…

Environmentalism in and of itself is not a very powerful paradigm for that reason; it is biocentric, seemingly irrational, and seems regressive in the light of the last two hundred years of industrialization. It has no root in Huntington’s “modern” civilizations or even between Barber’s “McWorld” and “Jihad,” although one could certainly imagine that McWorld and globalization wouldn’t care for an environmental ethos. Jihad, or third-world tribalism, doesn’t care too much either, in its desperate competition it’ll use whatever resources are possible to keep its integrity against its neighbors. But I don’t feel like thinking about what game theory might say about the ethics of environmentalism in the anarchy of international relations and the competitiveness of world systems etc etc.

The origin of the HEP are open to speculation; though there are three very interesting extrapolations to an answer using Christianity as the root cause. Those responses come from the work of Lynn White in 1967 –

White, himself a Christian, concluded that many of our environmental problems could be traced to the Christian notion that God gave this earth to humans for their use and specifically directed humans to exercise dominion over the earth and all of its life forms. While it is questionable that this is what White intended, the effect of the piece has been to serve as an indictment of Christianity as the source of our environmental problems, and to render laughable the idea that Christianity might have anything to contribute to our environmental crisis. As essayist Wendell Berry has observed, “the culpability of Christianity in the destruction of the natural world and uselessness of Christianity in any effort to correct that destruction are now established cliches of the conservation movement.”

It’s an understatement to say Christians are not known for their environmental causes. Indeed, a significant percentage of them are dispensationalist, which affects their policy makers and Christian attitudes regarding the environment.

“Why care about the earth when the droughts, floods, and pestilence brought by ecological collapse are signs of the Apocalypse foretold in the Bible? Why care about global climate change when you and yours will be rescued in the Rapture? And why care about converting from oil to solar when the same God who performed the miracle of the loaves and fishes can whip up a few billion barrels of light crude with a Word? Many End-Timers believe that until Jesus’ return, the Lord will provide.” 

More succinctly put,

Now, a response to challange that type of thinking and create a new mythos for an environmental paradigm using the most popular religious framework would be to suggest an alternative set of values than the traditional, flippant dispansationalist approach. The root of this thinking usually starts in the begining… literally, with Genesis 1. I’ll go KJV since that’s what fundamentalists love.

26And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.
27So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.
28And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth. 

So most look at this and say, “it’s pretty cut and dry, see, God gave us ‘dominion’ over the earth, and that lumber would be better off in my living room as a nice chaise instead of part of that old-growth forest where it’s been for a couple of decades…” and they go from there and say that Earth was created for our use. Much in the same way people used to think that the Earth was the center of the universe, they think that “Man” is the center of the biosphere. Dominance is the current, accepted social paradigm.

But there is an alternative – the idea of stewardship of the Earth still has anthropocentric roots, but in combination with relevant scriptural background, we can create a new value system that recognizes several key points, including –

  • God has a Relationship with All of His Creation (Psalm 96:10-13. Isaiah 43:20-21.
    Deut. 32:1-2. Job 37:14-18.  Psalms 104:25, 27. Matt 6:26. )
  • God’s Power is Seen in Nature (Joshua 2:11. Romans 1:20. Psalms 104:24. )
  • God Calls All of His Creation to Worship (Psalm 19:1. Isaiah 55:12-13. Nehemiah 9:6. Psalm 8:3-8. I Chron. 16:7,30-34. Rev 5:13. Job 9:5-10.)
  • God Teaches Humans through Nature (Job 12:7-10. Romans 1:19-20. Isaiah 11:9. )
  • God Expects Humans to be His Stewards with Nature (Genesis 1:26. Lev. 25:23-24. Ezekiel 34:2-4. Ezekiel 34:10. Ezekiel 34:17-18. Isaiah 24:4-6. Jer. 2:7. Luke 16:2,10,13. James 5:5. Mark 4:19. Revelation 11:18. )

If Christians can recognize biocentric values through a re-examination of scripture, perhaps environmentalism can assume a powerful aid in one root of mythos – the notion of Christian Environmentalism. My personal hope is that we can transition to this state soon; if we can abandon the tradition mindset of materialist-oriented, prosperity theology, “scorched earth” ideas on how we should live, and move to the immaterial, altruistic and conscientious ideas of being and living the church in the here and now, maybe, just maybe, we can see a new trend emerge… or maybe that’s me just being optimistic.

As for what I personally think? More alienating, optimistic idealism for another post, another time. Besides, figuring out what others think is much more interesting to me.