Environmental Theology,
the inconvenient truth...

I'm not part of the Evangelical Environmental Network, the Religious Right or a believer in the traditional sense, but active participation from those groups will be needed to solve the problems associated with Climate Change and Peak Oil.

Climate Change and Post Peak Oil will cause wide spread suffering and are manifestations of mankind's mismanagement of natural resources. To mitigate the unintended consequence associated with Climate Change and Post Peak Oil will require cooperation from all segments of society. So to encourage religious people to take proactive steps to conserve natural resources I thought I would show a connection between ancient religious text and the environment.

I'll start with an observation; in a modern day consumer society, conspicuous consumption and coveting thy neighbors wife/goods is the new god society in general worships. In towns and cities all across the land, shopping malls and big box retailers are the temples where people practice their new religion.

In the Old Testament the "Ten Commandments1" generally refers to the very similar passages in Exodus 20:2-17 and Deuteronomy 5:6-21. Since the old testament is the basis of the religion of Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Ishmael, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, David, Solomon, Jesus and Mohammed there are similar key concepts, irrespective of text translation or faith (Jewish, Christian or Muslim).

Deuteronomy: The Ten Commandments, excerpted biblical text a Dead Sea Scroll manuscript

This text of the Ten Commandments is longer than traditional translations and reflects both biblical versions of the Sabbath commandment (Exodus 20:11 and Deuteronomy 5:11). This law instructs the Israelites not to work on the Sabbath to remember their rescue from slavery in Egypt and God's resting on the 7th day of creation. Many people practice this tradition of rest today. This DEAD SEA scroll is the best preserved of all the Deuteronomy manuscripts discovered at Qumran. This text may have been used in prayer and is not necessarily a copy of the entire biblical book of Deuteronomy.

The Ten Commandments-considered by some to be a logical code of moral conduct and by others a social order designed by the Creator of the cosmos-have influence around the world far beyond their Middle Eastern origins. Thirty-two Deuteronomy scrolls were discovered at Qumran-the text is second only to Psalms in its popularity. The biblical book of Deuteronomy contains Moses' farewell speech to the Israelites, chronicling their history and journey from Egypt to the Promised Land. The text includes teachings of the law and emphasizes God's "covenant" with Israel, a common theme in the Qumran community's writing.

If I'm not mistaken about the things people seem to value in a consumer society, then conspicuous consumption and coveting thy neighbors wife/goods breaks a few of God's commandments2.

Now let's look at the only biblical story in the New Testament in which Jesus used physical force against adversaries. We see it takes place in the Temple, when he confronted the money-changers.

In the three gospel accounts (Matthew 21:12-13; Mark 11:15-17; John 2:14-16) one can read about Jesus turning over the tables of the money-changers and denouncing their trade. The sweeping away of money-changers might be thought of as sweeping away obstacles to wholeness, to justice, to freedom. Because Jesus tried to put an end to business as usual in the Temple, he was not a popular figure with the chief priests and the elders who might be thought of as false prophets themselves (Matthew 26:55; Mark 11:27; Luke 20:1). The end result of all this troublemaking by Jesus in the temple, was the powers that be, called in the authorities, so that he could be arrested.

Imagine this synoptic gospel in a contemporary setting. Instead of a Temple, Jesus might enter a shopping mall or invade a bastion of conspicuous consumption like Times Square on 42nd Street in New York City. Because people in a modern society frequent shopping venues, instead of chief priests in a temple, the Apostles might write a Gospel about Jesus confronting corporations trying to seduce consumers into buying products (like Nike shoes, DKNY clothing, a Cadillac Escalade SUV, or some other bling3 based fashion fad item). The basic truth is too many adults, act like kids who use material possessions as a coping strategy for feelings of low-self worth.

Rev. Billy looks the part of a born again bible thumper or TV evangelist

A few years ago at Burning Man I happened to meet Rev. Billy who is a performance artist with a choir in New York. What Rev. Billy and his group do, is perform retail interventions at various retail establishments like: Starbucks, the Disney Store, etc. Eventually these retailers always call the police in to remove Rev. Billy and his entourage. I guess its because exorcisms of credit card machines prevent retailers from conducting business as usual.

As sacrilegious as Rev. Billy and his choir might seem to the business and political establishment, it might be argued that his group is following the example set by Jesus. I found it ironic that Rev. Billy a modern day performance artist, and religious texts in the Old Testament, both denounce branding people with marks.

In Revelation 14:9-12, an angel warns of wrath and retribution to all those who bear the mark or name of the beast. So if you buy into my updated interpretation that conspicuous consumption and coveting goods, is the false god many people now worship, then how far of a stretch of the imagination would it be to consider buying clothing with brand logos as something with the mark of the beast.

Advertising as entertaining as it tries to be, basically is a company or even a political interest group doing its best to manipulate and condition a consumers to be brand loyal. The goal of a company that uses advertising in a marketing champaign, is to boost sales for products (one might not actually need).

The down side to all this marketing and social conditioning, is consumers never seem satisfied, because there is always something newer, better or faster. Ever notice that advertising and many TV shows, glorify conspicuous consumption and do their best to get people to covet goods?

When a consumer buys something newer, better or faster for the sake of trying to satisfy an urge created by some slick marketing champaign, then too often the product (which still might work and fulfill its original goal), is just thrown away.

By not understanding the difference between wants and needs, and being seduced by slick ads, a consumer is doing nothing more worshiping the false god of conspicuous consumption; which has very high environmental costs and is unsustainable. By unsustainable I am referring to calculating the embodied energy which is an accounting method that aims to find the sum total of the energy (from the raw material extraction, transport, manufacturing, assembly, installation and a products disposal costs) of a consumer culture and discovering demand exceeds supply of basic natural resources.

With the subprime housing bubble, too many people thought it was possible to live the beyond ones financial means using credit. But eventually that economic bubble burst because it was unsustainable. In any case, a mismanaged environment like a mismanaged banking system will eventually come crashing down.

Jesus did not mince words when it came to religious hypocrisy. That, more than anything else, is what got him killed. His crucifixion at the Garden of Gethsemane, was a staged assassination initiated by religious hypocrites who Jesus effectively exposed to the people under their authority.

"Then assembled together the chief priests, and the scribes, and the elders of the people ...And consulted that they might take Jesus by subtlety, and kill him." (Matthew 26:3-4) Jesus also said to beware of holy "acting" people who set themselves above others, taking advantage of their goodness! (Luke 20:46,47)

If you seem troubled by my observation, that conspicuous consumption and coveting thy neighbors goods is the new god in a consumer based society, then you might see that social norms that do not acknowledge the earth has limits on natural resources, have set the stage for mankinds assassination.

Caring for the environment, I'll admit won't be easy. This is because modern society is filled with an untold number of advertisements that glorify conspicuous consumption. After reading Luke 4:2 which describes Jesus being tempted by the devil, ask yourself is advertising that glorifies conspicuous consumption the work of the devil.

The phrase "The eye of a needle" is an apt metaphor that describes the moral crisis of finding a safe haven, away from all demons that populate consumer culture, glorify conspicuous consumption and ignore basic conservative management principals.

Jesus said something to the effect in Matthew 19:24... I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. Parallel versions of this passage appear in Matthew 19:23-24, Mark 10:24-25 and Luke 18:24-25.

Long story short; religious theology can have many different interpretations and I'll be the first to admit the quotes and bible translations I picked out using the web are not 100% accurate.

But I'm 100% sure that unsustainable conspicuous consumption of natural basic resources (like water and oil) will eventually lead to a proverbial hell on earth for those people who get stuck with the mismanagement of mankind not striving to maximize the use of limited natural resources, which is the opposite of being a good stewards of the environment. So the only advise I can give to avoid hell is; tell everyone to balance human desires which are boundless against the fact that there are limited natural resources on the planet Earth.

Have your own take on the environment? Then use the graffiti wall to post your own opinion!

Reference used:

  1. Randy Cassingham, 1997-FEB-02, at: http://www.thisistrue.com/

    Did ya know in one poll... "Only 68 of 200 religious leaders could name all Ten Commandments, but half said they believed in space aliens" so, next time ya run into a bible thumper ask them to recite each and every commandment, it might be good for a laugh.

    BTW few people realize that the Torah (the first five books of the Old Testament which is the basis of judaism) actually contains not ten, but 600 plus commandments, and several of those lessor known commandments concern food. For example: no meat with milk, no pork (or any animal that has a "cloven hoof") and no shellfish. Because all those commandments can be hard to remember, a wise Catholic Theologian simplified things...

  2. Biblical text is on the order of thousands of years old, so over time changes intentional or not have taken place!

    When I went to see the dead sea scrolls, they had something that might be kind of an inconvenient truth for evangelical fundamentalists who take the bible literally and think things have never changed. Basically it was an exhibit showing that in the oldest known copy of the story about david and Goliath, the height of Goliath was six feet high instead of the more dramatic 9 or 10 feet tall which is the figure given in modern bibles... The basic gist of that part of the dead sea scrolls exhibit, is over time errors of transcription and/or translation and/or exaggeration become incorporated into the text of the bible.

    Which reminds me back at university when I took a comparative literature class on religious texts, the prof who was catholic priest had collected a series of examples from different bibles showing error propagation over time. But interestingly enuf, the same problem of errors in the bible does not occur when reading the 114 chapters (each called in Arabic a sura) of the koran because translation into other languages is not encouraged by tradition.

    Before I forget, the broken commandments I am referring to as taught to me by the penguin in parochial school is the 1st (I am the lord thy god, thou shall not have any false gods before me), and the 9th and 10th (the stuff about the wife and goods).

  3. Conspicuous Consumption and Race, August 2007

    Kerwin Kofi Charles (University of Chicago)
    Erik Hurst (University of Chicago)
    Nikolai Roussanov (University of Pennsylvana)

    ABSTRACT: Using nationally representative data on consumption, we show that Blacks and Hispanics devote larger shares of their expenditure bundles to visible goods (clothing, jewelry, and cars) than do comparable Whites. Moreover, we show that accounting for differences in reference group income characteristics explains most of the racial difference in visible consumption. We conclude with an assessment of the role of conspicuous consumption in explaining lower spending by racial minorities on items likes health and education, as well as their lower rates of wealth accumulation.

    To kinda prove or disprove this thesis I'd be interested to read a peer reviewed paper done on Rev. Dollar who preaches a "Prosperity Gospel" (swear to "god" i'm not making this stuff up). Guess if I were dirt poor and not too smart, a message like a "Prosperity Gospel" would resonate, in much the same way Islamic Jihad suicide bombers blow themselves up for 72 virgins which is their reward if they die in holy war.

    BTW while looking for information on the web about various religious theologies, I found a list of 72 questions I think would be interesting to ask a Muslim Imam (basically a person with special qualities relevant to the Muslim religion) about the Islamic Jihad tradition of 72 virgins in paradise.

    1) What if the bomber wants girls with more experience?
    2) What if one virgin is no good in bed? Does she get replaced or is he stuck with 71?
    3) If he's gay, does he get male virgins?
    4) What if he's celibate? What does he get?
    5) What if he hasn't reached puberty yet? Does he get 72 Xboxes till he comes of age?
    6) If he's bi, does he get 36 of each?
    7) If he blows himself up while building the bomb, does he still get credit?
    8) What do you call a relationship with 72 women, a menage-a-soixante-deux?
    9) Are they like 72 wives or 1 wife and 71 concubines?
    10) What if he's ugly or smells bad and the virgins don't want anything to do with him?
    11) Is there viagra in paradise? Ya know, just in case?
    12) Is there an age of consent?
    13) When they're deflowered, do they get replaced by new virgins or are they "born again"?
    14) Do they become his common-law wives eventually?
    15) If he has a tryst with a 73rd virgin, do the others consider it cheating?
    16) Do the virgins have a union? If so, can they strike if they're not satisfied?
    17) Is there a temp agency that replaces virgins if they call in sick?
    18) What if the bomber's into animals? Does he get accommodated?
    19) Why 72? Is 71 too few? Is 73 too many?
    20) If it was a female bomber, how do the male virgins prove their virginity?
    21) What happens when paradise runs out of virgins?
    22) Can a bomber make reservations on specific virgins before he blows himself up?
    23) If there are no virgins available, is he put on a waiting list?
    24) If he's a catholic priest, does he get 72 little boys?
    25) Would you call a female bomber a bombshell?
    26) Would you call a child bomber a bombino?
    27) Is it not 73 out of respect for Barry Bond's home run record?
    28) If the bomber previously dated one of the virgins, does it get awkward?
    29) Do they have a bomb squad in paradise just in case one of the charges didn't go off?
    30) Did they start using female bombers because they ran out of virgins for the guys?
    31) If she's a lesbian, do they "convert" the virgins, or will straight girls suffice her?
    32) Does a hermaphrodite bomber get hermaphrodite virgins?
    33) If so, are there 72 available?
    34) If they run out of virgins, do they get inflatable dolls till they find more?
    35) If a bomber finds an infidel in paradise, can he blow him up and get 72 more virgins?
    36) Could the Koran have had a typo and it actually provided just one 72 year old virgin?
    37) Is Muslim hell being one of the 72 virgins?
    38) Instead of 72 guys, would a female bomber settle for 1 man who does dishes and garbage?
    39) Do the bombers go broke on Valentine's Day?
    40) If he's monogamous, does he pick one of the 72 or does he get a supermodel?
    41) What if he doesn't like either gender? Does he just klutz around in paradise?
    42) Eternity is long, and eventually he'll grow bored of his 72 women. What happens then?
    43) How does he pick the 72 to begin with? Lottery? Beauty pageant? Police lineup?
    44) Is he allowed to covet his neighbor's virgins?
    45) Do the virgins have agents and/or contracts?
    46) If so, can a virgin request to be traded or put on waivers if she's unhappy?
    47) What should he say if one of the virgins asks "Does this Burka make me look fat?"
    48) If he gives the wrong answer, is he uh, screwed?
    49) How is anyone expected to handle a catfight amongst 72 women?
    50) Did the 9/11 hijackers who didn't know they were going to die get 72 virgins too?
    51) Are scouts employed to find virgin talent?
    52) Do the virgins ever retire, or do they remain virgins forever?
    53) If they retire, what kind of pension plan do they get?
    54) Wouldn't it be interesting if they're virgins because they're ugly?
    55) So is it 72 Muslim girls or like 1 virgin from every culture?
    56) Wouldn't it be sweet if Lorena Bobbit got hired as one of the virgins?
    57) What does Gloria Steinem have to say about all this?
    58) When he gets home, does he have to say "How was your day?" to all 72 virgins?
    59) Do they have counseling for sexual addiction in paradise?
    60) If the virgins start hogging the remote, is he in hell?
    61) They must take up an entire theater when they go to the movies, huh?
    62) Are there restaurants in paradise that can accommodate a reservation for 73?
    63) If a virgin suffers from multiple personalities, is she considered two virgins?
    64) Does he get all the virgins at once, or do they have an installment plan?
    65) Is the bomber entitled to subsitutes, exchanges, or refunds?
    66) What if all the king's horses and all the king's men can't put the bomber together again?
    67) Is "not tonight, dear, I have a headache" a valid excuse in paradise?
    68) Do the virgins come with a warranty?
    69) If so, does paradise replace defective parts and provide on-site service?
    70) What do you call a lifetime warranty if you're dead?
    71) Do siamese twin bombers get 144 virgins?
    72) Who gets to clean up all those nasty sheets?

    Back to the main point of this footnote; BLING and CONSPICUOUS CONSUMPTION are pretty much the same thing, "fashion fad" BS! For example as people move up the social/economic ladder and move to the burbs, the "wet dream" of homeowners out there is a green lawn. If you're in the burbs and want to accumulate wealth, change your mindset from a consumer who follows "fashion fads" like some dumb lemming, and think like an investor to analyze your landscaping. If you incorporate the business concept of "return on investment" in landscaping, then you would realize that a large lawn area, in economic terms is nothing more than "a non-performing asset" that uses lots of resources (by that I mean other than raising curb appeal it serves no other real function for a majority of the time). One alternative to a lawn is "Xeriscaping" which uses a fraction of the water needed by traditional lawn-dominated landscapes and requires far less ongoing maintenance.

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