Thinking Out Loud

November 10, 2018

Environmental Social Contract

Either my memory is fading, or the version of “social contract theory” that I was taught in university had less to do with the role government, and more to do with the individuals in a society — even a local neighborhood — acting in practical ways toward mutual deference to each other. offers this:

1. the voluntary agreement among individuals by which, according to any of various theories, as of Hobbes, Locke, or Rousseau, organized society is brought into being and invested with the right to secure mutual protection and welfare or to regulate the relations among its members.

2. an agreement for mutual benefit between an individual or group and the government or community as a whole.

In my view, when I’m driving down an undivided highway I am trusting that the car coming the opposite way will stay in its lane, and he or she is trusting that I will do the same.

When the neighbor across the road is changing his oil, I’m trusting he won’t pour the old oil into the municipal sewer system which goes into the lake, from which we get our drinking water.

But I’ve seen that done, close up.

When the other neighbor, who runs the chemical pesticide lawn treatment business needs to empty the tank on his truck, I’m trusting he won’t just drive to the abandon lot and dump the contents onto the soil.

But I’ve seen that done, relatively close up.

On a macro scale, I’m also trusting that the industrial and commercial businesses in our region won’t release toxins into the air through their smokestacks and won’t discharge carcinogenic chemicals into our lakes and rivers.

But we know that happens.

This may be a bit biased, but in the case of those macro infractions, I think that factories and manufacturing plants in America are more likely to see their legislators avert their eyes than what we see in my country. In the U.S., profit is king. The rights of business take precedence.  Which is interesting because, nominally at least, Americans would claim a much higher percentage of people identifying as Christians, and one view of scripture teaches that we ought to be caring for (stewarding) the earth, while another (possibly overlapping) view teaches that while the earth as we know it may be destroyed, the planet itself won’t be and in fact becomes a “New Earth” that we will inhabit in eternity.

Realistically, there doesn’t seem to be a solid entrenchment of environmental social contract in place. While themes like water pollution and air pollution don’t dominate either our conversations or our pop songs like they once did, we still treat the earth with relative disdain.



May 22, 2017

Creation Care and the Gospel

I grew up in an Evangelical world that tended to look down their noses at Christian groups which stressed environmentalism. The thinking was that these once-focused denominations had been somewhat hijacked by their move toward an environmental emphasis and that doing so meant that the proclamation of the gospel of the Kingdom taught by Jesus was pushed to the background or sacrificed altogether.

While I still believe that the teaching on the atonement provided by the cross, and the resurrection of Jesus must be our central themes, I am now more open to a Christianity that leaves room for some environmental concern. Three things contributed to this.

The first was a reexamination of Genesis and a greater awareness of it giving us a mandate to be stewards of the earth. Creation care is scriptural.

The second was a reexamination of the prophetic passages in scripture that made me realize that we’re not necessarily told about a heaven that’s up there somewhere, as we are told about new earth. Randy Alcorn’s Heaven is an excellent primer on this theme, but if you find a 530 book intimidating, consider the bite-sized portions he offers in 50 Days of Heaven. I don’t know if was him or someone else who said, “God has too much invested in this real estate to simply walk away from it.” Whether the renewal of the earth will take place as a simple reversal of what happened at the fall or whether human-initiated nuclear destruction will bring about the reset, I don’t know. But God seems to have more in mind for this particular planet, and while not throwing your litter out the window while you’re on the freeway may not help matters much in the grand scheme of things, we could at least show some respect.

The third thing was a quote I read in a copy of The Plain Truth. I think I was a student on a bus heading home from university classes — I was a commuter student who therefore never had the residence experience — and furthermore I can’t tell you if this was before or after Armstrong’s group’s crossing the line from cult to something more orthodox. I just know that I was a periodical junkie, so anything in a free rack got picked up by me.

The author — I don’t know if it was Armstrong himself or a staff writer — quoted Deuteronomy 23:12-13

You shall also have a place outside the camp and go out there, and you shall have a spade among your tools, and it shall be that when you sit down outside, you shall dig with it and shall turn to cover up your excrement. (NAS)

Interestingly enough, when I Googled the verse just now to find it, one of the first pages to show was titled “The Old Testamentary Latrine.” I checked some more modern translations, but nothing more is gained; the text above is rather plain on this.

I realize we don’t follow a lot of the guidance given in Leviticus and Deuteronomy, but I felt the wisdom of the Bible on this particular, practical topic has been lost. At least it has where I live.

Here’s the thing: I live in the Great Lakes region. Furthermore, I live on the Canadian side which is teeming with fresh water lakes of various sizes besides great. Where do you think our sewage goes? Not in the ground, as prescribed in the above passage. Into the lakes. Sure it’s treated beforehand, except on days where there are major rainstorms and then the raw sewage has to be released into the lakes. Yes, it’s treated before it returns to our kitchen tap.

But think about that for a moment.

Thomas Lynch praised the thing. “The flush toilet,” he wrote, “more than any single invention, has ‘civilized’ us in a way that religion and law could never accomplish.”

But not everyone agrees. I have two quotations here that I need readers to help me source. By helping me you’ll not only get your name at the bottom of this article, but a wing in our university will be named after you.

  • The flush toilet is the worst invention ever foisted on civilization.
  • It is inconceivable that any society would think to flush its waste into lakes and rivers and then attempt to render that same water drinkable.

Searching did not produce a name to attach to either quote, but I think the truth of the first statement comes through in the second…

…Together, these various factors combined to make me more inclined to think it’s okay to be a Christian and be an environmentalist. I’m sure Thomas Lynch was a wise man, but I think he got this one wrong.

I think Deuteronomy 23 has the right idea.

I’d spend more time on this, but right now I have to go.







March 13, 2010

Redefining “Giving Back” To The Community

Filed under: environment, issues — Tags: , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:37 pm

St. Sargis Armenian Orthodox Church, Yerevan, Armenia

It could be something as simple as setting up a soup kitchen and serving lunch one day per week.   Or it could be spending $100,000 (CDN) to put solar panels on the roof of the church to give electricity back to the power grid.

Hillcrest Mennonite Church in New Hamburg, Ontario, Canada is one of many churches around the world doing the latter:

This year, the congregation plans to install $100,000 worth of solar panels on the church grounds, said Rob Yost, the congregation’s green advocate.

Energy from the panels, covering an area of nearly 57-square-metres (613-square-feet), will be sold to the Ontario Power Authority.   “It (the solar power system) should pay for itself in 10 years…”  [full article]

It’s the same story in the UK, where the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams weighs in:

Considering the effectiveness of the solar panel project, Dr Williams told the Standard: “I think it works amazingly well. They have used the natural advantages of the church roof in the best possible way.

“It is really a model that I hope a lot of places will be following. I was in Grimsby yesterday and at one church there already they were thinking of doing the same thing on the model that has been done here.   It is a pioneering thing.   [full article]

In the U.S., Bethel Lutheran Church in Cupertino, California is part of the trend:

The new panels will also give children in the church’s school the opportunity to learn about solar energy, as a website that shows the congregation’s energy usage will teach the kids about its importance.

And in a move that benefits the entire town of Cupertino, Bethel successfully petitioned the city council to lower solar permit scheduling fees for non-profits from $5700 to $1500.

According to Pastor Randy Pabst, this is just the beginning of the church’s plans— the congregation wants to double or triple its present solar capacity in the future.

Why solar? “We’re being good stewards of the world God has given us,” said Pabst.   [full article]

And in southeast Europe, solar panels blend with classical architecture (see picture, above)  in Yerevan, Armenia:

One can agree that it is a very rare phenom to see solar panels on the top of the roof of the house of God. Moreover, when solar energy panels are seen on the roof of an Orthodox church, known for its conservatism, the challenge to reconsider your view on Orthodoxy and its approach to stewardship of creation becomes irresistible. [full article]

The capital outlay for solar panels is huge, with churches not expecting to see the financial break-even point for at least ten years.  So you could argue that this is another example where the rich [churches] get rich and the poor [churches] get poorer.

However, it can clearly be argued that the churches that are doing these projects are not doing so to see increased attendance, or make a profit, but are truly giving something back to the communities where they live.

The more electricity generated in this manner, the fewer highly-capital-intensive projects that need to be undertaken to build electrical generating stations powered by wind, fossil fuel, water or nuclear energy.

December 13, 2009

The Gospel of Environmentalism

“Earth is a primary, man is a derivative.”

It was one of the great lines we remembered from our visit to a local United (as in United Church of Canada) church many, many years ago; a moment somewhat overshadowed minutes later however when the children’s church worker not only “misplaced” our then two-year-old son, but claimed he had never been in the room to begin with.   After a few very panicked minutes we found him wandering around another part of the building.

Today we decided to visit to see if we would leave with a better impression all these years later.

Instead, nothing has changed.

The message of environmentalism somehow got intertwined with the advent of Christ’s coming;  it was more Unitarian than United;  our response to the Copenhagen Summit on Climate Change dominated what our response should be to Jesus.

But the one that really got me was that former Vice President Al Gore and Canadian environmental activist David Suzuki were proclaimed as prophets and placed on an equal footing with Zephaniah, whose text formed the basis of the morning’s homily.     (“I will assemble the nations” in verse 8 of chapter 3 was paralleled to the event in Copenhagen.)

Reading Heaven by Randy Alcorn has given me an enhanced perspective on how we need to care for the environment.   Evangelicals dropped that agenda years ago and are realizing that sometimes the so-called “social gospel” actually is the gospel.   We’re emphasizing texts wherein caring for the earth and its people is honoring to God; texts that had been set aside for those which favored acts of proclamation.

But the main message at Christmas — the one no church can afford to miss — is found in Paul’s words in I Tim 1:15

15-16Here’s a word you can take to heart and depend on: Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners. I’m proof—Public Sinner Number One—of someone who could never have made it apart from sheer mercy.  [The Message]

For the people who are faithful to this particular congregation, what they experienced this morning is church.   And there was one reference to the concept of incarnation.   But the major takeaway was the environment.     Earth is a primary.   Man is a derivative.

Imagine going to church at Christmas and Jesus isn’t there.

June 4, 2009

Economics Without Consequences

Truth or ConsequencesA couple of days ago I wrote about General Motors and suggested that if the government is stepping in to take over the operations of GM to save it from bankruptcy, surely it sets a precedent for other iconic companies. A comment posted wondered why the U.S. government didn’t do what it did with Bell, where it broke the company up into several Baby Bells. I also mentioned WalMart in passing.

What if something did happen to WalMart? Would the government simply let it die? Not if GM is any indication. But what if GM, and WalMart, and Mircosoft, and Coca Cola, and Major League Baseball, and Starbucks, and MacDonalds; what if they all were teetering on the edge and the government was having to step in to save them all? And what do you call it when the government owns a sizable portion of the industry taking place? Not capitalism, that’s for sure.

The problem is — as I stated already — we want to live in a world without consequences. The next generation to take over the world of business and commerce had its earliest interaction with the world of consequences around the topic of sex. Don’t want disease or pregnancy? Just use a condom. Already pregnant? Just have an abortion. In debt over your head? Declare bankruptcy. Don’t like your spouse? Get a divorce. Don’t like your job? Just quit, you can always go on welfare. Did something less than honest? Just get a good lawyer.

A world without consequences. But what if everything we ever did could come back to haunt us? Apparently this isn’t a new thought for me. Here’s what I posted on this blog exactly one year ago.


The part of the world where I live has finally got around to banning the use of cosmetic pesticides and herbicides on commercial and residential lawns. Unfortunately, it doesn’t take effect until the current season of chemicalization ends. Anyway, you’d think that as an environmentalist I would be thrilled, but I’m not for two reasons.

First, there’s the phone call I got tonight from a telemarketer telling me what a terrible thing the government did, and hoping that I will join the people who are getting as much chemical spraying done in this, the final season.

Second, and more important, I think it could take twenty years before the true impact is known. This stuff is not filtered out in our drinking water (as it’s fully dissolved) and there are obviously going to be some — hopefully not many — long-term effects that are going to show up in today’s children; aside from the short-term effects (such as environmentally triggered asthma) that we’re already seeing.

Even if you never sprayed your own lawn, if you ever hung your sheets outside to dry, some experts say you possibly absorbed the same amount of toxic chemicals through your skin as you slept as though you had sprayed your own lawn.

What I’m wondering is, if twenty years down the road, the people who perpetrated these crimes against our air and water might be tried for their actions in a manner that some were tried for war crimes years after the war. I mean, who’s to say that as the “green” agenda moves forward, the things that were done in the last fifty years by the weed spray companies and their allies are not regarded as truly criminal? And would such an action be limited to those who actually applied the products, or could the aforementioned telemarketers be found as complicit in their actions?

I hope it doesn’t come to that. But if it does, I hope the guilty are appropriately punished. Because they did not act in ignorance… they knew the truth all along.


Well, that was a year ago.   Consequences.   They’ll catch up to ya.   What did Jesus say about sowing and reaping?

February 2, 2009

Thanksgiving Flashback in February

Filed under: environment, Humor, issues — Tags: , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 12:43 pm

This post is breaking three rules.   First of all, I have no reason to believe that the originators of this comic, The Joy of Tech, are Christians*, though I think in this case they got it right on.   Secondly, this is totally off-season and relates to Thanksgiving (or even Christmas to a lesser degree) but I figured this was as good a time as any… truth is truth, right?   Thirdly, I’m not sure about the ‘reprint’ policy on this one; I looked around the site and couldn’t find it; so this may be here for a short time only.


It’s strange how holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas have become so dysfunctional in some families.   In this case, giving thanks before the meal can’t be done with a straight face, because all the things for which we in the west are “thankful,” are often things we have gained through excessive consumption.    If you’re into tech generally or gadgets in particular, you can scroll through a vast library of Joy of Tech comics at Geek Culture.

*If you joined us through a WordPress, Google or Technorati tag; this is a Christian blog; but you’re here now, so feel free to look around.

November 10, 2008

Hope In Troubled Times

Environment, wealth-distribution, security, consumerism, global concerns….

In the newsletter which preceded this blog, I wrote a sort of mini-review of a book co-authored by a guy who lives in our local area, Mark Vander Veenen.   Hope in Troubled Times other co-authors are Bob Goudzwaard and David Van Heemst.   This  is not light reading; rather, it’s more reminiscent of my university texts.   I am still picking it up from time to time and pressing on into new sections of it.

hope-in-troubled-timesThe book deals with both the mechanics and underlying philosophy of confronting social, economic and political change.   Reading it in smaller increments, as I am, certainly provokes thought on a number of issues including: national identity, personal security, prosperity and consumerism, resource and wealth distribution, increasing terrorism, modernization, global economies, environmental concerns, etc.

This volume’s beginning can be traced back to Bob Goudzwaard’s book Idols of our Time which Mark translated from Dutch to English where it became a text for many years in political science courses taught by David Van Heemst.    What wonderful company:  the other two authors hold doctoral degrees and the book’s foreword is by Desmond Tutu, no less!

This is a book written by Christians, released in 2007 through a Christian publisher, Baker Books, but don’t expect to find scripture on every page, or any page for that matter.   But you can’t miss the hope for redeeming the world, even in our time.   A great gift for the academic or serious reader concerned about the ‘macro’ issues of our world.

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