Archives for posts with tag: ethics

In homage to Smokey Bear’s 73rd birthday, a reflection on water.

You have been deputized, by any and all environmental groups, to do something about resource consumption. Yes, you, the individual. Because, we are told, one multiplied by thousands and even millions becomes many. This kind of multiplication of ‘one’ is seen all around the internet. For example, Woodchuck uses the tagline, “buy one, plant one” meaning that if you buy one of their products, they’ll plant a tree. The Nature Conservancy (among others) provides a carbon footprint calculator so you can know how your household rates. And, perhaps the most ubiquitous expression is in the petition. Sign up to receive news from the Sierra Club and you are guaranteed a petition a week which, with just one more signature added to many others, is destined to communicate something important. The one flows into the many to create a swell of influence and change.

Or so we believe.

Smokey, straight talking for 73 years.

But the one and the many are simply not enough. By the time an individual receives the information needed to persuade him or her, damage is already done. As I type, the Cascade region has been enshrouded in smoke from B.C. wildfires for a full week. The particulates in the air are still dangerous to breathe beyond minimal exposure. And, while the daytime highs are coming down, we are on day 12 of 80+ degrees, day 52 with no rain. No rain, in Seattle.

Wildfires are a normal part of the season. What is disconcerting is that they start earlier in the season, last longer, and hit some unusual places. For example, in 2015 the Hoh Rainforest caught fire, in June. Those two words–rainforest and fire–are not supposed to be used in the same sentence, except once every 500 or so years. For the Pacific Northwest region, the new normal of climate change comes in a haze of smoke with less and less water to temper the flames.

You have heard it said, “Conserve water by taking shorter showers,” but that isn’t enough. In fact, according to an Orion article by Derrick Jensen, it doesn’t even really address the situation. Contrary to consumer culture belief, it is not all about you because the vast majority of our water is redirected before it hits the tap. You do not have access to 90% of the water currently consumed. It goes predominantly to agriculture and to manufacturing. Sure, the juicy tomatoes and cucumbers are a manifestation of some of that water, as is the wheat that went into the hamburger buns–and don’t forget all the water needed to raise cattle for hamburger meat. Thinking of going vegetarian? While it might eventually reduce some agricultural water consumption, your one change is but a drop of dew.

But I want to make a difference–or feel something other than helplessness. And Grist.org would love for us all to believe we can use the power of individual choice to make a difference. They have the infographic to prove it. Yet in this instance, the ‘proven’ change culminates with “Have one fewer child”. How many families would consider whether or not to have a child in the same way they think about, say, car ownership? Even the editors hinted that might not be a compelling message by highlighting the “real takeaway” that personal choice matters, and every action counts.

What we are up against requires a tectonic shift in the rhetoric. The accumulation of personal choices will begin to make a difference when they are an expression of many voicing their dissent against the primary users of water: industrialized agriculture and major manufacturers. But this is a radical message for consumer culture because we are supposed to power progress and good change through buying more, or at least buying into the myth that the best thing we can do is simply take care of ourselves.

 

Listen to the opening paragraph of Pope Francis’ encyclical, Laudato Si:

“Praise be to you, my Lord”. In the words of this beautiful canticle, Saint Francis of Assisi reminds us that our common home is like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us. “Praise be to you, my Lord, through our Sister, Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us, and who produces various fruit with coloured flowers and herbs”.

Mother Earth, our common home, is the conduit of God’s care and sustenance for humanity. But we have split her open for rare minerals and to mine her veins.

He continues, “This sister now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her. We have come to see ourselves as her lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will.” We are plunderers, and we violate the very soil that nurtures us. This is not a new message. It is a confession of sin much like that recited with each communion. The underlying question is, does ‘we’ mean ‘me’? Read in the consumer culture of North America, we only pertains to me–it is not connected to brands, labels, box stores, and corporate entities. Forgive me, Lord, for I have sinned, is the more common confession of sin. In film, in newspapers and on Sunday mornings, we are so consumed with the sins of every-one, that we do not look upstream to see those redirecting the pipes at their source.

You have heard it said, ‘Take shorter showers, and turn out the lights’; but I say to you, follow the waters from tap to source, and find out who it is that drinks deep from our sister’s aquifers, draining her sides with unfathomable speed.

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Oh, Hobby Lobby. What have you done?

Having lived in Seattle for much of the past dozen or so years, I was oblivious to the corporate entity until the 2014 healthcare case. At the time I assumed it was, quite literally, a conservative lobby group that was fighting the ACA and claiming exemption from their responsibility to female employees. So, it was a bit surprising to hear that it was actually a retail chain. Now, here they are again in the news. This recent development for the company is both shocking and yet not surprising at all.

One may be excused for thinking that a business purporting Evangelical Christian values–that has gained legal ground on such a basis–would employ staunch ethics. However, given the moral universe inhabited by many corporate families, the fact that they can both withhold birth control from their employees and import stolen artifacts from the Bible lands is actually very consistent. It has to do with their theological anthropology, among other things.

Theological anthropology is a fancy way of talking about a biblical view of the person. It usually begins with Genesis 1:

Then God said, ‘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 over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.’ So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. (Gen. 1.26-27)

This rendition of the creation narrative usually takes precedence over the second (yes, there are two) creation story, Genesis 2.4-25, in which God uses dirt to make the first human: adam (human) from adamah (soil). In the first creation narrative both human parties are there from the beginning, male and female. It is designed to be hierarchical with humanity atop the rest of creation. As Lynn White identified in his 1967 article (as in, fifty years ago), “The Historical Roots of our Ecological Crisis,” it is this hierarchical view of humans over creation that fundamentally shifted and shaped human ecology, the relationship between us and nature. He traces it in particular to the emergence of Frankish (religious) culture and calendars that narrate man’s dominance while providing a linear trajectory from creation to apocalypse. This is the time in history when Christianity percolates throughout Europe, gaining power in various ways. According to White’s analysis, when humanity no longer sees themselves bound to the soil along with the rest of nature, but breaks out of the cycle of seasons because God has other plans, then nature merely exists for the benefit of humankind. In other words, when we read dominion with too heavy an accent, it forms an ‘arrogant eye’ (Sally McFague, Super, Natural Christians, 1997).

What does dominion over the earth have to do with denying women contraception? Well, after a while the arrogant eye takes a rather liberal interpretation of ‘dominion’. Going back to the creation narratives, the first sets up a hierarchy, while the second introduces “Adam” before “Eve” and thereby furthers the hierarchy. As White summarizes, “Finally, God had created Adam and, as an afterthought, Eve to keep man from being lonely. Man named all the animals, thus establishing his dominance over them.” (1205) So, here we have an interpretation of total superiority over the rest of creation, starting with women, that informs relationships between men and women in conservative Christian anthropologies.

The turn to Iraqi artifacts may seem a little less obvious, but do not underestimate the powerful gaze of the arrogant eye. It reaches into jungles and deserts, mountains and wadis. 

In terms of theological anthropology, a sociocultural element intersects gender hierarchy such that anyone deemed Other is relegated to a lesser level. (This is the realm of Orientalism, and postcolonial theory.) The rhetorical focus on the Bible allows for the objects of interest to be placed in a kind of metaphorical time capsule, uprooted from contemporary persons and places. Such an obsession with material things of the Bible is endemic to evangelical Christianity, and therefore unsurprising in the Hobby Lobby owners. Objects deemed “historical” are dislocated from their place of origin, the people who created it, and anyone since then who has interacted with it. In this way a bizarre duality emerges that permits fetishizing ancient cultures while simultaneously denying connectivity between cultures, peoples, and religious beliefs. The Bible Lands are valued, but not the people inhabiting them. Material evidence of Bible texts are necessary for ‘proving’ superiority over others, but the message of scripture to be humble and love one’s enemies is never heeded. Jesus himself becomes wiped of any Jewish Palestinian provenance, just as the objects themselves cannot be faithfully traced.

In a worldview that normalizes the secondary place of other persons, and treasures clay shards over the ground from which they came, it is no wonder that the company’s acquisition of material objects is unethical. They have made it clear that the Bible is their number one priority but not the Spirit and the message it communicates.