Selective Reading

While I try very hard not to read or discuss (and certainly not to write about) the current political situation and about the many problems we face that I simply cannot remedy, the following headline and brief story jumped out at me because it has so many ramifications:

What would Jesus do about climate change? According to one self-described Christian, not much.

Conservative pundit Erick Erickson fired off a tweet Wednesday saying his savior called on him to be a good steward for the planet… but that concept doesn’t extend to global warming.

Erickson then sat back in his comfortable easy chair and read the comments that followed his tweet. He was mostly amused by those he felt misunderstood what “stewardship” means. In fact, of course, he is the one who misunderstands what the word means. Given that we are dependent on the earth, on the air and water and on protecting our home as much as we can, the word reflects the obligation this places upon us to care for the earth and seek to preserve it for future generations. This is what “stewardship” means. And if global warming threatens the earth, as it surely does, then it follows that stewardship involves an attempt to curb global warming if at all possible.

I cannot speak about the obligation that Christians, in particular, may or may not have to respect their planet as I can recall no passage in the New Testament that seems to address this topic. But the love we are directed to have for our fellow humans would seem to imply a concern for the planet on which we all live and upon which our lives depend. I suspect the version Mr. Erickson reads is not the one I used to read so carefully.

Once again, we have a “self-described Christian” making it clear that he has his own interpretation of what the Lord has told him to believe and how to act. This is the attitude that has turned so many against the Church even though, by the way, many of Erickson’s fellow-Christians objected strongly to what the man tweeted.  The notion that each of us is privy to the Word of God and can interpret the Bible for ourselves is at the root of many misunderstandings of just what that book says and, even more to the point, what it intends. But when Jesus says that there really are only two laws, that we love our neighbors and that we love God, two things become crystal clear: Love is the main directive of the New Testament and love implies a determination to sacrifice our own pleasures and desires in order to helping others.

There are many ways to interpret the Gospels — and even the four books do not agree with one another in every respect. But the main message is clear and it would appear that it imposes obligations upon us to love one another and this would seem to imply caring for the planet upon which we all depend. But this is not the end to the story because Christianity — in its many guises — is only one religion among many and the messages that are set forth in the many Holy Books of those religions frequently are at odds with one another. But the central message of all of them, it would appear, is that we are not alone on this earth and we must take others into account and do whatever we can to help them when we can and love them if we are able. The notions of hatred and prejudice that many find in such books as the Old Testament, for example, are not to be taken for the heart and soul of the doctrine that all Holy Books, including the Old Testament, preach: care about one another and do not put yourselves first.

Mr. Erickson is deluded and finds in the New Testament a doctrine that supports his desire to ignore global warming. He finds solace in the words he is convinced he reads there. But others are unable to find those words which seem to be in direct conflict with the words that most people do find there. We can only feel sorry for the man while at the same time we can understand how it is that an ordinary man can find support for his biases wherever he is determined to seek it. It is called “selective reading,” closely related to selective hearing. It’s sadly not uncommon.


11 thoughts on “Selective Reading

  1. Maybe there is no direct quote from the Bible that supports the idea of taking care of the planet, ( non-living things ). Majority of Mr. Erickson’s kins do tend to take the Bible literally.

  2. sometimes it is hard to quiet the mind so that the heart/soul can speak… there are times when i’d like to retreat so the volume of warring personalities can be lowered, where i’m in world that’s probably like one that was ‘intended’ – one of living in peace and harmony with nature and with ‘quiet’ sensitive people. i am lucky that i can truly do that, and ‘there’ is where i find true peace. but that’s not a true reality and perhaps it’s escapism, as outside that neutral zone it’s an often-times toxic world.

    as you stated, “:..we are not alone on this earth and we must take others into account and do whatever we can to help them when we can and love them if we are able. ”

    yes, we must love them if we are able.

    that is what must be kept close to the heart,and sometimes it’s difficult.

    thank you hugh.

  3. We’lll said, Hugh. Erickson seems to ignore the larger, general theme of the Gospels, which is that all of creation, as well as salvation, is a gift from God. And as one of the most elemental verses says, “God so loved the world he gave his son to die for it.” If God loves the world to that extent, anyone who claims to be Christian ought to treat that world with respect. That would seem to override the rather Pharisaic parsing Erickson is trying to use to justify his dismissal of responsibility for climate change.

  4. Hugh, good, but troubling post. I have attended two separate conferences where a priest, rabbi and imam at one and a baptist minister, priest, rabbi and imam at the other all spoke of scriptures where their supreme being spoke of taking care of the earth. This is a key reason the Pope wrote an essay on taking care of God’s world. There seems to be a disconnect with this gentleman’s reading of the bible.


  5. Good post, Hugh. It would seem that in this, as in so many other things, many people, whether Christian, Jew, Muslim, Jain, or whatever other religion, interpret the doctrine they profess to follow in whatever manner is convenient for them, or that fits in with their chosen lifestyle. Erickson is, obviously, one of them.

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