Friday, November 12, 2010

Kaarite Environmentalism

A guest post by Sofhamizrach

Rep. John Shimkus (R-Il) is a member of the Holy Cross Lutheran Church in Collinsville, Ill.  Its Mission Page states:
In addition to saying what our faith is, we also desire to live in such a way that our faith is also seen in our words and actions.
This credo is worth remembering as Juan Cole reminds us of a statement Rep. Shimkus made to the House Subcommittee on Energy and Environment in 2009.  His faith is certainly evident as he quotes the Noach story to "prove" that man, no matter how he tries, can ever destroy the world.  

Video below:

Rep. Shimkus, being a gentile and literalist, apparently doesn't know or care about Kohelet Rabba, which states:
“Consider the work of God; for who can make that straight which he hath made crooked.” (Kohelet 7:12)
When the Holy One, blessed be God, created the first man, God took him and led him round all the trees of the Garden of Eden, and said to him: ‘Behold my works, how beautiful and commendable they are! All that I have created, for your sake I created it. Pay heed that you do not corrupt and destroy my universe; for if you corrupt it, there is no one to repair it after you.’
(Besides, if Congress acted upon a literal reading of the book of Genesis, wouldn’t that violate the Anti-Establishment Clause?  It would essentially be asserting that the Bible is divinely written.)

The attitudes towards creation are going in completely different directions.  Shimkus is using religion as an insurance policy to continue doing what he wants to do.  In other words, we are so weak and meaningless that we can’t possibly have any permanent detrimental effects, so we might as well consume as much as we can.  There’s no ownership of creation, and there is, therefore no sense of responsibility towards it.  Interestingly, this also finds its way into public policy.  The belief in the Free Market essentially states that human behavior, left to its natural conclusions, will work itself out to everyone’s mutual benefit in the end, so the role of government is simply not to interfere.  We can consume as much as we want (tax cuts, no safety net), and assume that the universe works in such a way that it will never come back to hurt us.

On the other hand, I would argue that Kohelet Rabba teaches us that we do have more power – we actually can destroy creation.  That awareness of our power forces us to limit ourselves (again you can tell I’ve been rereading Niebuhr) and take on a humbler, custodial role, both in terms of the physical planet as well as in terms of policy-making.  We do have the power to destroy society, which is why the people (through their elected officials) have to remain vigilant in monitoring and balancing the various forces at work.

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