Westminster professor reflects on Christianity and the environment

3 years 11 months 2 weeks ago Wednesday, December 24 2014 Dec 24, 2014 Wednesday, December 24, 2014 9:45:00 AM CST December 24, 2014 in 8 Goes Green
By: Kevin Allen, KOMU 8 Reporter

FULTON - Even if it's not easy being green, for Christians it's an obligation, says Cliff Cain, the Harrod-C.S. Lewis Professor of Religious Studies and department chair at Westminster College.

Cain has studied the relationship between religion and science for more than 20 years and is the author of several books on the subject, including "Many Heavens, One Earth," in 2012, and "Re-vision: A New Look at the Relationship between Science and Religion," due out in April.

"When I read the Bible and I read theology, it seems to me that a non-green Christian is a contradiction in terms if the Bible and if the Christian faith are taken seriously," Cain said. "You've got to be green if you're a Christian."

Cain grew up in a religious family and recalls that even the first Bible verse he learned as a young Baptist boy, John 3:16, had an environmental theme.

"God loved the world," Cain said. "The word in Greek is ‘cosmos.' That basically means the earth and everything in it. So, God sends Jesus, not just because of Homo sapiens, but because of the whole earth. If God loves the whole earth, how could you and I do any less?"

Cain, now a practicing Presbyterian, said the Bible is filled with references to the environment that often go overlooked.

"When I was a kid, I remember getting a copy of the Bible, and every word that Jesus spoke was in red," he said. "Anything Jesus said would stand right out at you on the page because it was rendered in red type."

He said a newer version, "The Green Bible," highlights verses with an environmental focus by displaying them in green type.

"This will blow your mind," Cain said. "When you turn through the Bible, there's scarcely a page that doesn't have something to do about the environment."

The creation story in the Old Testament is a prime example.

"You've got the notion that God created the world, and God at every juncture in Genesis 1 pronounces it good," he said. "It's valued in its own right, and only at the very end does God say it's very good, and that's when human beings and everything have been made."

The story of Noah provides yet another example.

"What pastors have sometimes missed and, therefore, congregations have missed is, when the covenant is established after the flood, it's established between God and human beings and all life on the earth," he said.

One of Cain's favorite psalms, Psalm 24, which reads, "The earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein," also establishes a moral obligation on the part of humans, he said.

"Think about that theologically and environmentally," Cain said. "If one reflects on that, that means the earth doesn't belong to you and me. We can't do with it whatever we want. It belongs to God. And God has allowed us to be God's representatives on Earth to take good care of that which God has made. So, if we screw up the earth, we're actually sinning against God."

Cain, who earned a doctorate in theology from Vanderbilt University in 1981, said the birth of his son and daughter inspired him to take environmental issues more seriously. When his children were born in the 1980s, the nuclear arms race with the Soviets and the newly discovered hole in the ozone layer troubled him.

"It made me more consciously aware of the quality of the world, or the lack therein, into which I'd brought my children," he said. "I started thinking, having children is not just a biological event. It's a moral action. So, I thought, I need to do some things to try to make the world a bit of a better place."

After becoming interested in environmental issues, he discovered that few people saw any connection between religion and the environment.

"They thought either the environment was a new-age kind of phenomenon that had nothing to do with traditional mainstream religion, or they thought that mainstream religion really didn't have much to say about the environment," he said.

Beginning in 1981, Cain worked at Franklin College in Franklin, Ind., where he would spent most of his career. He served as professor of philosophy and religion until 2010 as well as dean of the chapel until 2003. In 1990 he took a leave of absence to accept a position as theologian-in-residence at the University of Alabama at Birmingham in an honors program that focused on environmental issues.

His experience in Alabama left him with a desire to learn more about science.

"You can actually be very well intentioned regarding environmental issues, but if you don't know the science, you could be advocating something that actually would be counterproductive and unhealthy," Cain said.

To explore the science of these issues, he extended his leave of absence from Franklin College to pursue a Ph.D. in religion and ecology at Rikkyo University in Tokyo, which he completed in 1994.

The focus of his doctoral research was human population growth, which is projected to increase by 1 billion in little more than a decade, he said. But climate change is the issue that most concerns him today. He said it is a symptom of a larger problem.

"I just think our environmental problems are symptoms of a disease, and the disease is materialism, greed, short-term vision, consumerism," Cain said. "So, it's a spiritual dilemma. It's a values dilemma."

He said religion can help cure that disease.

"If science provides the ecological consciousness through its knowledge, then religion has to provide an ecological conscience - that we take the consciousness and use it well," Cain said. "This is my challenge to religious leaders. I don't care whether they're Buddhist, Christian, Hindu or Muslim. We're not going to solve the problems without religion."

Over the past two decades, Cain has spent much of his time researching and writing about what the world's religions have to say about science and the environment.
In 2009 he published two books. In "An Ecological Theology," he examined Christian teachings about the environment, and in "Down to Earth" he explored the teachings of other world religions.

In "Many Heavens, One Earth," in 2012, Cain collected first-person environmental reflections from scholars of nine world religions, including a chapter written by the Dalai Lama from the Buddhist perspective.

Cain's forthcoming book, "Re-vision: A New Look at the Relationship between Science and Religion," examines the Big Bang, genetics, evolution and intelligent design from both scientific and theological perspectives. He said he asked four of his colleagues - three scientists and a philosopher - to write chapters explaining these theories for a general reader. He then wrote a chapter of theological response to each of them.

"I don't pretend for a moment that this book will not be somewhat controversial," Cain said. "I think my science colleagues here and worldwide will probably say, that Cliff Cain is trained as a scientist, but he's probably a little bit too religious. And I think my religious colleagues and people of faith will probably say, you know that Cliff Cain, he's a religious person and he's trained as a theologian, but he's a little bit too scientific."

 

More News

Grid
List
WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. businesses added a smaller but still-healthy number of jobs last month, while the unemployment rate... More >>
3 days ago Friday, December 07 2018 Dec 7, 2018 Friday, December 07, 2018 12:07:00 PM CST December 07, 2018 in News
JEFFERSON CITY - Police officers responded to a crash involving a car and a pedestrian at the intersection of East... More >>
3 days ago Friday, December 07 2018 Dec 7, 2018 Friday, December 07, 2018 11:43:00 AM CST December 07, 2018 in News
STOCKHOLM - University of Missouri Professor Emeritus George Smith and his fellow Nobel laureates in Chemistry, Physics and Economic Sciences... More >>
3 days ago Friday, December 07 2018 Dec 7, 2018 Friday, December 07, 2018 10:55:00 AM CST December 07, 2018 in News
JEFFERSON CITY - A judge sentenced Terrance Wynn to life in prison for a murder on Halloween in 2016. ... More >>
3 days ago Friday, December 07 2018 Dec 7, 2018 Friday, December 07, 2018 10:33:26 AM CST December 07, 2018 in News
VATICAN CITY (AP) — The Vatican has launched an investigation into a small Chilean religious order of nuns after... More >>
3 days ago Friday, December 07 2018 Dec 7, 2018 Friday, December 07, 2018 10:27:28 AM CST December 07, 2018 in News
(CNN) -- President Donald Trump has decided to nominate former Attorney General William Barr to be the next permanent head... More >>
3 days ago Friday, December 07 2018 Dec 7, 2018 Friday, December 07, 2018 10:14:53 AM CST December 07, 2018 in News
BRANSON, Mo. (AP) — A Missouri high school student faces a felony charge after authorities say he posted on social... More >>
3 days ago Friday, December 07 2018 Dec 7, 2018 Friday, December 07, 2018 9:23:00 AM CST December 07, 2018 in News
JEFFERSON CITY- Jefferson City Public Schools are considering changing school start and end times next year. Officials... More >>
3 days ago Thursday, December 06 2018 Dec 6, 2018 Thursday, December 06, 2018 9:50:00 PM CST December 06, 2018 in Continuous News
STOCKHOLM - MU Professor Emeritus Dr. George Smith has officially touched down in Stockholm, Sweden to begin a week of... More >>
4 days ago Thursday, December 06 2018 Dec 6, 2018 Thursday, December 06, 2018 5:54:00 PM CST December 06, 2018 in News
COLUMBIA - Former President George H.W. Bush made his final rest in Texas on Thursday, but his trip to the... More >>
4 days ago Thursday, December 06 2018 Dec 6, 2018 Thursday, December 06, 2018 5:53:00 PM CST December 06, 2018 in News
JEFFERSON CITY - Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft will investigate Republican Attorney General Josh Hawley over allegations that he... More >>
4 days ago Thursday, December 06 2018 Dec 6, 2018 Thursday, December 06, 2018 5:43:00 PM CST December 06, 2018 in News
COLUMBIA - Small business owners in Columbia are meeting Friday morning to discuss how November election results will affect them... More >>
4 days ago Thursday, December 06 2018 Dec 6, 2018 Thursday, December 06, 2018 5:28:00 PM CST December 06, 2018 in News
COLUMBIA - The Central Missouri Humane Society is prepping 31 animals for adoption which were previously rescued from a house... More >>
4 days ago Thursday, December 06 2018 Dec 6, 2018 Thursday, December 06, 2018 4:39:00 PM CST December 06, 2018 in News
JEFFERSON CITY - Attorney General and Senator-elect Josh Hawley briefed AG Designee Eric Schmitt on the accomplishments and progress of... More >>
4 days ago Thursday, December 06 2018 Dec 6, 2018 Thursday, December 06, 2018 3:33:00 PM CST December 06, 2018 in News
JEFFERSON CITY— Republican Josh Hawley's campaign spent about $11 million to successfully unseat Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill despite the... More >>
4 days ago Thursday, December 06 2018 Dec 6, 2018 Thursday, December 06, 2018 2:30:38 PM CST December 06, 2018 in News
COLUMBIA - Researchers at the University of Missouri have found out how an enzyme in the body helps tumors grow.... More >>
4 days ago Thursday, December 06 2018 Dec 6, 2018 Thursday, December 06, 2018 2:22:00 PM CST December 06, 2018 in News
JEFFERSON CITY - A federal judge approved the settlement in the death of Carl DeBrodie. The settlement was reached... More >>
4 days ago Thursday, December 06 2018 Dec 6, 2018 Thursday, December 06, 2018 11:47:00 AM CST December 06, 2018 in News
HOUSTON (AP) — The Latest on events honoring former President George H.W. Bush (all times local): 8:25 a.m.... More >>
4 days ago Thursday, December 06 2018 Dec 6, 2018 Thursday, December 06, 2018 9:29:00 AM CST December 06, 2018 in News
Columbia, MO
Broken Clouds 29°
8pm 30°
9pm 29°
10pm 29°
11pm 28°