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What Would Jesus Do? ... Or Moses, Buddha and Gandhi?
Volume 5, Number 3: 16 January 2002

Just the other day, we received the Fall 2001 issue of Environmental Leadership News, which describes itself as a publication of The Environmental Leadership Program of Cambridge, Massachusetts.  In it, appears a brief article by Jonna Higgins-Freese, an ELP Fellow who is coordinator for Prairiewoods: Franciscan Spirituality Center in Hiawatha, Iowa, where she "manages programs for churches and other community groups on issues connecting spirituality and ecology."

Ms. Higgins-Freese entitles her article "What Would Jesus Drive?"  Her reason for doing so, she says, "is to use the question as a window to the present, to get religious people to think about what it means to be a Christian today in a world where human beings - mostly affluent white Christians - are changing the global climate."

Wow!  Affluent white Christians are actually changing the world's climate?  I didn't know we were so powerful, which surely begs the question: How can Ms. Higgins-Freese, or anyone, have such certainty about a subject so complex?

Actually, one can't.  Maybe one can feel certain about the matter; but that clearly does not make it certain.  And neither does the warm fuzzy feeling one might get in acting upon that supposed certainty make one's actions righteous in the eternal scheme of things, or even in the nitty-gritty here-and-now.  To be right, and therefore righteous, thoughts and actions must both conform to truth; for as Jesus said of those he described as "my disciples" ... "ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free."

So, what is the truth of the matter?  Before broaching this question, we feel a need to comment on the part of Ms. Higgins-Freese's job that has to do with "connecting spirituality and ecology."  Do any of you feel competent enough to make the connection Ms. Higgins-Freese does, and to do it with the aura of certainty she exudes?  Put another way, do any of you - scientist, clergy or lay person - feel you know enough about both spirituality and ecology (never mind meteorology, oceanography and a host of other disciplines germane to the subject) to state without equivocation that anyone, much less "affluent white Christians," are in very fact changing the global climate?

There are many scientists who are active in the field of climate change, who not only disagree about whether humanity as a whole is changing the climate of the globe, but who argue vehemently about whether earth's climate is currently changing at all!  Furthermore, most of those scientists - on both sides of both questions - would probably cringe at the thought of making so certain a statement as that made by Ms. Higgins-Freese.  Even we, who take a strong position on the side of the issue she opposes, do so with a mighty dose of "fear and trembling," for the subject is momentous, having the capacity - whichever way it ultimately goes - to affect all mankind, together with the entire world of nature.

Anyone who thus attempts to convert another to his or her way of thinking on the dual subject of potential climate change and responsibility for that phenomenon - and who does so via broad and non-specific appeals to religion - assumes an awful burden.  The person who matter-of-factly states, as Ms. Higgins-Freese does, that "Jesus and the disciples would ride the bus," who confidently asserts "they'd drive hybrid gas-electric and fuel cell cars," who declares "so would Moses ... so would Buddha ... so would Gandhi," does those religions leaders and their followers a monumental disservice, making caricatures out of their belief systems.  Far more appropriate would be an invitation to do everything possible to get to the truth of the matter, which cannot be achieved without continued scientific study of all the many interacting components of the incredibly complex earth-ocean-atmosphere system; for only when we really understand how the world works will we be able to discern the path of virtue.  Indeed, without the knowledge of truth, there can not even be any virtue.

So, if one is truly concerned about protecting God's creations - as Ms. Higgins-Freese says she is (and we do not dispute her good intentions) - to make truly moral choices with regard to this subject, one has got to know what it is that supports those creations and gives them life.  Many elements enter into this equation, not the least of which is carbon dioxide; and to make a rational (and thereby moral) decision about the issue, one must be aware of all the ramifications - both climatic and biological - of higher and lower atmospheric CO2 concentrations.  Nearly everyone wants to do the right thing on this point; but knowing exactly what that right thing is does not come easily.  And before one decides to speak for God or his servants on the issue, he or she had better really know what Deity actually thinks about the matter.

In this spirit, we quote some pertinent words from Isaiah (55:8,9): For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts, which words should give all of us cause for personal introspection.  Indeed, we would all do well to ponder the issue of CO2 and potential global change most carefully, even prayerfully.  We don't have to give up our opinions, if we feel they are compatible with truth; and we can still have our passions, if they are not inconsistent with what we perceive to be reality.  We can even use our powers of persuasion to try to get others to see things as we do.  But to say that one knows what Jesus, Moses, Buddha or Gandhi would do is just not being honest, even with one's self.  Clearly, we must remember that it's the truth that sets one free, not one's opinions, best guesses or fuzzy feelings ... and certainly not one's usurping of divine authority.

Dr. Sherwood B. Idso
Dr. Keith E. Idso
Vice President