By Charles Rush
September 23, 2007
Psalm 19: 1-8 and Genesis 1: 28-30
(mp3, 7.7Mb) ]
addition to our biblical texts this morning, I want to add the introduction to a novel because it so wonderfully reflects the simple biblical approach to our stewardship of the earth and our brokenness and lack of care. It is the novel about South Africa, "Cry the Beloved Country" by Alan Paton.
There is a
lovely road that runs from Ixopo into the hills.
These hills are grass-covered and rolling, and they are lovely beyond the
singing of it. The road climbs seven miles into them, to Carisbrooke;
and from there, if there is no mist, you lookdown on one of the fairest valleys
of Africa. About you there is grass and bracken and you
may hear the forlorn crying of the titihoya, one of
the birds of the veld. Below you is the valley of the
Umzimkulu, on its journey from the Drakensberg to the sea; and beyond and behind the river,
great hill after great hill; and beyond and behind them, the mountains of the Ingeli and East Griqualand.
is rich and matte, you cannot see the soil. It holds the rain and the mist, and
they seep into the ground, feeding the streams in every kloof.
It is well-tended, and not too many cattle feed upon it; not too many fires
burn it, laying bare the soil. Stand unshod upon it, for the ground is holy,
being even as it came from the Creator. Keep it, guard it, care for it, for it
keeps men, guards men, cares for men. Destroy it and man is destroyed.
stand the grass is rich and matted, you cannot see the soil. But the rich green
hills break down. They fall to the valley below, and falling, change their
nature. For they grow red and bare; they cannot hold the rain and the mist, and
the streams are dry in the kloofs. Too many cattle
feed upon the grass, and too many fires have burned it. Stand shod upon it, for
it is coarse and sharp, and the stones cut under the feet. It is not kept, or
guarded, or cared for, it now longer keeps men, guards men, cares for men. The titihoya
does not cry here anymore.
red hills stand desolate, and the earth has torn away like flesh. The lightning
flashes over them, the clouds pour down upon them , the dead streams come to
life, full of the red blood of the earth. Down in the valleys women scratch the
soil that is left, and the maize hardly reaches the height of a man. They are
valleys of old men and old women, of mothers and children. The men are away,
the young men and the girls are away. The soil cannot keep them anymore."[i]
Of course, the people are not in the valley anymore and they have moved to Soweto,
to the ghettos of Durban and Johannesburg.
And the novel follows the tragedy and brokenness of people's lives that are
reflected in the brokenness and barrenness of the land.
metaphor is pretty close to the central biblical metaphor for our relationship
to Mother Earth. The bible depicts us as originally created as stewards of a
Garden that was the gift of God. If you take that story and read it in the
midst of an overcrowded, polluted ghetto, it stands a kind of counter-point
that illustrates the fallen nature of our social order. That dialectical
antinomy can be very insightful but it also easily caricatured by that part of
the Green movement that suggests we can return to neo-Rousseaueans
to a blissful 'state of nature' to frolic. It has a vaguely French feel in the
worst sense of the term.
In the past
few years, though, the whole question has been re-framed and the subject of
Green has been taken up by 'realists' in every sector of our society. As you
probably all know, the columnist Thomas Friedman has been collating this trend
and helping to articulate the political and economic dimensions of going Green
in the past year especially.[ii]
Friedman's little catch-phrase is that "Green is the new red, white, and
took this issue up seriously a couple years ago when spark jumped the gap and
we began to realize just how dysfunctional our relationship was with Saudi
Arabia in particular. As we all know now, 15
of the 19 terrorists who attacked us were Saudi's.
out that they were all practitioners of Salafi Islam.
Salafi Islam is a fundamentalist sect that
essentially believes that we should encourage a return to the Islam as
practiced in the 7th century when the Prophet Mohammed was alive, in the
attempt to be as pure religiously as possible. This brand of Islam was part of
a reform movement in the late 19th century that saw modernity itself as the
major threat to religion. I might add that we had similar, but less virulent
reform movements, in Catholicism at the same time and in Protestantism at the
same time. Hostility to the modern world puts it on a crash course with science
and independent academic learning as a whole, with a secular state, with
independent women, let alone gays and the whole multi-cultural,
post-Enlightenment culture that is at the heart of Europe
and the United States.
I dare say that prior to 2002, you could count on one hand the educated
spiritual leaders and academics in the West who had ever heard of these people.
out that the House of Saud has shown more of an
interest in religion in the past 30 years as they thought it would promote
stability internally in their country. Furthermore, and it is always hard for
Americans to remember this, religion is not a 'voluntary association'
practically anywhere else but here. In the Middle East
religion is part of the state. Mosques are built from government revenues,
Imams are paid through state funding, and charities abroad are supported with
2.5% tax that Islam assesses on believers.
revenues considerably bolstered the largesse of the Saudi's in the support of
Islam. It turns out that by the year 2000, the Saudi's were funding 90% of
Islam world-wide, despite the fact that Saudi Arabs make up only 1% of the
world Muslim population. That is quite an inordinate influence.
surprisingly they were spreading their very austere interpretation of the
faith. As we would later learn, they supported the buildings, the payrolls, the
books, the tuition of almost all of the Madras'
where the leaders of the Taliban would receive their training, and where most
of the future soldiers of Al Qaeda were recruited.
went to the biggest Madrasa that has 2,800 live in
students. This one was made infamous because the leader of the Taliban Mullah
Mohammed Omar was a proud graduate. On the wall in the main hall is a large,
framed sign that reads, "A Gift of the Kingdom
of Saudi Arabia".
point the spark jumped the gap. We are buying oil from Saudi Arabia so that the
have record GDP, a portion of which is being used to support a religion that
actively resists not just all things American but sees the main-stay of Western
cultural values as Satanic. A portion of these religionists are becoming
militant and attacking us directly, so that we have to raise a military to go
abroad and fight them and now we are in the Middle East
so that the militant religionists can recruit more people to defend the faith
against the Infidels on their home turf.
C.I.A. director, James Woolsey, once quipped that this dysfunctional,
labyrinthine relationship means that "we are funding the rope for the
hanging of ourselves." As Friedman puts it, it is practically a policy of
'no Mullah left behind'.
is, our dependence on oil has become a national security issue. Obviously, we
need to extricate ourselves from this unhealthy dysfunction.
generally, the Freedom House and the Fraser Institute started studying
countries that we flush with petro-dollars, particularly as the price of a
barrel of oil jumped from $30 to $70 around 2000. They charted an obvious but
worrisome trend: Russia,
Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan.
In every case, as the coffers of the governments grew with oil money, they
became more authoritarian, restricted freedom, limited or persecuted reform
is this, from a realist’s point of view. In the decade following the collapse
of Communism, we thought about the world as the beginning of a post-Communist
era. We were hoping for substantial gains in political and economic freedom to
flourish across the world and they did.
at the same time, the politics and economics of oil were also suggesting that
we might be at the beginning of a new chapter of 'petro-authoritarianism', the
likes of which we are presently seeing most clearly in Iran
Perhaps you read the op-ed column by Gary Kasparov on Vladimir Putin's latest appointment of Viktor Zubkov
as Prime Minister. No one had ever heard of him outside Russia
but inside Russia
he is one of a group of entrepreneurs that have taken their fortunes from oil
and formerly state-run businesses. Kasparov says to understand what is
happening, don't ask a Kremlinologist, they won't understand. Instead, ask a
Criminologist, because this government runs more like a Mafia than anything a
Westerner would understand as government. The same could be said of any of the
other list of 'petro-authoritarians' that we mentioned above.
Conversely, (as Friedman notes) the first Arab
gulf state to actually hold open, free elections, Bahrain, was also the first
to run out of oil. Free money rarely brings out the best in us and usually it
gives undue life to too many of our bad habits. This may be one of those rare
aphorisms that we can see writ large on the character of nations, even as it is
writ in life-size in our temptation to indulge Junior with a safety net of
cushion we provide, the more Junior sees perqs as
necessities, and the less Junior seems motivated to actually get off his butt
and get a real job- I meant to say 'enhance his skill set to make himself
competitive and take responsibility for envisioning a positive outcome for his
future.' I digress but there is a queer resemblance between the personal idiosyncrasies
of trust fund babies grown up and the steroid-like ravings of Hugo Chavez or
President Ahmadinejad of Iran.
It is in
our national security interest to extricate ourselves from the unhealthy
relationship we have with petro-authoritarians. Ultimately, we need to starve
their reliance on the junk food of petro-dollars. And, I believe, that most
Americans would welcome the opportunity to spend more energy developing freedom
and tolerance at home, not having to be so intricately engaged with countries
we have very little reason to be engaged with, were it not for our inordinate
dependence on the import of oil.
If we have
consensus on this issue, in the broadest terms, it appears that the question is
how to best achieve that, letting the market regulate itself, or developing
political goals that create incentives and penalties to develop a direction.
neither time, nor expertise to get into the extremely complicated science behind
'global warming' and I don't want to get diverted on that, except to point out
that the stakes in answering this question are probably pretty high. The two Princeton
professors, Robert Socolow and Steven Pacala have suggested that modeling projections for the
future of our global climate change have significant consequences once you pass
the point of doubling the concentration of Carbon Dioxide in the air from
before the Industrial Revolution. And- this is the key point- that doubling
point could be passed in 50 or 60 years.[iii]
accuracy of that estimate is important morally and socially because market
forces tend to make dramatic corrections at the last minute when there is more
money to be made. In this case, alternative energy sources will become more
popular when our existing resources are rapidly depleting forcing prices up for
the old technology, spurring investment in alternative sources, and making a
wider range of alternative energy sources affordable.
present moment, Friedman suggests that market incentives are not that great to
actually change our patterns of consumption and he points to two examples, one
abroad and one at home.
example is China,
the symbol of the economic forces in the developing world. As you know, they are
second in Carbon Dioxide emissions right behind the United
States and eager to develop energy as fast
as they can to support their growing economy and their upwardly mobile
population. Reportedly, they are "constructing the equivalent of two 500
megawatt coal fired power plants every week"[iv]
because this is the cheapest, easiest way to meet the demand for energy.
the Chairman of General Electric, Jeffery Immelt,
compares the innovations in their product lines between medical devices and
power production. In the past 50 years, as we all have witnessed, there have
been multiple generations of improvement and development. Energy, on the other
hand, is a different story. Says Immelt, "…we're
still selling the same basic coal-fired power plants we had when I arrived (25
years ago). They're a little cleaner and more efficient now, but basically the same." Market incentives
have simply not encouraged a need to change.
At the same
time, as Green has become more popular with consumers, companies have seen an
interest in getting on board to reflect the values of their customers. So, Wal-Mart
has set a goal of reducing packaging by 5% by 2013 and have as a goal that
their 7,000 shipping trucks double their gas mileage by 2015. Likewise, they've
jumped into the fluorescent light bulb business in a big way.
G.E. transportation actually has a product they export to Mexico
and China, the
locomotive engines. Other countries make cheaper train engines, but GE's are
the most energy efficient in the world and they last a long time. So their cost
per mile makes them the cheapest long-term investment and this people will buy.
something like this is the most likely American model. We are a country that is
very good at technological innovation and development of more sophisticated
products. That is our strength, so we need to encourage more of this in the
other model, is the European model or the California
model, where the political sphere sets target goals and these goals create new
market niches. The Governor of California at the moment is touting the virtues
of this approach, noting the number of companies that have been created in his
state simply to work on the issue of creating a cleaner environment because of
the legislative goals that were set in the state.
where General Electric has developed innovative new technology is in the Wind
turbine business, largely spurred by the commitment of the Government of
Denmark to establishing a set percentage of their energy consumption to
renewable energy sources.
and vices of both approaches are many and the experts on the subject are in the
pew on this score, not in the pulpit. I am only raising the subject because it
is one of those things that we simply must address with maturity, reflection,
and wisdom. We cannot leave this for the next generation. We need all of you to
get educated and figure out what you can do to make a difference. There is an
old African proverb that says, 'When the toe has a splinter in it, the whole
body must bend over to get it out'. We will, most certainly, need the whole
body to solve this one. Amen.
[i] Alan Paton, "Cry the Beloved Country', chapter 1.
follows simply summarizes his contribution in an article for the New York Times
Magazine (April 15, 2007).
See page 42 for the beginning of the article.
the paragraph on p. 46.
[iv] See p.
49. I have no way of verifying the accuracy of this.
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