Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Revisiting 'Dennis Prager on the environment' Part 2

The Judeo-Christian responses are clear: Nature has been created for man's use; and on its own, without man, it has no meaning. Dolphins are adorable because human beings find them adorable. Without people to appreciate them or the role they play in the earth's ecosystem to enable human life, they are no more adorable or meaningful than a rock on Pluto.

That is the point of the Creation story -- everything was made in order to prepare the way for the creation of man (and woman, for those whose college education leads them to confuse the generic "man" with "male"). God declared each day's creation "good," but declared the sixth day's creation of man as "very good."

Critics find three biblical notions about nature unacceptable: that man shall lord over it; that it was created solely for man and therefore has no intrinsic value; and that it is not sacred.

Like I stated before, Dennis Prager doesn't appreciate or love nature judging by his tone, and he doesn't want you to, either. I must say, he uses an awful big paint brush. Prager is pushing a heavy pro-consumer (liberal) conservative economic agenda. The omittance that humanity needs some nature to consume for growth, development, and progress, while still being caretakers of the environment as surely God would want, is simply untrustworthy. "No intrinsic value"? Unbelievable.

As regards man "subduing and conquering nature," this was one of the revolutionary ideas of the Old Testament that made Western medical and other scientific progress possible. For all ancient civilizations, nature (or the equally capricious and amoral gods of nature) ruled man. The Book of Genesis came along to teach the opposite -- man is to rule nature.

Only by ruling and conquering nature will man develop cures for nature's diseases. We will conquer cancer; cancer will not conquer us. And only rational beings, not irrational gods of nature, can do so. Judeo-Christian values are the primary reason science and modern medicine developed in the West. A rational God designed nature, and rational human beings can therefore perceive it and, yes, conquer it.

I really do not appreciate or feel comfortable with the "subduing and conquering nature" (without limits?) bit. Prager is being deceitful, and the use of the action word "revolutionary" is an over-exaggeration to sway his readers. There's just enough truth in it to be useful while avoiding any criticisms. A half-truth. For someone who has spent years reading and studying The Bible and Torah, do you expect me to believe Mr. Prager is accurately telling God's plan for nature and humanity? We must conquer it. End of story. I don't even know what to say? The tone is like something out of a brainwashing book. It is so monolithic and insensitive. He actually scares me on the topic.

He also is aligning "irrational" to "gods of nature" while those "rational" to "conquering nature." Uh, is it possible that in some far off faint way those who "conquer nature" without limits and respect for it are also "irrational"? A problem often found in developing nations and conservative-leaning consumer economic agendas.

The notion that it is secularism, not Judeo-Christian values, that enabled scientific inquiry constitutes perhaps the greatest propaganda victory in history. Virtually every great scientist from Sir Isaac Newton to the beginning of 20th century saw scientific inquiry as the study of divine design.

Here Prager wants religion to be above and take credit for science. Scientific fact constantly shows humanity is dependent upon nature, not above it like humanity is atop the food chain in the animal kingdom. A mistake he should know better considering he once said on his program neither can take whole credit for explaining universal existence.

As for the modern secular objection to the Judeo-Christian notion of man as the pinnacle and purpose of nature, one can only say woe unto mankind if that objection prevails. When man is reduced to being part of the natural world, his status is reduced to that of a dolphin. It is one of the great ironies of the contemporary world that humanists render human life largely worthless while God-centered Jews and Christians render human life infinitely sacred. Man's worth is entirely dependent on a God-based view of the world. Without God, man is another part of the ecosystem, and often a lousy one at that.

Man isn't the purpose of nature. If anything nature is the purpose of man. Nature and the environment existed billions of years before humanity stepped upon the earth. Humanity exists amongst it but not above it for survival. How Prager somehow thinks humanity can exist outside it is beyond me because nature and the environment are spread throughout the universe.

(Added later)

If humanity is above nature as Mr. Prager hints at, then can someone explain to me why humanity would die off without nature (natural resources) while nature would continue on without humanity?

So let's say what cannot be said in sophisticated company: Nature was created as the vehicle by which God created the human being, and in order to give emotional, aesthetic and biological sustenance to mankind. Nature in and of itself has no purpose without the existence of human beings to appreciate it. In the words of the Talmud, every person should look at the world and say, "The world was created for me."

More cutting-and-pasting his arguement. Again, nature carried on just fine without human existence. It always has. Why it is dependent on human existence now isn't an accurate telling. Saying "The world was created for me" is bewildering, self-serving, and dishonest to the truth in religious text.

Does this mean that the biblical view of nature gives man the right to pollute the earth or to abuse animals? Absolutely not. Abusing animals is forbidden in the Torah: The ban on eating the limb of a living animal, the ban on placing two animals of different sizes on the same yoke and the ban on working animals seven days a week are just a few examples. To cause gratuitous suffering to an animal is a grave sin. As for polluting the earth, this, too, is religiously prohibited. If the purpose of nature is to ennoble human life and to bear witness to God's magnificence, by what understanding of this concept can a religious person defend polluting nature?

Here Prager is showing a different face to 'cover all the bases' from criticism. He's trying, as one critic put it, to express some form of "duality." Using "to conquer nature" when it fits one agenda while using a speck of compassion and environmental stewarship (found in The Bible) when necessary to portray another image.

We are indeed to be responsible stewards of nature, but for our sake, not its.

Another half-truth which Prager uses for absolutes and not a common middle ground that expresses environmental responsibility.

I'm putting up some of the old quotes because I feel these people expressed their criticisms far better than I ever could:

Middle Ear
-Whenever I'm informed that my life lacks value because it is not eternal, I think that it a strange kind of economy that assigns greater worth to what is in abundance while devaluing that which is precious and rare.

So this guy can pretty much blow me.

-Ugh. To say nothing of the notion of the Covenant in Judeo-Christian tradition (not to the exclusion of similar notions in other traditions). Dolphins, like all nature, are good and beautiful because G-d created them. And we should preserve them, as Noah preserved the animals, because G-d created them. And to say that something is beautiful only if and to the extent that humans find it so isn't religiosity, it's solipsism and nihilism.

Whatta schmuck.

-In the words of the Talmud, every person should look at the world and say, "The world was created for me."

I'm reasonably familiar with this---the original telling is that the rabbi said something along the lines of: "There are two truths, and you should keep both of them in your pocket, to bring out from time to time as you need each of them. The first, that the whole world was created for you. The second, that you are but dust and ashes."

It's one of my favorite religious lessons, expressing duality and goodness, complexity and simplicity, all in one little story. Somehow, repeating only one of them? doesn't seem to me to be a faithful retelling.

-The key notion for Judaism, Christianity, and Islam is stewardship. Humans have dominion only as G-d's local managers. The world isn't made for human consumption, but for temporary use in accord with G-d's plan. Since G-d made various creatures, environments, etc., humans are not entitled to capriciously destroy them.

On the science/history note, Prager is a moron. Newton was a Unitarian who was denied a position at Cambridge because he denied the doctrine of the Trinity (and implicitly the divinity of Jesus). Funny who Prager left that part out.

-I'm with paul: the description of scientists who are also religious is patronizing in the least, and a blatant mischaracterization. Part of both the study of God (theology) and the study of nature (science) is humility; reading the evidence in a way that conforms exclusively to a preconceived worldview and selectively ignoring the evidence that doesn't fit in is arrogant in the extreme. One has to assume some pretty awful things about the Creator to look at the universe and try to ram it into a form commensurate with the "literal" reading of Genesis. This "literal" reading is based on shoddy reasoning itself, turning two different creation stories (even the name used for God is different, if I remember my Hebrew class correctly) into one narrative.

The scientific evidence seems to say that biodiversity is a good thing for the planet, which is consistent with the religious view of stewardship.

-Jesse, I'm not seeing Prager fall victim to the central conceit of creationism-- namely that it is designed "just so." Rather, Prager seems to be making the argument that as rational beings, we can understand it. Now, his precise theological argument-- that we must use that understanding to dominate it-- is one that you can feel free to argue over on its theological merits, but I don't think he's falling victim to any of the standard creationist canards, and the starting point of his argument isn't anything that simply a generic belief in a god who created the universe would lead to.

The thing he misses, however, is the concept of humans as caretakers of the earth. He seems to be more concerned about the fact that abusing the earth is a personal sin than about the fact that abusing the earth also hurts others and shows a general disrespect for creation in general.

He also misses the truth of other parts of the old testament-- namely that nature will inevitably, inexorably wear us all down-- ashes to ashes, dust to dust, and all that. His attitude to the world owes more to the conceits of the Englightenment and what classical writers of Greece called hubris. He's just dressing it up in "Judeo-Christian moral values," because he wants to claim that his personal opinions are somehow the same worldview of a millenia-old religious tradition.

Again, do I really believe Prager, with his years of experience studying the various books of The Bible, doesn't know "humans as caretakers of the earth"? That it just somehow slipped his memory? He's pushing a political agenda.

Saint Augustine has more on the matter:

The sin (defined as "missing the mark") of Dennis Prager is to selectively elevate portions of sacred text which justify conservative politics (the death penalty, "defense of marriage", exploitation of the environment) and to ignore the vast witness of both Testaments which, for example, condemn the abuse of the poor by the rich. To paraphrase Jim Wallis, a progressive evangelical, in speaking of these believers: "I don't question their good faith; I question their bad theology." To say that scripture is "divinely inspired" is simply to say that God, not the written word, is divine. There is a danger in idolatry, including biblio-idolatry. Such narrow and uncritical reading of scripture leads not to God but to human enmity and strife.

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