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Jewish World Review July 16, 2001 / 25 Tamuz 5761

Don Feder

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Eco clerics biblically off-base -- DOES G-d want us to turn off our air conditioners in mid-July and make burnt offerings of SUVs? Amen, say eco-clerics, who are transforming the Bible into an environmental handbook.

It's the Church (Synagogue) of What's Happening Now reads the Gospel of Al Gore.

With energy on everyone's mind, eco-spiritualism is news. An Associated Press story by religion writer Rachel Zoll observes, "Although the nation's leaders haven't asked Americans to conserve energy, some religious scholars say a higher authority has."

"Human beings are not given rapacious free will to do what they want in creation but to give good stewardship," thunders Rabbi Lawrence Troster of the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life.

The group cites Leviticus 19:9 ("When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap all the way to the edges of your field") as if this were a call for soil conservation. As the rest of the verse elucidates, the prohibition is so "the poor and the stranger" will have sustenance. Charity, not ecology, is the mandate here.

There is a requirement that the land lie fallow the seventh year. But that's not the verse the coalition quotes, demonstrating appalling scholarship from the religious scholars.

Enviro-Protestants are no better versed. The Evangelical Environmental Network cites Hosea ("The land mourns, and all who live in it waste away") to make its point. Again, this verse has nothing to do with stewardship. It describes the consequences of Israel's sins, such as following false gods. Earth Day clerics have idols of their own.

Mainline divines are suckers for movements du jour. One day it's feminism, the next same-sex marriage. Terrified of not being relevant, they scour Scriptures for verses that can be twisted to justify political orthodoxy.

The Bible begins with G-d creating the world and giving man (His highest creation) dominion over it -- not to despoil, but to utilize with a sense of reverence for His handiwork. This contradicts environmentalism, which sees man as just one more feature of the natural world, whose needs don't outweigh the welfare of redwoods and snail darters.

Other clerics, who generally aren't quoted by AP, offer more enlightenment. The free-market Acton Institute, headed by Father Robert Sirico, has published a tract titled, "Environmental Stewardship in the Judeo-Christian Tradition."

The Jewish contributors comment: "The basic Jewish principle of balance and middle path also conflicts with the contemporary environmental doctrine that preserving each spotted owl and kangroo rat is more important than any costs borne by humans."

One of the writers, Rabbi Daniel Lapin, president of Toward Tradition, owns two SUVs. (Well, he has seven children.) "Suppose we all switch from SUVs to Corollas, then what?" Lapin asks. "What happens to the fuel and steel saved?" How do we know someone else will put it to better use? Absent more energy development, which green clerics abhor, how will conservation get us past the current crunch?

The rabbi notes that as well as mandating rest on the seventh day, the Torah commands productivity on the other six. Why is it clerical tree-huggers never say: "The Bible requires us to produce to meet human needs. So let's drill for oil in Alaska and build more nuclear power plants"?

The Catholic contributors to the Acton book observe that the use of fossil fuels have benefited both humanity and the environment. They're far less inefficient, polluting and destructive than burning wood, the primary power source for most of history. Turned into fertilizers, they've led to an explosion of agricultural production.

Admittedly, such a perspective is homo-centric -- so is the Bible. Genesis commands reproduction. ("Be fruitful and multiply and replenish the Earth.")

But environmentalists believe overpopulation (who's to say what that is?) is destroying the Earth. People become the ultimate pollution.

Thus it comes as no surprise that the foes of SUVs and power plants support abortion rights and population control. Both are anathema to Judeo-Christian tradition.

For their next joint venture, perhaps enviro-clerics could find a gang of Canaanites and followers of Baal to hang with. It makes as much sense as organizing an ecumenical cheering squad for the Sierra Club.

JWR contributing columnist Don Feder's latest books are Who is afraid of the Religious Right? ($15.95) and A Jewish conservative looks at pagan America ($9.95). To receive an autographed copy, send a check or money order to: Don Feder, The Boston Herald, 1 Herald Sq., Boston, Mass. 02106. Doing so will help fund JWR, if so noted. He is also available as a guest speaker. To comment on this column please click here.

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© 2001, Creators Syndicate