Thursday, November 21, 2013

Francis Schaeffer on Humanity as Fellow-Creature

In my systematic theology class for high schoolers we began to discuss the doctrine of humanity.  I began with talking about how as created beings we share a kinship with the rest of creation.  We often move so quickly to our uniqueness as humans being created in God’s image that we fail to recognize our shared creature-liness with other created entities.  I read some of the following from Francis Schaeffer’s work Pollution and the Death of Man (1970).  All pages numbers are from The Complete Works of Francis A. Schaeffer—vol. 5 (Crossway, 1982).

As a Christian I say, “Who am I?”  Am I only the hydrogen atom, the energy particle extended?  No, I am made in the image of God.  I know who I am.  Yet, on the other hand, when I turn around and face nature, I face something that is like myself.  I, too, am created, just as the animal and the plant and the atom are created.  (p. 30)

Therefore, intellectually and psychologically, I look at these animals, plants, and machines, and as I face them I understand something of the attitude I should have toward them.  I begin to think differently about life.  Nature begins to look different.  I am separated from it, yet related to it.

Notice the phrase “intellectually and psychologically.”  This is a very important distinction.  I can say, “Yes, the tree is a creature like myself.”  But that is not all that is involved.  There ought to be a psychological insight, too.  Psychologically I ought to “feel” a relationship to the tree as my fellow-creature.  It is not simply that we ought to feel a relationship intellectually to the tree, and then turn this into just another argument for apologetics, but that we should realize, and train people in our churches to realize, that on the side of creation and on the side of God’s infinity and our finiteness we really are one with the tree! (p. 31)

The value of the things is not in themselves autonomously, but that God made them—and thus they deserve to be treated with high respect.  The tree in the field is to be treated with respect.  It is not be romanticized, as the old lady romanticizes her cat (that is, she reads human reactions into it).  That is wrong because it is not true.  When you drive the axe into the tree when you need firewood, you are not cutting down a person; you are cutting down a tree.  But while we should not romanticize the tree, we must realize God made it and it deserves respect because He made it as a tree.  (p. 32)

Christians, of all people, should not be the destroyers.  We should treat nature with an overwhelming respect.  We may cut down a tree to build a house, or to make a fire to keep the family warm.  But we should not cut down the tree just to cut down the tree.  We may, if necessary, bark the cork tree in order to have the use of the bark.  But what we should not do is to bark the tree simply for the sake of doing so, and let it dry and stand there a dead skeleton in the wind.  To do so is not to treat the tree with integrity.  We have the right to rid our houses of ants; but what we have not the right to do is to forget to honor the ant as God made it, in its rightful place in nature.  When we meet the ant on the sidewalk, we step over him.  He is a creature, like ourselves; not made in the image of God, but equal with man as far as creation is concerned.  The ant and the man are both creatures.  (p. 43)  

Hunting game is another example of the same principle.  Killing of animals for food is one thing, but on the other hand they do not exist simply as things to be slaughtered.  This is true of fishing too.  Many men fish and leave their victims to rot and stink.  But what about the fish?  Has it no rights—not to be romanticized as thought he were a man—but real rights?  On the other hand, it is wrong to treat the fish as though it were a human baby; on the other hand, neither is it a chip of wood or stone.  (p. 44)

When we have learned this—the Christian view of nature—then there can be a real ecology; beauty will flow, psychological freedom will come, and the world will cease to be turned into a desert.  Because it is right, on the basis of the whole Christian system—which is strong enough to stand it all because it is true—as I face the buttercup, I say: “Fellow-creature, fellow-creature, I won’t walk on you.  We are both creatures together.”  (p. 55)

Here are a few items of relevance:

Francis Schaeffer on Ecology

Habakkuk and God's Concern for the Environment