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Thursday, December 22, 2011

Are humans moral beings? A reflection on a statement by Paul Watson

Last night I watched a TV special on Paul Watson from Sea Shepherd, and one of the founders of GreenPeace. It was interesting to learn a bit more about his history and to learn that the roots of the famous conflict (at least in environmental circles) between Watson and Greenpeace that caused him to leave/had him kicked out (depending on who is talking) of the organisation were essentially philisophical. Greenpeace, having grown out of the peace movement, holds a core belief in non-violent resistance. Watson, on the other hand, has since become famous for his willingness to use violence to achieve his ends. For me, the insight that allowed me to understand his approach was a comment he made along the lines of this:

"If you try to save the world by appealing to people's morality you are never going to get anywhere. Humans are not moral beings."

For Watson, at their core, humans are violent creatures. They understand and use violence to get their ends, so the best way to get a message across to them is through violence.

It's an interesting statement, and if his core assumption about the lack of human morality is true then he probably has a point about violence being the best way to ensure conservation or achieve any other goal. It's a scary world to live in though. As seen on the special, this is a world where the fastest or biggest boat wins, regardless of whose position holds the most value. It is a world where might is right. As someone without any physical prowess, it's not really a world I want to live in.

I prefer to believe that humans do have a moral capacity. Indeed, I think as a religious person I have to believe that, because our faith traditions are such important sources of our moral codes and the support we need to try and live in a moral way. I think we can make moral choices and we can do things that are right because they are right, and even if they are not in our own best personal interest. I can see how some people might despair and decide we are not capable of such high-mindedness though. Whaling is something of a classic example. The majority of the world made the moral decision that hunting a group of highly intelligent species threatened with extinction was wrong, but a few countries (Japan, Norway and Iceland) decided, for whatever reasons, that they can get away with whaling so they are going to, regardless of what the rest of the world thinks about the moral status of the activity. You have to respect their guts. One of the most powerful tools in the world for ensuring moral behaviour is the strength of peer pressure, but these countries decided to throw it in our faces that they don't care what we think, they are going to do what they want anyway. It does make one wonder about morality. And then there are all the other instances of clear corruption and *evil* conducted by people around the world with no consideration for the effect on other people, let alone the environment and God's creatures. It would be easier to simply believe that humans are incapable of morality and find another way of ensuring what you want is done - eg. the use of violence. The easiest solution is rarely the right one though, so I suppose we have to struggle on trying to believe that people are capable of morality and moral actions. I pray God we begin to show it more often in our interactions with other species.

Disclaimer: Please note that this is not a criticism of Paul Watson or the Sea Shepherd. I feel better knowing there is an organisation working so hard to actually implement environmental laws, particularly on the sea. It is sad that violence has to be used, but sometimes I feel like using violence myself when I note how rarely the laws made to protect the environment are enforced enough that they actually do so.

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Important Lessons from the Bible

Why Jesus came:
"that the world might be saved through him"
John 3:17

Who Jesus is going to use to save the world:
"For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God."
Romans 8:19

Our role on earth:
"The LORD God put the man in the Garden of Eden to take care of it and to look after it."
Genesis 2:15

The Five Pillars of A Christian Theology of Sustainability

1. God is the creator, sustainer and redeemer of creation.

2. Covenantal Stewardship (we have a covenant with God as stewards of the earth).

3. The creation-fall-redemption paradigm (God made a good world; human failure broke the relationships between god, man and creation; Christ provides hope for all creation).

4.Bodily resurrection(we will rise with bodies, not as spirits)

5.New Creation (a new Heaven and new Earth refers to a renewal and an earthing of heaven, not starting over).

Adapted from When Enough is Enough: A Christian Framework for Environmental Sustainability, Edited by R.J. Berry, Published by Inter-Varsity Press, 2007, Nottingham p43+