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Well-oiled Christian soldiers

Editor's note: This commentary originally appeared on Feb. 19. -- RS

By Jerry Glover
Prairie Writers Circle

(Monday, March 17, 2003 -- CropChoice guest commentary) -- National polls indicate we are largely a nation of Christians impressively united behind our national leader, also a Christian. We are also a nation facing the troubling thought of bombing people to maintain our lifestyle.

So where would Jesus, the moral compass of our nation, direct us in these troubled times? As the bumper stickers say, "WWJD: What Would Jesus Do?"

Based on a review of the sayings of Jesus highlighted in red in many Bibles, here are a few simple, fairly indisputable answers in the negative form:

(1) Jesus would not bomb Baghdad, or any other place: Bombs kill people.

(2) Jesus would not promote policies condemning a nation to a crippling dependence on fossil fuels, nonrenewable resources whose emissions pose serious environmental threats. Even administration officials, prominent possessors of oil-based wealth, now admit these problems.

(3) Jesus would not justify overturning the first two points by saying that, on balance, more good will be done by bombs and oil than harm -- he would see that weasel-move coming a millennium away.

Much of what Jesus said supports the first point: "Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you." (Matthew 5:44) His sayings less directly support the second point, although taken together they are increasingly seen by the Christian community, in all its diversity, as having environmental implications.

As reported in E Magazine, the declaration from a 2002 meeting of scientists, theologians and policy-makers in Oxford, England, stated, "The call to ‘love the Lord Your God and love your neighbor’ (Mathew 22:37-39) takes on new implications in the face of present and projected climate change." Not simply another liberal declaration, its signatories include Richard Cizik, vice president of the conservative National Association of Evangelicals, representing some 25 million to 40 million believers.

A conservative of a different stripe, Greek Orthodox Church Patriarchate Bartholomew I, warned his flock in 1997 that "for humans to contaminate the Earth’s waters, its land, its air and its life with poisonous substances, these are sins."

So why does a largely Christian nation continue to contemplate "preemptively" bombing the people of Baghdad? And why, then, do we continue profligate consumption of fossil fuel, knowing the attendant environmental problems and that we will eventually have to kill people to get it?

For these tougher questions, C.S. Lewis’ great Christian tale of devilish temptation, "The Screwtape Letters," sheds some light . He says that "the safest road to Hell is the gradual one -- the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts."

Offering abundant, inexpensive food and fuel, and lots of material wealth, our current road is soft underfoot and hard to leave. As we increase our indulgence in an oil-based lifestyle, we fail to notice how each step depends on more fossil fuel to support it and how far down the gentle slope we’ve come in our dependence.

Lewis also notes that the greatest evil "is conceived and ordered … in clean, carpeted, warmed and well-lighted offices, by quiet men with white collars and cut fingernails and smooth-shaven cheeks who do not need to raise their voice."

While we average citizens enjoy our oil-based luxuries, we individually seem to do little harm from day to day. Meanwhile our collective harm and dependence increase. As individuals we do little to secure our fossil fuel. Meanwhile our collective military and economic efforts increase. Thus we Americans, seemingly morally grounded in daily life, abrogate collective responsibility for our luxurious lives to our oil-based leaders "in clean, carpeted, warmed and well-lighted offices."

Those to whom we’ve entrusted our oil dependency know this and know what it would mean to our lifestyle if we fail to keep getting that oil. It is likely then that in a matter of weeks America will offensively bomb the people of Baghdad -- possessors of the world’s second largest proven reserves of oil. As our Christian soldiers take possession of Iraqi oilfields, our leaders, the "quiet men with white collars and cut fingernails," will say it is being done to secure our collective future.

In light of our collective desires and our willingness to satisfy them, perhaps America needs a new, longer bumper sticker: "WDNAWJWD: We Dare Not Ask What Jesus Would Do."

Jerry Glover, soil ecologist at the Land Institute in Salina, Kan., earned his doctorate in soil science at Washington State University. He is a member of the Prairie Writers Circle, a project of the institute, which is developing perennial grain crops.