Wednesday, 22 April 2009

The green Bible

Have you heard of The Green Bible? It’s a new green-letter edition of the Good Book in which “verses that speak to God’s care for creation are highlighted in green.” The Bible also includes essays and inspirational quotes on ecology, and it’s printed on recycled paper using soy-based ink with a cotton/linen cover. Because “caring for the earth is not only a calling, but a lifestyle.”

That last sentence is very strange and very creepy. But it’s also an uncannily precise description of the dynamics of contemporary Christian chic: the Christian life is understood not as vocation but as a particular lifestyle choice, complete with its own market of lifestyle-defining niche products. Ye shall know them by their T-shirts and their cotton/linen Bible covers.

Anyway, the latest issue of First Things includes a splendid piece by Alan Jacobs on the phenomenon of the Green Bible: “The Green Bible presents us with a curious kind of natural theology: We start with things we know to be true from trusted sources – Al Gore, perhaps? – and then we turn to Scripture to measure it against those preexisting and reliable authorities. And what a relief to discover that God is green. Because we already know that it’s good to be green – what we didn’t know is whether God measures up to that standard.”

Jacobs is right to poke fun at the project’s entire underlying methodology: “The project website tells us that ‘with over 1,000 references to the earth in the Bible, compared to 490 references to heaven and 530 references to love, the Bible carries a powerful message for the earth.’ I am not sure what to make of this argumentum ad arithmeticum, unless the point is that the earth is approximately 1.88 times more important to God than love and 2.04 times more important than heaven. Based on my own research into this topic and following the same method, I am prepared to say that the earth is 7.04 times more important to God than donkeys (which are mentioned 142 times in the Bible).”

And he is right to observe that scripture itself is a little more ecologically ambiguous than The Green Bible would have you believe. Exactly what ecological edification are we to draw from the story of Jesus cursing and blighting a fig tree? Or from a passage like Ezekiel 20: “Mortal, set your face towards the south, preach against the south, and prophesy against the forest land in the Negeb; say to the forest of the Negeb, Hear the word of the Lord: Thus says the Lord God, I will kindle a fire in you, and it shall devour every green tree in you, and every dry tree; the blazing fire shall not be quenched, and all faces from south to north shall be scorched by it.”

Perhaps (for a different niche market) we should also produce The Arsonist’s Bible, with verses highlighted orange wherever God burns, scorches, or blows shit up. “Because with 1134 references to fire and burning, and only 158 references to salvation, the Bible carries a powerful message for those who enjoy destroying things.”

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