Tuesday 21 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.”


Adam Kotsko said...

Hey, let's paraphrase the damning quote without the evil liberal buzzword of "lifestyle": "environmentalism isn't just for career activists, it should shape your everyday practices." Does that really sound shallow or even problematic?

From another angle: The quote says, “caring for the earth is not only a calling, but a lifestyle.” You make the attempt at a parallel: "the Christian life is understood not as vocation but as a particular lifestyle choice." But the parallel doesn't work! The quote says it's a calling and a lifestyle -- your comparison says it's a lifestyle and not a calling.

And what's the deal with the supposed authority of Al Gore? Looking at the table of contents, the supplementary articles seem to be pretty heavily Christian (maybe all Christian -- I don't know all the names) -- including John Paul II.

But with that said: this is a blog after all, so you're certainly welcome to be pointlessly cranky.

Anonymous said...

I saw one of these a few weeks ago, and thought about buying it, but decided against it because I already have more versions of the NRSV than I need (2 or 3), and because I'm trying to force myself to not buy as much as possible.

I agree with Adam in that it's a little bit of a stretch to try to pin this on lifestyle contra vocation, and I would say this especially given some of the included writers that I notice. Perhaps this is more of a fault of the Christian marketing industry/factory, but that's something of a separate issue.

I guess this kind of walks the line between gimmick and potentially a thoughtful reflection. I suppose it may depend on the context of who is buying it and why, but I'm not altogether comfortable with saying that.

I also don't necessarily like the backhanded swipe from First Things. Maybe I'm reading too much into it, but it smacks of a kind of anti-environmentalism that I've seen from people I know who are conservative and Christian.

Anonymous said...

Jacobs' characterization doesn't do justice to every "green" reader of the Bible, especially hermeneutically savvy readers like Ellen Davis. Her "Scripture, Culture, and Agriculture" attempts to do things in precisely the opposite order from what Jacobs describes.

I'm disappointed, Ben.

Christian Collins Winn said...

The last paragraph really made me chuckle. A welcome oasis at the end of the semester.

Anonymous said...

I have one, I use it as a bible that I can take out of my house without worry about damaging it. The cover is neat and a nice break from typical kitschy and/or leather covers. The green passages are seemingly random in places, but I wouldn't give this bible nearly as much credit (for representing the Christian consumerist ethos so clearly; we have a MULTITUDE of other books/bibles that do this quite effectively, c.f. Warren, Rick) as Ben does.

mshedden said...

I would recommend Telford Work's piece in CT on the same subject.
The best line is:
The Bible carries its full message, not to those who regard it simply as a noble literary heritage of the past or who wish to use it to enhance political purposes and advance otherwise desirable goals, but to all persons and communities who read it so that they may discern and understand what God is saying to them.
In all of The Green Bible, these uncelebrated words encourage me most. Few will find them. Yet those who do might be moved, not away from environmentalism or any otherwise desirable goal, but toward the Bible's incomprehensible fullness. That fullness will finally put to shame all our commentaries, our forewords and afterwords, our footnotes and indexes, our trendsetting and target marketing, and yes, our colorizing.

dan said...

I'm kinda disappointed that The Arsonist's Bible doesn't actually exist...

Unknown said...

I, personally, echo Dan's thoughts,

"I'm kinda disappointed that The Arsonist's Bible doesn't actually exist..."

Darren Wright said...

I'd be interested in buying the anti-consumerist bible, especially if it's got a cool cover and a number of articles in it by cool christians like Bill Hybels and Brian Housten, possibly Mark Driscoll and others...

yeah, I'd buy that...

Jeremy Bohall said...

"environmentalism isn't just for career activists, it should shape your everyday practices." does indeed sound shallow if that is the lense through which we are reading the Bible. How are we able to read, study and meditate on God's word if we're coming at it with a particular objective which the original authors never had?

For another 'pointlessly cranky' reaction: http://cultureshock-jeremy.blogspot.com/search/label/bible

kim fabricius said...

Adam's points are fair (if also tit-for-tat cranky!). Still, the contemporary association of "lifestyle" with "choice" invites a mockshy. And the order is worryingly suggestive: "caring for the earth is not only a calling but a lifestyle". Surely, theologically, the emphasis should be inverted: "caring for the earth is not only a lifestyle but a calling." Indeed, vocation is inclusive of lifestyle, so why deploy the fashionable word at all - unless to be fashionable?

But my biggest problem with this ecological Gideons is the addition of any predicate to the Bible, analagous to Barth's Reformed horror about adding an "and" - any "and" - to God (e.g. God and country, or God and family): predicates and conjunctions have an insidious way of trumping the substantive.

I preached a sermon entitled "God is Green" at a harvest service in the early eighties. You don't need higlighting, prooftexts, or word-counts to press the case for environmental responsibility.

Finally a warning about the anthropocentrism in most green theology, flagged up by Richard Bauckham: "This idea, that we are called to act as priests to nature, mediating, as it were, between nature and God, is quite often found in recent Christian writing, but it intrudes our inveterate sense of superiority exactly where the Bible will not allow it. If creation needs priests, they are the four living creatures around God's throne (Rev. 4:6-8), only one of which is a human face."

Anonymous said...

Would you send me the reference for that Bauckham quote?
lt82 at st.andrews.ac.uk
Many thanks,

kim fabricius said...

Sure, Luke:

Richard Bauckham, God and the Crisis of Freedom: Biblical and Contemporary Perspectives (Louisville / London: Westminster John Knox Press, 2002), p. 177.

The entire chapter 7, "Human Authority in Creation" (pp. 128-77), is an important contribution to a theology of the nonhuman creation.

Phillip said...

For a balanced view on the environmental issue, can I suggest Ian Plimer's new book, 'Heaven and Earth, Global Warming: The Missing Science,' Ballan, Victoria: Connor Publishing, 2009. This is the same guy who wrote a broadside against 'creation science' in his book, 'Telling Lies For God.'

Saint Egregious said...

I just bought a copy based on Ben's recommendation. When I'm done reading it, I'm gonna re-use it as kindling for lighting my eco-friendly wood fired grill. (me love fire--arsonist bible next)
Tonight we're having apple smoked organic tofu burgers drizzled with truffle butter on a bed of garlicky braised arugula. Yum.
Then I'm going to crap out on the couch and watch antique road show before compline.

Stephen Barkley said...

Well said.

This sort of product falls into the same category as those that mine leadership principles from the life of Jesus—peripheral topics marketed for the sake of a preexisting audience.

(That said, I do believe in caring for Creation—I just don't think we need an arbitrarily highlighted Bible for that purpose!)

Brad East said...

Rightly said, Kim and Stephen.

I think the point is that this edition of the Bible places the gospel in service to something else -- however "biblical" it may be -- rather than vice versa. In the same way that scholars of all stripes have decried the "red letter" versions of the Bible, it seems perversely odd to create a Bible that emphasizes, not the speech of Jesus, but haphazard mention of nature.

As Kim relayed from Barth, we simply cannot jump onto existing trends and fads crying "Us too!" Whether or not "being green" is a healthy corrective to past and present Christian abuse of the land, something called "The Green Bible" can only be filed appropriately under "Things Popular in Western Culture Right Now." That is not being "relevant"; that is playing on the world's terms.

R.O. Flyer said...

Great post, Ben, but I want to hear more from Adam on this! Are you really defending the Green Bible, Adam?

Anonymous said...

Maybe the Green Bible wants us to understand God's Word regarding our sinful exploitation of the environment! While you make an interesting critique of market based consumerism, your own reading seems to lack charity in order to voice a not-so-green critique of the contemporary ecological movement without---I should add---biblical argument. Why, Ben, you're so liberal on other things, I'm surprised to see you bashing this stuff or maybe you just like showing off how good you are at math.

Adam Kotsko said...

"Green" themes really are in the Bible, so what's wrong with highlighting them? Sure, it's tacky to come out with yet another specialized edition of the Bible, but that ship sailed long, long ago -- and I'm pretty sure that First Things didn't write up a bitchy little response to the "College-age Man's Bible" or the "Grandmother's Bible."

Environmental issues are real. They are really a sphere that Scripture addresses, but that has been neglected. If this Bible gets more Christians on board, then that can lead to more action to stave off environmental disaster. The only way I can see this as imposing some "outside" view on the Bible is if you don't think environmental issues are real. Were Christian abolitionists imposing some outside issue on the Bible? Were they hijacking Scripture for some idolatrous merely human goal? Or were they applying their faith to the concrete historical circumstances they faced? Also: did they not have certain "consumer" goods, some of which might have been "tacky" by many standards (such as Uncle Tom's Cabin)?

I'd also like to address the whole reference-counting thing. I don't think that the authors are meaning to deny that love is a central theme of Scripture. They're saying, "We already know that love is a central theme and is mentioned a lot -- so you might be surprised to learn that the earth is actually mentioned more!" The point is that it is a pervasive theme, as opposed to the view -- apparently shared by many in this comment thread -- that the Bible has nothing to say to such issues. If they were really just counting stuff to figure out what is most important, that'd be stupid, but that's not in fact what they're doing.

Terry Wright said...

Ben, I don't think it could be as bad as the Chicken Soup for the Soul Bible: http://aardvarkconundrum.blogspot.com/2009/04/greens-and-chicken-soup.html

Anonymous said...

I actually own one of these. i didn't buy it for the earth saving attributes but because it looked cool, and i needed a smaller bible. as for going green...well the amount the bible cost really doesn't help on anything "green" in my opinion!

Anonymous said...

I agree with Adam. Considering that many evangelicals (at least the ones I knew) were content to shove their heads in the sand with regards to anything that is perceived as a "liberal" or "left-wing" cause, realizing that the bible has something to say about how we are stewards of the Earth could be important. Oddly, the chosen translation is the NRSV, which seems to be the mainline standard, and the mainline doesn't seem to be having problems with accepting environmentalism as a valid cause. Perhaps the NIV would have been a better choice?

But come on, there is so much crappy shit marketing for Christians that it is odd to highlight this relatively unpopular product out of the many choices. I mean, come on, Precious Moments has a bible. There is the fashion magazine look-a-alike bible. No, we don't need another bible, but it is at worst a tastefully presented edition of the NRSV that happens to suffer from some seemingly random greening of the text. And, to echo Adam, at least it is a valid and very real concern.

Montana Quiring said...

Thanks for writing this.
I feel it's an insightful and entertaining view.
I think this bible is a potentially a product driven by our western consumerism and laxity in pursuing spiritual discomfort. But in the same breath I think it's important to move past the old mindset of, "I'm going to heaven so why should I worry about taking care of the Earth?"
Making the earth/heaven/love count reference, and like most humans with good intent, I think they have swung to an extreme and potentially give their good intent less value. That reference is obviously not a very academic study of the bible's powerful messages, but I don't think most people would come to that same conclusion.
If we examine the word lifestyle:
"the typical way of life of an individual, group, or culture" (m-w.com)
I think it's pretty safe to safe to say that caring for the earth would require a modification of one's lifestyle. I think what you are getting at Ben, is an underlying cultural spin on the term lifestyle that implies consumerism and patting oneself on the back for buying "green" stuff.
I throw up in my mouth a bit every time I see a "going green!" advertisement that's trying to tell me to buy more stuff to save the earth. I don't want to lump this bible in with the rest of that but I'm having a hard time not doing it. Maybe that says more about me than the Green Bible. *shrug*

Paul said...

The ultimate anti-consumerist Bible would have "Steal This Bible!" written on the cover in a sloppy, scribbled font. Of course, Exodus 20:15 would then have to be deleted from the text.

Eventually we'll have a Goth Bible to tap into that market ("did you know that there are 217 goth-related verses in the Bible? In this version, they're in a special gloomy boldface")

Humor aside, if this Bible convinces American Christians (especially the fundie, God's-going-to-destroy-the-earth-tomorrow types) to start taking Creation Care seriously, as an integral part of the Church's witness, more power to it.

Unknown said...

i like the post! LOL

if i find time, i will blog back to it

Anthony Paul Smith said...

Is this seriously your Earth Day post? Really?! This is really what you want to post for Earth Day?

Ben Myers said...

Hi Anthony: yeah, I guess Earth Day always brings out my sentimental side...

But at least I resisted the urge to post this passage from the First Things article: "Ed Hardiman of Bristow, Virginia, says, 'If I see one more corporation declare itself green, I’m going to start burning tires in my backyard'."

Anthony Paul Smith said...

Right, I totally get why being a cranky conservative is actually the most radically redemptive position one can take towards environmental issues. I also totally get why the appropriate reaction to corporate green-washing is an environmentally destructive act. And God totally isn't green or he wouldn't have killed that fig tree. Awesome faith and theology going on here. Totally tubular orthodoxy.

::aaron g:: said...


Speaking of orange Bibles, World Vision is printing up a Justice Bible where all the scriptures about the poor, justice, etc. are printed in orange.

Adam Kotsko said...

A lot of corporations want to be perceived as trustworthy, too. Let's reject the whole concept of trust!

Ben Myers said...

Aaron: drats! I knew someone would steal my great idea! Looks like I'll have to find some other colour: perhaps The Barbeque Bible (highlighting brown all those verses about eating meat) or The Wine-Lovers' Bible (highlighting alcoholic references in a deep burgundy) or — now this could be a real hit — The World of Warcraft Bible (highlighting in an eery blue those passages in which people go on quests or kill each other with cool weapons).

The possibilities are endless...

Anonymous said...

Where is the "Miracles Bible" outlining all the types of miracles Jesus or the disciplies performed, with turning water to wine at the top of the list?
Note also that the last miracle Jesus perfomed (the healing of Malchus) was not at the request of someone else. Thus can God fix things without violation of free will?

Joshua Blanchard said...

“caring for the earth is not only a calling, but a lifestyle.”

This is interesting. Wouldn't a direct calling from God would be way more convincing and significant than the development of a (no doubt stellar!) lifestyle?

::aaron g:: said...

The "Personal Promise Bible" tops them all. It inserts your name into passages all through the Bible.

Example: "Even when Osama bin Laden was dead in trespasses, God made Osama bin Laden alive together with Christ (by grace Osama bin Laden has been saved), and raised Osama bin Laden up with Him and made Osama bin Laden to sit with Him in heavenly places in Christ Jesus. (Eph. 2:5-6)"

The Koran can't top this!


Tyler Wittman said...

This was hilarious.

I'm holding out hope for an iBible.

Daniel Imburgia said...

“Highlight, noun
the highlight of his career high point, best part, climax, peak, pinnacle, height, acme, zenith, summit, crowning moment, high-water mark, centerpiece. antonym nadir.
he has highlighted shortcomings in the plan spotlight, call attention to, point out, single out, focus on, underline, feature, play up, show up, bring out, accentuate, accent, give prominence to, zero in on, stress, emphasize.”

My oldest one is a 30 yr old Jerusalem bible. I kinda wish i had used different colors or markings every few yrs to keep track of my rambling, theological, journey. Of course, to read it another way, my highlighting perhaps better indicated which scriptures i was avoiding ('blurring,' 'de-centering', 'zeroing-out') than those i was focusing on. Maybe to 'spotlight' one thing is to shadow (or efface) another? Certainly a kind of decontextualization occurs, and G-d knows how important context is thought to be to hermeneutics. The question has been asked though “where are the borders of any context?” (Context, ORIGIN late Middle English denoting the construction of a text: from Latin contextus, from con- ‘together’ + texere ‘to weave). Some have even argued that “context is never absolutely determinable.” Nevertheless, this 'weaving' occurs in the context of our finitude, and i reckon that's the best we can hope to do, long as we're up front about it. Obliged, Daniel Imburgia

Anonymous said...

I've been meaning to write my own review of this thing after I purchased it for our library, but never got around to it.

Here's the most curious thing about the Green Bible: it makes the bits about nature green, but misses the most "ecological" sections of scriptures, the parts that deal with a more hopeful relationship between steward, Creator and creation. (cf. verses about food.)

But there is hope. Ellen Davis' latest book -- Scripture, Culture and Agriculture -- rules the effing school. It's the love child of Wendell Berry and Amos of Tekoa.

Bob said...

My little girl took earth day very serious...as she should. We carried a little bag around with us all day and picked up trash. I praise God for her attitude toward creation. And I praise God for one of the frickin' funniest posts I could have read in the middle of a 10 hour grading marathon.

Ben, you made my earth day!

kim fabricius said...

A thread as motley as a Massachusetts maple, from the outré to the outraged. I think Adam gets the gold leaf for "A lot of corporations want to be perceived as trustworthy, too."

A round of applause from the trees of the hills, folks!

Robert Cornwall said...

My own review of the bible is found in the Progressive Christian, but I think that the most problematic premise underlying this bible, underlies the ubiquitious red letter bibles -- it may lead you to believe that the colored lettered material can be understood out of its broader context. That being said, the essays contained with the text are, for the most part excellent.

But, do we need another version of the Bible? Not so sure, but tomorrow another one will appear appealing to a different market. If only we read the Bibles we already own.

Unknown said...

The wine-lovers Bible made me think of this wine-haters Bible commentary from 1870, featuring ALL PASSAGES OF HOLY WRIT BEARING ON 'WINE' AND 'STRONG DRINK,' OR ILLUSTRATING THE PRINCIPLES OF THE TEMPERANCE REFORMATION.


Erin said...

Lol@Daniel - the MadLib Bible!

In the ______(noun), ______(person) _____(verb, past tense) the _____(noun/pl) and the ______(location).

I think that's what some folk were reading in my hermeneutics classes.

R.O. Flyer said...

Adam, I can't help but be a little surprised by your response to Ben's post. For someone who has read as much Zizek as you have, such a defense of the "green Bible" strikes me as rather odd to say the least.

Do you really think Ben is actually arguing against concern for the environment in this post?

Now, I think I know pretty well where you're coming from here. You think that whatever the reasons behind Ben's critique of the green Bible, even if they are genuinely 'leftist,' end up closely aligning him with right-wing First Things-style politics.

Is this about right?

Now, I haven't read your book on Zizek, but you seem very unZizekian in all of this. Isn't the green Bible a product of what Zizek wryly calls the new breed of "liberal Communists?"

Derek said...

I find the ultimate joke around the Green Bible is situated in the title itself: The GREEN Bible. Not the Holy Bible, der heilige Schrift -- that sacred body handed down over millennia because it revealed Wisdom capable of deifying the faithful -- but the relevant bible, re-imagined for the conscientious of today.

In other words, it's a paradigm shift, in hopes of reconfiguring that which was preserved for the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church for the church of hot-button issues, revolving with the world every thirty years or so (Earth Day was originally established amid fears of "global cooling").

And while the endeavor to raise awareness of our stewardship of creation is indeed noble, the Green Bible seeks to do so by lacing the scriptures with essays by supposed contemporary authorities on the matter. The likes of Barbara Brown Taylor, Desmond Tutu and Wendell Berry especially all have great thoughts on the environment, but none of them do I look to for illumination of the scriptures, as they seem rather more concerned with this or that particular issue than they do with the mystical Body of Christ and her message of redemption. "Creation-care" is no foreign concept to the ancient faith, as we can see in the writings of Sts. Maximus, Gregory Palamas, Silouan the Athonite, Hildegard of Bingen, etc. because the ancient Christian perception of creation is formed according to God's love for that which He has made: God's infinite love sustains and binds together all his works, without which every thing would return to nothingness. But the editors of the Green Bible do not draw from these ancient springs; instead, they provide modern - though not necessarily trustworthy or even Christian - voices to rightly divide the word of Truth, perhaps in oxymoronic hopes of giving it new life.

Sadly, this attempt will likely only serve to further divide Christians, as many of us will buy into it without reserve (because it certainly sounds good, even if it stems not from the ancient Faith itself but from the much more recent "zero population growth" movement), while others will continue in ignorance -- or, if you will, spitefulness -- as the earth is ever more rapidly spent.

Personally, I'm thankful for this post and the First Things commentary; I'm thankful someone found the words and had the voice to speak his mind, even in the face of grave disappointment and the wrath of green mania.

“People will remain poor, because they have no love for trees.” - St. Kosmas the Aetolian

John said...

What a snarky post on Earth Day. I know fashion Bibles suck, but if this Bible manages to convince even a few "evangelicals" that oil in Alaska wasn't put there expressly for the United States to use, then I'd be happy with it. And it's nicer to see this Bible than, say, MacArthur's annotated Bible. And couldn't you, Ben Myers, have selected any one of those green highlighted passages and put up a couple links to, oh I don't know, the Nature Conservancy or some Christian ecological groups? Don't you think the church has both the capacity and the authority to model care for the creation in its work? I mean, you make think little of Al Gore, but he's a Christian living out a call, and trying to make others aware of a great danger that we face. You could have done better than such a lame post.

Adam Kotsko said...

RO Flyer, So Ben's post was supposedly Zizekian, and I am also Zizekian and should therefore approve of it on those grounds? I'm pretty sure that it takes more than being snarky and linking approvingly to a reactionary magazine to be Zizekian.

R.O. Flyer said...

Adam, I am not asking you to approve of Ben's post. Frankly, I just find it really funny that you're actually defending something called "The Green Bible" on the grounds that it might help raise awareness on how the Bible relates to environmental issues. Certainly you don't think Zizek would be on your side on this.

Adam Kotsko said...

Why wouldn't he be on my side? Why should I care if he is? Agreeing with Zizek is not one of my main goals in life.

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