19 February 2012

Against the Pagans: Santorum's false choice between stewadship and servitude

It's one of the canards of present-day Republicanism -- I've heard Mr. Right raise the point more than once -- that there's something discreditingly pagan about the environmentalist movement. On the campaign trail this year, Rick Santorum comes closest to expressing this sentiment without necessarily using the p-word. Invited to clarify his position on one of the Sunday interview shows, he attempted to draw a distinction between the "stewardship" of the planet mandated by scripture and an environmentalist ideology that reduces man to a "servant" of the Earth. The Pennsylvanian insists that "The Earth is not the objective. Man is the objective." As if you can choose between the two.

I quickly found a more articulate version of Santorum's critique. The author seems to have a problem with the notion of nature as an "end unto itself" that can't be used simply as a means to someone else's objectives. Somewhere between this sophistry and Santorum's demagoguery, the idea arises that if you regard nature as an end unto itself, you elevate it to divine status -- to serve the Earth is implicitly to worship it. That may well be the belief of some actual pagans, but most environmentalists strike me as having more mundane concerns. I doubt whether they recognize the stark choice Santorum wants to force between stewardship and servitude. It's more likely that they recognize no contradiction between the interests of the planet and those of mankind. At the very least, the planet and its inhabitants have a common interest in survival. For the forseeable future, the survival of man depends on the survival of the planet. That's why most environmentalists I encounter invoke the concept of sustainability. They oppose ecologically questionable projects not because those insult their deity, but because they put humanity's long-term survival into question. To my knowledge, many Christian environmentalists feel the same way, and a similar opposition to similar projects falls comfortably within their definition of "stewardship." But Santorum seems to think that stewardship would never or should never require us to refuse a proposal for technological progress on ecological grounds. As he stated quite clearly today, man's needs -- which might mean our collective need for energy or some people's need for jobs or profits -- come before any concern for environmental well-being, such concerns being suspect on the assumption that you would sacrifice people, even if not with a knife on an altar, to the planet. But the idea that concern for the planet's survival is equivalent to worshipping it is itself equivalent to the widespread monotheist notion that any portrait of a living thing is meant as an object of idolatrous worship. The suspicion of false "worship" is often simply an advanced if not decadent form of superstition and has no place in political discourse. Of course, Santorum could be simply and cynically demagoging a job issue, telling people that Democrats are preventing job creation for superstitiously sinister reasons -- but he strikes me as too much of a true believer for me to give him any credit for lying about this.


Anonymous said...

Scum-sucking idiots like Santorum apparently don't understand what the concept of "stewardship" is to begin with. It seem quite obvious his idea of being a steward isn't to properly and pristinely care for the master's property, but to use and exploit said property for gain, leaving nothing for the future.

Of course the problem with the concept of "stewardship" is that it requires a real master/owner who appoints or hires the steward. So where is this master, Santorum? Bring him forth and let him indicate to all Americans, beyond doubt, that some dweeb like you is his/her first and best choice.

Calmoderate said...

The ways in which religion can be inserted into politics is fascinating. One the one hand, religious zealots who want lots more religion in government (a theocracy or close to it) usually deny that their religion would affect how they would govern. One the other, they tell groups of their like-minded peers that God and his teachings, whatever they may be, must be followed because those teachings are sacred and infallible.

The irrational disconnect is simply an amazing thing to see. This is one of the best examples of how intelligent, educated modern human minds can rationalize completely conflicting/ incompatible statements like that.

That's arguably a key problem with U.S. politics in general. When the thinking behind political policies is that irrational, the policies that result are bound to also be irrational. Irrational policies fail to address problems and that wastes tax dollars and precious time.

I have no idea of how to fix this problem. You can't even convince people with this blindness that its a problem at all.

Samuel Wilson said...

Santorum's idea of "stewardship" seems to be related to "dominion" theology, the idea being that man has dominion over the earth. Depending on your interpretation of Genesis -- and I don't know if all translators would use the word "dominion," -- the meaning comes closer to an entitlement to use the earth for our purposes than to most people's understanding of stewardship. Genesis 1:28 is the same verse that tells people to "be fruitful and multiply" and to "subdue" the earth -- so maybe people like Santorum think that straining resources to the breaking point is simply doing the Lord's will.

Anonymous said...

to use the earth for our purposes than to most people's understanding of stewardship.

The fact is, people like Santorum don't believe in using the planet or it's resources for human purposes. He believes in exploiting them for the profit of a small, "elite" group. They do NOT believe in conserving by any definition of the word when it comes to natural resources. They are the "gluttons" when it comes to the planet earth.