The Word of God in the Age of the Toyota Prius
*Special thanks to Stephen Greenblatt, whose clever palimpsest of Walter Benjamin may be the best title formula ever.
It’s time to discard your old Bible and purchase the new HarperCollins Green Bible. That’s right, the Bible, much like just about everything else in our culture these days, is going green. It has gone green. No wait, that’s not right: it was always already green. HarperCollins announced the release of a NRSV translation that makes the connection between the holy writ and our responsibility toward the environment in every way imaginable. The cover is a rustic, arboreal tapestry that lets everyone at your church know that you are a Christian who cares about the environment. Paradoxically, you care about the earth to the extent that you consume.
This Bible has several handy features not available in conventional Bibles: a forward by Desmond Tutu, a collection of essays and meditations by eco-theologians, biblical scholars, and some meditations by devotional writers that stake out an ecological theology of creation care. And, just as many Bibles highlight the words of Jesus in red (lest the reader be unclear of when exaclty he is speaking), this text represents all Scripture passages that are “about” nature with a green typeface.
The Green Bible joins the ranks of a series of Bibles compiled and marketed according to some form of identity politics, literacy level, or doctrinal allegiance, so pitching a thematic Bible that suits the needs of the consumer is nothing new. This Bible is especially strange though because it implies that the way a person can affirm his or her creation care ethic is to consume yet again, to purchase yet another Bible.
I’m of two minds here. On the one hand, if this product becomes the impetus for people to understand the biblical mandate for environmental stewardship, then so be it. We should point out though that Christians have made the mandate for environmental stewardship explicit as early as 60 C.E. when Paul wrote a letter to the church at Rome, and the Old Testament writers have understood this mandate even more profoundly. (By the way, you can read about this in the free copies of Gideon Bibles that are placed in hotel rooms, even though these Bibles aren’t “green”).
However, it seems that there must be a better way to forge an ethic of creation care that is an essential part of Christian faith, a sustainable theology. This Bible seems contradictory because it is yet one more product whose consumption constitutes an expression of faith. In evangelical Christianity, writes Omri Elisha, God is in the retails. To consume is to declare one’s respectable participation in a capitalist culture, which is deeply opposed to the culture of God’s Kingdom.
So where does The Green Bibleleave us? Lynn White Jr. pointed out that just as religion is the source of our ecologic crisis, so too must religion be the cure for our problem. Perhaps this new product is a positive step toward evangelical Christians developing a real ethic of stewardship, derived from the Gospels, from Paul’s passion pleas that creation be released from bondage and decay, and from the OT’s understanding of the material creation as an expression of God’s being. Or, maybe it’s just another product that I’ll get and shelve alongside my Passion and Purity Bible, my New Oxford Annotated Study Bible, and my Scofield Zionist Bible.