This is part 2 of 2 by guest blogger and Pathways for STEM Education Conference presenter, Tip Hudson. Tip is a Regional Rangeland & Livestock Extension Specialist with WSU Extension in Ellensburg, WA. His specialties are: Rangeland ecology, livestock production, plant community monitoring, irrigated pasture management, water quality. The views expressed in the article are his and do not necessarily represent those of Washington State University.
Who you Gonna Serve?
Creation worship was one of the chief idols in the 20th century and is holding strong into the 21st. Although not many secularists would admit to worshipping Nature, the typical secularist does attribute to Nature qualities historically reserved to deity. Carl Sagan famously said, “The Cosmos is all that ever was, is, or ever will be.” This was a direct reference to what all theists believe about God. Nature is credited, by Nature worshippers, with aseity, the essence of being, and is treated as the Supreme Being, in which we live and move and have our being.
C.S. Lewis said that all men worship something. We are wired to look for something beyond ourselves, bigger than ourselves, to value. This we will worship. Certainly, middle-class America is prone to self-worship, which is not new to America. But particularly in the sciences we look for metaphysical meaning, some unifying worldview that ties up our loose ends and makes sense of the world around us. (Note the recent movie about Stephen Hawking, The Theory of Everything). This was Darwin’s objective with the fledgling theory of evolution. The theory didn’t do a great job of explaining the observable facts of the world around him, which he acknowledged, but it was a socially successful attempt to explain the incredible biological diversity and complexity and beauty around him without a personal, omniscient Creator which could make demands of him.
Search for a Stewardship Synthesis
Humans are also searching for a coherent theory governing natural resource use. Novel concepts of how man should interact with nature are gaining steam, in part because of a general fear that we haven’t treated the earth very responsibly, in part because we fear this stewardship failure is beginning to have a negative influence on the human race, and in part because we want to have hope that there is a better way going forward into a future with a lot of people on a planet with finite space. All of these are valid concerns, and all have countless nuances and presuppositions and logical conclusions which may or may not be biblically sound. Today, one has 100 ways to be green, even if we’re just talking about agriculture. Organic, bio-intensive, grassfed, low food miles, local, grow-your-own, all-natural, animal welfare approved . . . the list could go on and on. Do these efforts to be more “sustainable” in our methods of food & fiber production have merit, or are they misguided? We must be careful, in evaluating these trends, not to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Where there is truth, we must affirm truth, without excessive concern for guilt by association.
Savory or Unsavory?
Allan Savory is one of the leading, and most controversial, proponents of regenerative animal agriculture. His movement seems to be gaining steam, and his devotees are often considered mildly fanatical, if fanaticism admits to degrees. What he has advanced is a decision-making framework, a planning process, which is holistic in scope as well as in name. Followers apply his principles to life, not just to grazing management and animal husbandry. In fact, his movement is viewed by outsiders much like a religion. In the Savory Institute’s 2014 international conference in London, Allan Savory claimed to offer “simple, real, practical hope” to a “troubled world . . . full of violence and deteriorating environment.” He goes on to eloquently describe a “dream of our many cultures and nations of team humanity united — thriving in harmony with ourselves and our life-supporting environment; a world in which all our land — our vast grasslands, forests, cropland — and our rivers, lakes and oceans are once more teeming with life on planet Earth.”
Stewardship is a Mandate
This is a breath-taking dream, audacious in scope. This is an Edenic vision — a description of the pre-Fall paradise which didn’t have national division and strife and man lived in harmony with the physical world. The cultural harmony described is also beatific, in that it closely mimics how the Bible describes life on the new heavens and new earth following Jesus’ bodily return and subsequent resurrection of the creation, releasing people and physical cosmos from the Genesis 3 curse. Implicit in Savory’s vision is a belief that humankind is basically (by nature) good, and that the physical world suffers at man’s hands because we don’t understand it well enough. Savory says that “one thing vital to all of us is not going well — in fact horribly wrong — agriculture.” He identifies stewardship as the kingpin, the cornerstone, the underlying cause of the world’s social, economic, and environmental problems.
Let me pause for a personal disclosure and disclaimer. I am on the Board of Directors of the Pacific Northwest Center for Holistic Management, a regional ‘Hub’ of the Savory Institute, as an academic advisor. While I do not share the worldview assumptions of Allan Savory, I believe much of what he has to say about stewardship has merit, in part because I see real results on lands managed by livestock farmers applying his principles and practices, and I aim to investigate these apparent results which give some credibility to his claims.
So I am unwilling to throw the baby out with the bathwater, and I believe Christians must take stewardship very seriously. The Bible says the external proof of our faith is our love one for another. In similar fashion, stewardship is, I believe, another rubber-meets-the-road nexus, or sign, of a solid Christian worldview. The dominion mandate, which was given before the Fall and again after the flood, instructed humans to take care of what God had created and declared “very good”.