Theology and Climate Change

By Wolf, Jakob | The Ecumenical Review, July 2010 | Go to article overview

Theology and Climate Change


Wolf, Jakob, The Ecumenical Review


The question about the relationship between theology and climate change is a very difficult one. People often ask me, "What on earth has the Christian preaching of the gospel to do with climate change?" People in Denmark are sceptical. The relationship is not at all clear to them. So it is important, at least in Denmark, to make very clear what we think the relationship is. I share my thoughts on this topic in what follows.

I agree with people who think that the preaching of the gospel does not have any evident relation to climate change. The gospel has to do with the belief in the revelation of God in Jesus of Nazareth. It has to do with the preaching of a merciful God, of salvation and forgiveness of sins, which have nothing to do with climate change--not directly, anyway.

But the Christian religion is not just about preaching the gospel, it is also about what Luther called the law. It teaches the law. The law or the ethical demand is about our obligation to take care of one another, to take care of the vulnerable in life, both human beings and other living beings. The law is part of the Christian religion, but it is not specific to Christianity. The law is a natural phenomenon. Everybody, religious or not, knows about the law and experiences the ethical demand. It is in terms of law that the Christian religion has to do with the problem of climate change. I think it is very important to stress this point and to stress that this is a universal phenomenon. I think it is highly confusing, at least to Danes, to relate the problem of climate change to specific Christian concepts such as revelation, salvation, forgiveness and so on. I think it is very important to be clear, as lack of clarity does not help our cause. I also think that the use of Christian confessional phrases, of liturgical and biblical language in this discussion, makes it very unclear what the relation actually is to problems concerning climate change. Christian language can easily make the claim of a link seem far-fetched and unconvincing.

The question of whether the problem of climate change is relevant to the law is a question about whether climate change is caused by human activity or not, and whether the problem is an issue for political parties or not. I think the answers to those questions are that science has shown that the changes are caused by us. Some people are sceptical because not all scientists agree. I think this scepticism should not be taken seriously. It would be legitimate if half of all scientists could not agree, but that is not the case. More than 90 percent of all scientists agree. Climate change is caused by our activity and therefore it is an ethical question because we are responsible for our actions. I do not think it is a political-party issue. It is a common problem to all humankind, like fighting hunger, poverty and illness. We may disagree about the political strategies to fight climate change, but not that we must fight it. So the problem of climate change is relevant to the Christian religion as the teaching of the law.

The next question is this: How can the Christian religion contribute to fighting climate change? Generally speaking, the contribution from the religions has to do with the motivation to do something about global warming. The religions do not contribute with technical or political strategic solutions. But motivation is also very important, because we have all the tools at hand to do something about this problem. We do not have to wait for new information or technical inventions to take action; it is only the will that is lacking.

The Christian religion can contribute through ethics--through reflections on fundamental ethical principles as well as practical ethical instructions about sustainable lifestyles. Some of the most fundamental ethical principles have religious roots, such as the Golden Rule, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you", and the command to love our neighbour, "Love your neighbour as yourself. …

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