It happened again yesterday. I can’t imagine that any author is not pleased when people come up and say that one of his books “changed my life.” But it is only every great once in a while that the book mentioned is In Defense of People . Published in 1971, it was, I believe, the first book-length critique of radical environmentalism. It was also my first book on my own (I had previously co-authored with Peter Berger Movement and Revolution ). The book was written in response to the ravings of Paul ( The Population Bomb ) Ehrlich and others who were predicting end-of-the-world scenarios in which surplus people were the metastasizing cancer producing ecological doomsday. Closely related to this theme, of course, was the necessity of government programs of “population control,” preferably voluntary but, if necessary, coercive.
As the title suggests, my argument was for a Christian humanism, underscoring the imperative not only of defending people but also of recognizing that people are the “ultimate resource” for the defense of the environment. I was pleased when years later Julian Simon, making much the same argument, titled his book The Ultimate Resource . In any event, it was gratifying when, in Tulsa, Oklahoma, over the weekend, a woman explained to me that In Defense of People had turned her from pro-abortion environmental activism to a lifelong commitment to the pro-life cause.
I expect all of us have those melancholy days on which we ponder the words of the Preacher on how there is no end to the making of books and wonder about the worthwhileness of so much writing. And then somebody comes up and says, “I want you to know that your book changed my life.” I always wonder which book. When it turns out to be In Defense of People , I feel very old, and very grateful. I haven’t had occasion to look at the book recently, but I expect there is little that I would change.
There is widespread uneasiness about the way the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) is linking up with environmental activism. It is understandable that some evangelical leaders are weary of being portrayed as “so negative” on issues such as abortion, divorce, and sexual promiscuity. “We should accent also our positive commitments,” they say. And what could be more positive than concern about global warming and other environmental concerns? Yes, but who defines what is negative and what is positive?
The New York Times has a story this morning under the heading, “When Cleaner Air is a Biblical Obligation.” Stewardship of creation is indeed a biblical obligation. But it is doubtful that that is the obligation understood by the environmental groups to which the NAE is cozying up. The report says, “Officials with the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council said they welcomed the added muscle evangelicals could bring to their cause.” No doubt. The question is whether evangelicals are only providing muscle to the cause of others. One might suspect that that is just another way of saying that evangelicals are being used.
Of course everybody is for a cleaner environment. It is troubling, however, that the NAE seems to be buying into a highly dubious account of the threat of global warming (see Thomas Derr, "Strange Science," First Things, November 2004 ). Yet more troubling is the failure to recognize that radical environmentalists are advancing an ideology that is in many ways incompatible with a biblical worldview. Social and moral issues do not stand alone. It is a mistake to think that one can cherry-pick an issue here or there in order to project a more “positive” image. Issues cluster, forming constellations premised upon shared moral and philosophical assumptions, and such constellations result in coalitions of common purpose. It is far from evident that the NAE has thought through its new friendship with the likes of the Sierra Club.
In Tulsa this weekend I spoke at an affair in support of the new Benedictine monastery, Our Lady of the Annunciation, in Clear Creek, Oklahoma. Clear Creek is a little over an hour’s drive from Tulsa, and the monastery is attracting a multitude of vocations¯far more than it can accommodate in its present buildings.
The affair was deemed a great success, with more than 500 people turning out for a gala (very un-monastic) dinner and evening of entertainment and edification. There is a remarkable story behind all this, going back to three professors at the University of Kansas who were instrumental in many young men discovering their vocations, including vocations to the monastic life.
Many of them found their way to the Benedictine monastery in Fontgambault in France, which, in turn, is a foundation of the Solesmes monastery. Solesmes, established in the fifteenth century, was the source of the monastic and liturgical renewal of the nineteenth century and had a powerful influence in the revival of, among other things, Gregorian chant. The Americans who went to Fontgambault have now returned to this country under the patronage of the wise and generous Bishop of Tulsa, Edward Slattery.
Mass at Clear Creek is in Latin and according to the 1962 Roman Missal. It is celebrated with a solemnity that is redolent with the numinous, and in sharp contrast to many current liturgical practices. Some view Clear Creek as an exercise in nostalgia, or as a protest against changes initiated after the Second Vatican Council. I suppose that is inevitable. It is more accurate, however, to view Clear Creek as a communal embodiment of an irreplaceable part of the Church’s liturgical heritage, and as a powerful witness to the attractiveness of a way of life that proposes to the Church and the world a more radical form of discipleship. Catholicism in Tulsa, and in America, is the richer for the presence of Our Lady of the Annunciation, Clear Creek, Oklahoma.