16 July 2008

Hugh Nibley: Environmentalist

Hugh Nibley is one of the most prominent and outspoken environmentalists the Church has ever seen. I find it ironic that someone with a Temple blog dedicated to him is so against the environment. I enjoy the Temple blog, but unfortunately his recent post has left a bad taste in my mouth.

I was out of town this weekend meeting with several leaders in the LDS Church physical facilities department discussing, among other things, the future of Church facilities and sustainability and how the Church desires to be more green. Imagine my shock when I get home and read on a major LDS blog (supposedly faith-promoting) how environmentalists are worldly, sterilizing, fascist dictators; that the choice is between the Lord or the Environment; and that this is the true separation of the wheat from the tares. Unfortunately this sounds like someone who has been listening to talk radio too much. It’s funny how the only type of environmentalist that exists in his post is a generalized extremist or whacko. You won’t see me using those same tactics by trying to group him into an abortion-clinic-bombing fanatic, but that is the tactic being used by grouping anyone who is concerned about the environment into a fanatic. What an unfortunate, mean-spirited, divisive post. If anything, posts like this and talk radio in general are creating the wedge that is dividing Zion. Most religious groups in the world, including Latter-day Saints, have a strong environmental ethic. Furthermore, many consider our pollution and poor treatment of the earth a moral issue.

So on to the topic at hand: Hugh Nibley. I have listed quotes from the Millenial Star post with adjacent quotes from Hugh Nibley:

HAYMOND: “The Adversary’s environmentalism plan is plotted squarely against God’s plan of salvation.”

NIBLEY: “...we have Brigham's reply, ‘This is our home. ‘This earth is the home he has prepared for us, and we are to prepare ourselves and our habitations for the celestial glory in store for the faithful.’ ‘This is the habitation of the Saints; this is the earth that will be given to the Saints.’ Again we have the support of the ancients. The earth, says Aristotle, was made to be a home for man, permanently, and for that he must achieve a stable balance with nature, harmonious and pleasant to all. Cicero echoes this sentiment when he says that the earth is a fit home for both gods and men, and man has his part to play in taking good care of the garden. This must be a stable, eternal order with man at the top of the animal scale, held most responsible if things go wrong. Notice that all these references are to one's local home as well as earthly habitation."

HAYMOND: "Having a stewardship of the earth does not mean that we give up our freedom, our life, liberty, property, and family (Alma 46:12-13). Such an overarching and overzealous concern for the Earth is worldly, most literally, and is the religion of environmentalism rather than the religion of God.”

NIBLEY: "Where do you move when pollution is universal? Now the dispute takes on a wholly new direction. It is a new ball game. Heretofore we have always heard that air is free, and it is a free country, and business cashed in on the boundless ocean, as a free dumping ground for industrial garbage."

"Brother Brigham states the problem in terms of a flat-out contest between the most vital necessity of life and pure greed, a principle as old as the human record, rooted in a fundamental fact of nature: ‘The world is after riches. Riches is the god they worship. . . .’"

HAYMOND: “It would not surprise me if the oil debacle is being artificially created by those in power positions who are worshiping the god of this world (2 Cor. 4:4; Eph. 6:12) and want to force us to drive less, use cleaner forms of fuel, and to minimize air pollution to 'save our planet.' I have heard estimates that the world’s oil reserves are enough to serve all energy needs for decades, yet we are seeing today the effects of shortages in supply. Why? Are we really that blind to see this socialist scheme?”

NIBLEY: “The contribution of such combustion centers to acid rain, greenhouse effect, and damaged ozone is irreversible. Here an entire issue of the National Geographic (December 1988) asks on the cover, ‘Can Man Save this Fragile Earth?’ We have long known that there is something wrong, if only by the duck test: if it looks bad, tastes bad, smells bad, and sounds bad in duplicitous argument, then it must be bad.”

“There is no more ancient, pervasive, or persistent tradition than that of the adversary, the Prince of Darkness, most often and most widely described as the lord of the underworld. For the classical writers, Spain was his kingdom, with its blighted regions of mines, smelters, and foundries—all worked by starving, filthy, driven slaves, converting the landscape into barren wastes of slag and stunted vegetation.”

“I could be accused of being prejudiced and extremist, but I would not have taken my position at all if I was not forced into it by the bristling headlines that have suddenly emerged on every side; and the issue never would have reached the covers and front pages of staid conservative journals had it not been thrust upon them by the crushing accumulation of evidence sounding alarm in all quarters. I was brought up in an alarmist atmosphere first by my grandparents, then by the Axis Powers, and now by a sea of frightening statistics; but especially the scriptures kept me thinking. After hearing Jack Anderson this morning, I feel that if anything, I am much too complacent.”

HAYMOND: “Our exceedingly environmentally sensitive society has bought into the campaign that our human ‘species’ is destroying the Earth, and that we are in imminent danger of disaster. I believe WALL-E is another card in the deck of fear-mongering tactics employed by our common Enemy to get power, money, control, oppress mankind with false ‘prophets,’ and reign with blood and horror prior to the return of the Savior.”

NIBLEY: “an early Christian tradition that the evil spirits which constantly seek to defile and corrupt human society ‘move about in thick polluted air,’ as a most fitting environment for their work. In a passage from a famous Hermetic work, the Kore√ł Kosmu (excerpt 23), the Air complains to the Creator, ‘O Master, I myself am made thick and polluted, and by the stench of dead things from the dump I reek to heaven, so that I breed sickness, and have ceased to be wholesome; and when I look down from above I see things which are too awful to behold.’”

“I do not worry very much about Geneva anymore; it is only a small fumarole at the base of a mighty volcano which is now shuddering and groaning ominously. Brother Anderson said that he hears the great waterfall roaring just ahead. So let us both end with the Book of Mormon:

'For behold, ye do love money. . . . O ye pollutions, . . . who sell yourselves for that which will canker, why have ye polluted the holy church of God? . . . Why do ye build up your secret abominations to get gain, and cause that widows should mourn before the Lord, and also orphans, . . . and also the blood of their fathers and their husbands to cry unto the Lord . . . for vengeance upon your heads? Behold, the sword of vengeance hangeth over you; and the time soon cometh that he avengeth the blood of the saints upon you, for he will not suffer their cries any longer.' (Mormon 8:37–41).”

In conclusion, contrary to what talk radio and others may try to tell you, the environment is not a political issue, it is a human issue. We are all on this planet together and we need to take care of it and we aren’t doing such a good job. Incentives and restrictions help us to do this better. It has nothing to do with socialism or fascism or sterilization, but has everything to do with being better stewards.

*Nibley quotes taken from the essay ‘Stewardship of the Air’. (There is also a link to this and many other such essays on the sidebar.)


Anonymous said...

I have to agree that the former articles were an oversimplification of the issue. Hugh Nibley's been probably the main force (via Approaching Zion and Brother Brigham Challenges the Saints) in my own gradual conversion to environmentalism. Granted, I disagree with most of the justifications and conclusions the movement reaches, but I've tried to respect life and the earth. I think the main reason for the strong anti-environmentalism is simply due to the alignment with the conservative movement and its platform without much critical thinking going, during the latter half of the twentieth century.

Bryce Haymond said...

Contrary to popular opinion, I've actually read a bit of Nibley myself, and I don't think he would have been the least bit favorable of the modern environmental extremist movement which is spreading its evil influence across the earth today, making a mockery of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and against which I spoke so vehemently in my post. My post had absolutely nothing to do with our divinely-mandated stewardship of the earth, of which Nibley spoke so often, and with whom I fervently agree.

green mormon architect said...

But Nibley was a part of the modern environmental movement. The quotes I linked to above are from 1989. Nibley spoke of ozone depletion, acid rain, pollution, etc. which are still very much apart of what we are trying to control and fix. These things fall under our stewardship of the earth.

And actually a large portion of the modern environmental movement are sincere followers of Christ, not to mention other religions as well. Many faithful religious people believe environmental degradation is a moral issue we need to address and, as such, are not in any way spreading an 'evil influence across the earth'.

mother_of_pearl said...

I don't believe Nibley was part of the "modern" environmental movement. Most of Nibley's environmental concerns were stated in the 70s and 80s (including the talk from which you are quoting), at a time when the world, and especially our nation and Nibley's local Utah Valley community, had no regard whatsoever for the environment. At that time, there was no one who was standing up for our stewardship of the earth. Nibley took that stand. Unfortunately, the pendulum has swung to the opposite extreme today.

I have no qualms about taking care of the earth. You're doing some great things here on your blog. I believe we will be held accountable for our stewardship of the earth at the judgment bar. But I don't believe the extent to which people, especially politicians, deem to take away our rights, freedoms, and property, and go to other immoral extremes, to promote so-called environmentalism. It isn't right.

Bryce Haymond said...

That last post was from me. I forgot to sign out from my wife's account.

Tim said...

Thanks for writing such a wonderful blog that uses Nibley's comments in context.

Heli said...

I'm going to say that it appears people are talking past each other and addressing in essence the straw men on the other side.

Bryce, Hugh and Green all agree that we are stewards and need to take care of the earth. HOW we take care of the earth and the DEGREE to which we change our lives and the specific measures we choose are in contention. There are valid disagreements whether some of the changes in the environment derive from man's actions or from the planet.

I recently heard that 99% of the species that ever lived on the earth are extinct. It makes me wonder how much an impact the little creatures that live on the surface actually affect the earth.

On the other hand we live in such a fragile biosphere with very little atmosphere on this huge rock with extremely preferential temperatures for life and a chemical make-up that allows for incredible diversity, maybe we do need to do more.

Bryce Haymond said...

I just received my August 2008 issue of Scientific American with the headline article reading in large letters, "Running Out of WATER: A six-point plan to avert a global crisis." The inside title read "Facing the Freshwater CRISIS: As demand for freshwater soars, planetary supplies are becoming unpredictable. Existing technologies could avert a global water crisis, but they must be implemented soon."

I can't believe that there are people that buy into this propaganda. It seems like an incredibly spectacular theory, but there are many that actually believe this. Do we really believe that someday soon it's going to stop raining and that we'll have a "global water crisis"? Common sense and reason make me believe otherwise. It seems to me that efforts such as these are focused on influencing popular belief to further an underhanded agenda.

McIntosh said...

The LDS church carries with it a capitalistic culture which finds virtue in business success and thrives on development. Dominion over the earth for most is synonymous with domination, which justifies developing every inch of its surface. Environmentalist are only seen as hindrances to development to these people, and with an unofficial, yet very real spiritual connection to entrepreneurial success, any hindrance to development is interpreted as the forces of evil. This is why environmentalism is accused of replacing the "TRUE" religion of god. For those who believe this, money is there god!

Phil said...

Bryce, I read you and wonder why I ever left the Catholic Church. I can only thank the Lord that I have role models around me in the Church that are not so cocksure about The Truth. Live in your little world. I will watch, bemused.

Bryce Haymond said...

You know what worries me even more? That such insidious comments are allowed on this blog.