Monday, May 24, 2010

Environmentalism, the Latter-Day Saints, and Glenn Beck

Back in March, I wrote a post on this blog regarding Glenn Beck’s comments to the effect that religious teachings on social justice amounted to Nazism and Communism. Mr. Beck has continued in this vein; a few days ago, he objected to the recommendation of a government panel that the government should help faith-based and other not-for-profit organizations obtain loans to encourage green building projects. For Mr. Beck, this amounts to “merging” the churches of America with the Environmental Protection Agency, into a superfaith that teaches “the Gospel of Gaia” and “the religion of environmental and social justice.”

In a new post to “On the Mark: Social Commentary from a Reflective Perspective,” another blog of mine, I address the misunderstandings that Mr. Beck has regarding the real meaning of the separation of Church and State. However, on “Mormon from Manhattan,” I would like to focus on another aspect of Mr. Beck’s thought: his misunderstanding regarding, yet again, the theology of his own church.

Yes, Glenn Beck is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. However, his understanding of the LDS Gospel in reference to environmentalism appears to be profoundly deficient, as was his understanding of the Gospel with reference to social justice.

The subject of LDS doctrine on environmentalism is not without its own controversies; the subject is worth a detailed doctrinal and historical treatment. Here, I shall just focus on two things: the commission given to Adam and Eve concerning the Earth, and the vision given to Enoch of the Earth as a living being.
Adam, Eve, and the Earth

In the first chapter of the Bible, the Lord states the following:

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.
And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth. (Genesis 1: 27-28)

The language of the King James Version, given above, might lead one to the impression that human beings are justified in basically doing whatever they wish to the world and its living beings. However, the underlying Hebrew text clarifies the meaning of the scriptures in a very different way.

The word translated as “subdue,” the Hebrew kivshuah from the root kavash, does indeed indicate the idea of putting something under submission. It is a forceful word, carrying the idea of Adam and Eve making the Earth do their will. This is appropriate for people who, quite soon, will be making their living from hard work in agriculture and herding. The world does not support us easily.

The word translated as “and have dominion,” the Hebrew urdu from the root radah, does indeed mean “to have dominion over, to rule.” However, the word means to rule in the way a king rules. One prominent theme in the Jewish scriptures is that when the king rules wisely, the people prosper, but when the king rules poorly or selfishly, the people suffer greatly.

Overall, this passage is not a license for humanity to do whatever it likes with the world. Rather, it is a commission to rule wisely over the world. It can easily be argued that we have not done so well in that department.
Enoch and the Earth

The LDS scriptures contain within them an account of a vision given to the prophet Enoch, a vision that features the world as a living being:

And it came to pass that Enoch looked upon the earth; and he heard a voice from the bowels thereof, saying: Wo, wo is me, the mother of men; I am pained, I am weary, because of the wickedness of my children. When shall I rest, and be cleansed from the filthiness which is gone forth out of me? When will my Creator sanctify me, that I may rest, and righteousness for a season abide upon my face? (Pearl of Great Price, Moses 7:48)

This is an astonishing confirmation of a concept that is found in several religious and spiritual traditions throughout history (including, yes, the Gaia Hypothesis): the Earth is indeed a living being. Moreover, it is a living being over whom we have stewardship.


It is important for Latter-day Saints to understand that, implicit in the LDS Gospel, we are taught to take care of the planet, as wise rulers of the living Earth. This is something that Glenn Beck seems not to understand.

(This post expands on a comment of mine on an opinion piece in The Huffington Post. The original opinion piece is available here. An archive of all my comments on The Huffington Post is available here. Readers of this blog are welcome to become “fans” of mine on HuffPost.)

Copyright 2010 Mark E. Koltko-Rivera. All Rights Reserved.

[The image of the Earth as seen from Apollo 17 is in the public domain, and was obtained through Wikipedia.]

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