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Original Sin

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Headline: It’s a Sin to Fly, Says Church

Actually, "It’s a Sin to Fly, Screams Headline" would be more appropriate. Here’s what the Church (or rather, the Bishop of London) actually says:

“Making selfish choices such as flying on holiday or buying a large car are a symptom of sin. Sin is not just a restricted list of moral mistakes. It is living a life turned in on itself where people ignore the consequences of their actions.”

I think there’s merit to this. How far removed really from "loving thy neighbor" is making the decision to walk or bike to the corner store instead of jumping into your car? From an energy and pollution standpoint, perhaps not too far. As Archbishop Williams puts it in the article, we "make moral choices" on all sorts of things (money, sex, time) all the time.

He’s not saying don’t fly. He’s admonishing folks to consider the impacts and act accordingly. An admonishment easily taken out of context.

Dr Chartres’ comments seem to have elicited confusion and outrage in some sections of the media and in parts of the transport industry. This morning the Daily Mail newspaper accused the Church of England of turning the Gospel into “a party political broadcast for the Greens” and said that it should focus instead on its shrinking pews – adding that these would not be filled by reminding people of environmental concerns.

Based on the success other pastors are having, I think they’re dead wrong on that last point. Anyway, I think the liberal/secular media folks are fundamentally upset about one thing:

The Church has caught on to ecology as a moral value.

And those in liberal and secular circles don’t like it one bit, despite this being something Greens have been preaching in the media for decades. They hate polluters! But they hate being coopted even more. Or even worse, having any behavior described as (gasp!) SINFUL.

‘Hey, pal – don’t push your religion on me!’ he said as he tossed his aluminum can into the recycling bin…

Shrug, says me. It’s fair to say that the organized church has suffered chronically from legalism, and folks have to right to be wary of that. But watching the Greens wriggle around on this one is so entertaining, it’s almost sinful. [Hat tip]

John Couretas John Couretas is Director of Communications, responsible for print and online communications at the Acton Institute. He has more than 20 years of experience in news and publishing fields. He has worked as a staff writer on newspapers and magazines, covering business and government. John holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in the Humanities from Michigan State University and a Master of Science Degree in Journalism from Northwestern University.


  • Geoffrey Johnson

    As always with Don’s posts, I was pleased to find news that I probably wouldn’t have come across otherwise. At one point, however, pleasure gave way to confusion.

    First, the Daily Mail is often regarded as Britain’s most conservative paper — akin to the New York Post — so its criticism of the Bishop seems in line with the right-oriented media’s historically reliable treatment of environmental issues, rather than with the liberal media’s backlash against a new threat of being co-opted by green Christians.

    Does such a backlash exist? Though a token jab at environmentalists might make the Bishop’s statement more palatable to the PowerBlog, I personally have seen little evidence of environmentalists, from atheists to pantheists, preferring pollution to being politically trumped.

    Of course there will be resentment, distrust, and similar feelings directed toward people whom environmentalists view (with some justification) as late-comers to the cause, but to contend that those feelings are proving more powerful than the cause itself is, to me, unfair.

    But maybe I’m too lenient on one side, while reserving most of my own distrust for keepers of the outdated corporate/Christian alliance against environmental protection. Certainly I lack some understanding of both sides.

  • Don

    Heh – My slip is showing a bit, I’m afraid…

    Thanks for reading, and your thoughts. I have to admit I don’t spend enough time in the British press to know how these folks lean, though I’ve been following what Chartres and Williams have been saying of late. Am I defending them against conservatives here? Hmmmm….

    I keyed in on how the author treated what these clergy actually said, which appeared to be an effort to marginalize them. From a conservative standpoint, it could certainly be a poke at liberal religion. From a liberal standpoint, it could be (a point I perhaps unfairly made but am accustomed to dealing with) the discomfort many progressives have with the greening of the Church.

    At any rate, the mashing of gears in the media as people of faith stake out positions on the environment is certainly fascinating to watch. Perhaps sooner or later conservatives and progressives and people of faith (and not) will realize we have more common values within ecology than we first thought.

    Warm regards,

    (By the way, Christian folks like St. Francis, Gregor Mendel, John Muir, Noah, the Mennonites and Anabaptists, and my grandmother have been walking gently on this earth for a long time. I’d encourage anyone interested to visit,, and for more info and links.)

  • Interesting post, but positively stifling to the brain. Should I turn on the air conditioner, as it is 85 degrees outside, if my neighbor may not be able to use his due to power outages? Should I buy the $7000 repairable watch, or the $7.00 throwaway watch? Should I mow the grass at all?

    All of these decisions are too much for me, and generally refuse to make them. Rather, I just use the price as a signal to drive my behavior. It is not a perfect signal, but price sure does contain a lot of information, such as:

    1) Turn on the AC. It is hot.
    2) Buy the cheap watch.
    3) Get the neighbor kid to mow the yard.

    Are these perfect decisions? No, but they do not require all that much thought, and are localized very simply by price.


  • Nan McCann

    Interesting concept of Christians as enviromentalists.

    I might have stayed in Church had that been a view earlier in my life.