Thursday, July 27, 2006

Speaking of Aviation ...

The Bishop of London recently said that flying is a sin. The Anglican Bishop. Yes, he used the word "sin." :-) Ok, I'm going to try to not be snarky. Here's the story from the Times UK:
Chartres, who chairs the bishops’ panel on the environment, said: “There is now an overriding imperative to walk more lightly upon the earth and we need to make our lifestyle decisions in that light.

“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.”

Chartres, the third most senior bishop in the Church of England, has declared his views as it prepares to publish Treasures on Earth, a booklet on environmental matters to be sent to every diocese for distribution.

Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, said: “We stand before God’s judgment on these matters. In life we have to make moral choices over our sex life and over our domestic and financial affairs. We make choices of moral significance and our relation to the environment is no exception.”

The booklet will say that scientific research supporting predictions that the earth faces serious climate change is “overwhelming”. It will also detail practical ways for Christians to cut their carbon emissions, at church and at home, including trying to walk or cycle to communion.

The church’s advisers on the environment say that offsetting your carbon dioxide emissions against “green” actions such as planting trees is a first step towards becoming sustainable but is not a long-term answer.
Well I'm sure Paula is cheering :-), and yes, of course, one has to understand stewardship of the environment as an integral part of the Christian life. But. Come on, really! Wink and nod when it comes to fornication, divorce, abortion. But, hey, drive an SUV? On your way to hell bubba! Does anyone take the Church of England seriously anymore?

The Times also had a column that supports the Bishop (I really can't say if it's being satirical or not. I hope it was ... ):
But at least his words were stronger than the milk-and-water follow-up from the Church of Scotland, which bleated that “our souls are not in any imminent danger from large cars or flying”. Why ever not? I should have thought that if God did indeed create the heavens, the earth and all that is therein, he would be mightily displeased to see us collectively disabling it. The Kirk seems to have forgotten its own Westminster Confession of 1646, which teaches that “every sin, both original and actual, being a transgression of the law of God and contrary thereunto, doth, in its own nature, bring guilt upon the sinner, whereby he is bound over to the wrath of God and curse of the law, and so made subject to death, with all miseries, spiritual, temporal and eternal”.
And he seems to have a quirky sense of guilt
Guilt may be national as well as personal. It can end slavery, make reparation for the crimes of a previous regime or motivate the world’s aid agencies in their endless attempt to eradicate world poverty. It contributed to the decision of Nato countries to intervene in Kosovo, and shamed the Security Council that failed to do the same in Rwanda. Guilt may eventually force Condoleezza Rice to lean on Israel to stop the bombing of Lebanon, and it just might persuade the world’s governments to restrict rather than encourage air travel.
That's it. The Liberal cause celebres must now be motivated by guilt -- which is, however, evil and psycologically harmful when Christians try to suggest that it's not in one's best interest to go around boinking everything in sight ... The Telegraph probably has a more palatable (to me!) take on things:
So air travel is a sin. It is up there with stealing, adultery, murder and coveting thy neighbour's oxen, according to the Bishop of London. Richard Chartres wants vicars to stop their congregations making "selfish choices such as flying on holiday". Boarding a plane is worse than drugs, alcohol or smoking, all mere vices, the bishop appears to be saying: flying is a full-blown sin.
[snip]
This surely can't be the same bishop who accepted a freebie luxury cruise - including flights - over Easter, when he was supposed to be ministering to his flock. If he suggests flying is a sin, his hypocrisy is worse. The Bishop of London and his fellow churchmen think nothing of popping on a plane to Africa or America to bore on about the rights and wrongs of homosexuality in the Church of England. Yet he is saying to the poor, cooped-up workers that they can't have their two weeks away in the sun. Parents are being selfish for saving up to take their children to Spain, Italy or Greece. They must stay at home and never see the world, unless they are prepared to travel by mule or bicycle, or have the time to take a slow boat to China.
I was reminded of this piece that appeared on Zenit last year ... a review of the book "Decadence: The Passing of Personal Virtue and its Replacement by Political and Psychological Slogans."
A first section contains essays on the "old" virtues, such as prudence, love and courage. The second deals with the "new" virtues, centered on the environment, caring, therapy and being critical.

The book does not pretend to give a complete analysis of any of the virtues, and the authors of the chapters differ in their approach to the subject matter. Readers could also disagree about some of the interpretations of the virtues. Overall, however, the book provides a stimulating reflection on the dangers of discarding the tried-and-true virtues for passing fads.

In the introduction, Anderson explains that the old virtues were genuine ones, in that they demanded of people specific types of behavior. The new ones, in contrast, often fall into the category of slogans or rhetorical appeals. Or, if in some cases they do contain elements of true virtue, they tend to elevate a trivial aspect into the main virtue.
Now I'm not an expert on environmental anything. And yes, I'm sure things such as carbon footprints have value, and, as I said above, one does have to be conscious of being stewards of creation. And yes, Christian ascesis is a hugely countercultural witness. But seriously, is the Bishop suggesting that the best way to deal with the problem is to return to the 19th century? Or to the 12th? Is that at all serious advice to his flock? Spare me the faddish jargon and give me those time tested old virtues, the real ones, the ones with heft and bite. Prudence. Temperance. Fortitude. Justice. And lets not forget the theological ones ... Faith, Hope and Love. Command me to love God above all and one's neighbor as oneself. I'll find a way to manage my carbon footprint therein.

And in a couple of weeks, I'll be getting on that Boeing 777 at New Delhi's Indira Gandhi International Airport with a light spring in my step. I love flying. I'll wave at you when we pass over the British Isles, Bishop!

[:: UPDATE :: Found a page on the Diocese of London website where the Bishop tries to clarify things. Not very successfully, I'm afraid. Here's the website of the CofE campaign: Shrinking the Footprint. (Surely they used an environmentally friendly Webdesign for that slick site. Whatever that might mean.) Oh yah, I checked out my carbon footprint, using parameters from when I had an apartment in Columbia. The results? My footprint is 26 (acres?) ... if all in the world lived like this we would need 5.9 planets. Well, better start looking -- I had an apartment, drove a car, shopped at Wal-Mart, and lived your average middle-class American life. If that. (I worked for Holy Mother Church ... not the way to get wealthy and own my own McMansion! :)) Maybe flew a little more than average. I didn't have any carbon offspring with their own footprints, though. Hmm. I put in parameters for my current location in Baroda, India. Living the upper-middle-class Indian life. Hardly any travel by car. We still need 1.9 planets to support me. I guess the only real way to live is in a jhopad in Dharavi. And all this time I thought getting out of the jhopad was everyone's goal? Silly people ... I wonder what the algorithms for this -- which seems like one of those cute quizzes that are ubiquitous -- looks like? :) ]

8 comments:

assiniboine said...

Now now. He said that flying (when not flying is an option) is a symptom of sin, not that flying is sinful. And yes, there are reasons for taking the Church of England, or at least Anglicanism, seriously. Richard Chartres is no fool, though if you are looking for truly foolish pronouncements from bishops, the Church of England and other branches of the Anglican Communion are a good place to look. Not, be it said, the only place to look. (I hesitated about rising to the provocation but then I figured that it would be uncharitable to spoil the fun. [:)], as they say.)

pritcher said...

I'm with you, G, but Chratres's definition of sin is dead on: It is living a life turned in on itself where people ignore the consequences of their actions.

Sad that many folks who quite rightly see this as applying to environmental issues fail to see that it also applies to others. Contraception comes to mind.

St. Izzy said...

Hmmm... I see yet another calculus of sin coming up. Would it be less sinful for a hundred someodd people to board a Southwest flight from Columbia to San Diego, or to drive there? And do we only factor in pollutants, or should we also count impact on jobs (short-burst airline related; a couple of days' worth of brief services) and time.

Or is it that travelling at all (when I could just stay home) is sinful.


Like pritcher, I agree with the bish that the self-involvement of not considering the consequences of one's actions is a sinful lifestyle. This is why I'll stand in line instead of using the self-checkout at the grocewry, and why I still use full-service gas stations whenever possible (jobs lost to machines, my friends). But I think he needs to spend some time clarifying and considering just what he's trying to say here.

St. Izzy said...

And here's a use of flying that is obviously gratuitous and sinful. Not to mention the loss of agricultural square footage (how many children went hungry for this?).

[H'tip to Heather, whom I don't actually know.]

Napoleon said...

I agree with St. Izzy here, I always looked at air travel as an interesting mix of public/private transportation. Having 100 people fly to location must use less energy then 100 cars going to the same place. But I think this is more a question of good stewardship rather then it being an outright sin. Do we as Americans really need the bigger SUV or the Hummer? If you have 8 kids yes/maybe. But I saw a commerical for Hummer yesterday and the punch line was basically, "Buy a Hummer to prove your manhood." I think just as we need to look at how we best use our monetary treasurses and ensure that we spend wisely so that we have enough to give to others, we also have to look at our earthly treasures to ensure that we have enough to share with others (future generations). This said by the guy who owns a pick-up truck and is moving to D.C.

Gashwin said...

Assiniboine: I figured you'd get a rise out of this :) I didn't call the Bishop a fool. I found this silly. And I'll gladly agree that foolish statements are not limited to CofE Bishops -- I'll certainly include Roman Bishops and indeed that Bishoply bureaucracy in DC (soon to be my neighbor) the USCCB in that category.

Actually, this is an attempt to use the traditional language of sin (which was always about individual choices as measured against the Commandments) to environmentalism. I'm not sure that works. And the Bishop did not (in what I've been able to read so far) say "flying when you can go otherwise" he specifically spoke about flying on holiday. For many, especially in Britain, the most economical way of traveling is to fly, in a way taking the train (to say, the beaches of Spain) is not practical. Which is why I agreed with the criticism from the Telegrpah columnist.

I found a website where the Bishop tries to clarify things, and doesn't really sound any clearer.

Besides, I really don't think that people will change their behavior based on any such Church program. Any economist will tell you that there needs to be a real economic incentive for collective behaviorial change (in most situations). I just don't see "carbon footprint" as being a spiritually stirring rally cry, try as the Bishop might.

Pritcher: yes I agree with his definition of sin (there's also that part about offending God too ...)

St. Izzy: yep yep. (Though I think we could have a nice chat about the implications of technological change but that's a tangent).

Napoleon: oh I'm with you about Humvees. That stuff does sell as well, and that's where, I would suggest, a Christian ascesis would be an important witness.

The whole problem with such environmental measures is that they tend to be impractical for the average middle class (or poorer) citizen trying to get by and a bit fuzzy and nebulous (The concept of a quantifiable "carbon footprint" -- and quantifying it is problematic, it would seem -- just doesn't seem motivating enough. But that's just me. ... )

"Live simply." That seems ok. And maybe some serious ways in which a parish can encourage people to live simply. With accountability groups. Maybe that's a start.

Otherwise it's just ... "feel guilty you horrible Westerner!" :)

St. Elizabeth of Cayce said...

Checked out the footprint page and came up with "only" 3.3 planets, or 15 acres. I'm sure Izzy's footprint will be smaller--since he spends more time on a "motorbike" than I do.

I agree that lots of assumptions went into the "quiz"--especialy when there is nothing addressing water useage.

Liz,
not yet ready to give up AC.

discipleassisi said...

HAHAHAHAHAHAH! i don't know why i find this so funny... but i sure do :) God's creation deserves the attention we give to all other Christian responsibilities and rewards: no more, no less - so i would argue that it deserves slightly more than it receives now :) flying? a sin? hardly. flying without regret/consideration/further action? possibly. flying with malice/intentional ignorance? maybe. who am i to judge? be part of the solution, but don't be a cop-out. i'm against intentional communities (that's "communes" to most of you). the stream runs hard and fast, but enough single pebbles will divert it. (i both love and hate that image because it's delightfully encouraging that one person can make a difference, yet, it makes stream diversion seem an okay thing and it just isn't) love, green grass, and clean water in Christ, P.