Plastic Christianity

by Tom Rowley, A Rocha USA Executive Director

From drink bottles to styrofoam cups to those clamshells that ironically protect organic fruits at Costco, plastic—the material so famously and presciently proclaimed as the “future” to Dustin Hoffman in The Graduate—is taking over. Consider the so-called Pacific Ocean Garbage Patches—areas of open ocean concentration of man-made litter, much of it plastic. Plastic that kills marine birds, mammals and fish that mistakenly eat the floating plastic bits and get caught in the debris. On top of that is the prospect of toxic leaching.

Sure, recycling helps. But rates are somewhat discouraging. Landfills, of course, catch some. The rest (I’ve seen estimates nearing 50 percent) blows and flows downwind and downstream.

The Bible warns of pointing out the speck in another’s eye while ignoring the plank in your own. And our spring break trip to see family and enjoy the beach highlighted my vision impairment. I really wanted an ice tea and the fact that it came in a large styrofoam cup didn’t deter me. Same for when our family had had all we could swallow of the sulfur-tasting tap water and opted instead for a plastic bottle. We all knew we shouldn’t, but we did. The indulgences we tried to buy came in the form of picking up everything from abandoned swim fins to bait buckets on our morning beach walks. Then we drove past a church’s large electronic billboard by the highway announcing its Easter invitation: a 10,000 egg hunt. We sighed and remembered the brightly colored, candy-filled, petroleum-based containers Maria and I had hidden for our own sons when they were young.

All of which makes me think we’re creating a plastic Christianity. And not just with respect to the environment. One in which we’ve substituted a faith made too much of 21st century expectations about comfort and convenience at any cost and not enough of biblical justice and sacrifice. One in which love of neighbor (especially those downstream and downwind) plays second fiddle to love of self. One in which exploitation all too often wins out over conservation of the creation with which we’ve been entrusted and glorifies the God we serve.

It also, however, reminds me of the good we can do for the gospel, people and planet when Christians (working with others who care for the Earth) get out of the pews and onto the beaches (or forests or streams or even our own backyards). To paraphrase Mr. Maguire, “There’s a great future in [cleaning up] plastics.”

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