The Lord has said:
3Wherefore, verily I say unto you that all things unto me are spiritual, and not at any time have I given unto you a law which was temporal…;D&C 29:34
On Earth Day, it is worth remembering that we are to be wise stewards of the earth, to preserve it for future generations [Environmental Stewardship and Conservation].
I will liken the unwise steward to a new employee at the hotel at which my colleague stayed this weekend. I will liken the earth’s resources to the contents of my colleagues purse.
At some point, my colleague went to get her phone. It was missing, as were two other items of worth. When my colleague looked online to locate her phone, she saw that it was traveling around the city where she had stayed. My colleague called the hotel and talked to her friend in management. Within moments, the friend had reviewed the hotel’s surveillance tapes for the estimated time of loss and identified who had taken the items.
The thief was a new employee, one who apparently was unaware that their actions were knowable, one who didn’t realize that the location of an active phone can be detected by the owner.
In like manner, our actions are known to God. When we effectively take that which is needed by our fellows or our future kin, God is aware.
There are times when we think we are modern and enlightened, and that therefore old superstitions need not be heeded.
This Sunday I heard Krista Tippett’s 2006 interview with the late Wangari Maathai, a Catholic environmentalist.
When Maathai was a child, she was told to avoid collecting firewood from certain fig trees which were sacred to the Kikuyu. But in the years that would follow, many Kikuyu converted to Catholicism. The old superstitions were abandoned and the fig trees were cut down so modern homes could be built.
Unfortunately, with the loss of the fig trees, the fundamental properties of the water table changed. Hills that had been stable for centuries of Kikuyu history began to slide.
The same occurred in the early settlements in Utah Valley.
Some of the Church members settling Deseret had come from mountainous homes. As they cut trees from the mountainsides for homes and firewood, they left some trees as had been their practice. It is not clear they understood why they should leave some trees in place.
Other Church members settling Deseret had come from rolling valleys and prairies. When they cut trees from the mountainsides for homes and firewood, they saw no reason to pass over convenient trees. The effectively clearcut the mountainsides near their new homes.
When the rains and snows came, the villagers who had left trees on the mountainside huddled in their homes against the elements. The villagers who had clearcut the mountainsides were faced with floods and mudslides from the naked mountains.
Just as the sacred fig trees of the Kikuyu had preserved the lives (and homes) of God’s children in Kenya, the trees on the mountains of the Utah Valley preserved the lives (and homes) of God’s children in Deseret.
Those who Deny
There are those who loudly proclaim that nothing mankind does could possibly affect the environment.
This is absurd. Of course mankind affects the environment. We build roads and dams. We create lakes where none previously existed. We drain lakes that we find inconvenient. We pump aquifers to water fields that wouldn’t exist if we had not plowed and sown. We sail ships from sea to sea, transporting species far beyond their native habitats. We breed plants and animals to enhance certain features. At times we genetically modify plants and animals to meet our needs.
One can argue whether all this effort to change our world actually creates global and lasting change.
As in all arguments, it is useful to remember the biblical proverb, “O ye simple, understand wisdom: and, ye fools, be ye of an understanding heart.” 1
For more modern folk, it is called the Dunning-Kruger effect. People with a bit of knowledge often overestimate the validity of the small amount they know. They make
dangerously unfortunate choices, but are too incompetent to realize they have erred.
When one pairs insufficient knowledge with short-term self-interest, the damage to long-term well-being can be sobering.
[In this post I am mainly citing insufficiently informed opinions regarding environmental stewardship. But the same principles apply to insufficiently informed social activism regarding family relationships and gender identification.]
This brings us back to the new employee who stole, unaware their actions were captured on tape. In the very short term, they pilfered items of some amount of worth. But in exchange they will lose their job and (if they don’t return all that was stolen) they will be prosecuted for theft.
We who believe in a God ought to heed the advice of James, who suggested that “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.” 2 God, who sees all, will hold us accountable for the wrong that we do and the good that we fail to do.