Book review: A biblical basis for fighting climate change

Raleigh author Stephen A. Jurovics.
Raleigh author Stephen A. Jurovics.

If you seek guidance from the Bible on how to live in relationship with the Earth and its environment, Stephen Jurovics says you probably start with Genesis 1:28:

“God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.’ ”

But in his slim book “Hospitable Planet: Faith, Action and Climate Change,” Jurovics says to really know what God wants for the Earth you need to look at the first five books of the Bible, Genesis through Deuteronomy. There, he says, you’ll find verses that establish various limits and caveats on human dominion that show God wants people to be good stewards of the Earth, not simply its masters.

Jurovics, who lives in Raleigh, is Jewish, but addresses his message to Christians and Jews who share a belief in the Old Testament.

“The Bible that Christians and Jews hold sacred places numerous limitations upon our behavior toward the natural world, meaning that we have been treating the environment in ways that damage our personal relationship to the divine,” he writes. “Christians and Jews who care about that relationship may seek to change personal behavior and find motivation to influence national policies.”

Jurovics has a Ph.D. in engineering and has worked for IBM and in the aerospace and military industries. But he has a personal interest in the environment and says he studied the first five books of the Bible, the Torah, to see what it said about caring for the environment. He says he was motivated in part because he wanted to influence the country’s dominant faith community, Christians, to become advocates for preserving “our still hospitable environment.”

The book is organized into three parts, starting with the “Environmental Teachings in the Bible Jesus Knew,” and followed by two “calls to action,” on the national and local levels. Part 1 makes the biblical argument for caring for the planet, while the latter two relate those teachings to the science and policy of today’s environmental challenges. Each chapter of Part 1 ends with discussion questions suitable for teen or adult Bible study classes.

And while climate change is the primary environmental focus, Jurovics does touch on issues such as recycling, biodiversity and pollution more generally.

Jurovics is clearly writing for those who look to the Bible for prescriptions on how to live; many agnostics and atheists, not to mention people of other faiths, agree with the message about caring for the Earth, animals and fellow human beings regardless of how someone interprets the first five books of the Bible.

Not surprisingly, Jurovics quotes many passages from the Bible, not always with the effect he intends. The first one he cites in Chapter 1 is Exodus 20: 8-10, declaring the seventh day a sabbath to the Lord your God. “You shall not do any work – you, your son or daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns.” Jurovics wants us to focus on “your livestock” as one example of how God limits our dominion over other creatures, but I couldn’t stop thinking about the reference to slaves.

But details aside, Jurovics notes that religion played an important role in another essentially secular transformation in American society: the civil rights movement that ended official racial segregation. While the objectives of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and other clergy who led the movement weren’t religious, he says, “just below the surface, absolutely, these were religious issues.” The same holds, he says, for the environmental movement and the challenge of climate change.

Richard Stradling: 919-829-4739, @RStradling


Hospitable Planet

By Stephen A. Jurovics

Church Publishing, 176 pages


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