Breakpoint: Remember the Sabbath … to stop global warming?

A solar flare erupts from the sun in this image taken by NASA's SOHO satellite on July 1, 2002. / File/AP Photo/NASA
A solar flare erupts from the sun in this image taken by NASA's SOHO satellite on July 1, 2002. / File/AP Photo/NASA

Why should people exercise, eat better or cut back on caffeine consumption? In the not-so-distant past, the answer was simple and compelling: It would be good for them.

Today, however, according to the United Nations, the National Library of Medicine and the New York Post, one of the main reasons to do these things is to fight climate change. In fact, Google virtually any good habit, along with the words "climate change." The results are plentiful.

Apparently, at least according to the mainstream press and governmental agencies, the best way to sell behavior, policy or technology is not by touting the obvious, actual benefits, but rather some tenuous, highly theoretical way they could, if looked at in the right light and all the stars align, possibly, help cool the planet.

This is a telltale sign that, whatever the scientific merits of manmade climate change may be, it has become a religious system for many, complete with genuflecting, indulgences and ritual invocations. In fact, climate change was recently offered as a reason to engage in an actual religious practice, one that goes back thousands of years and is beneficial, even essential, to human well-being. In The Washington Post recently, advice columnist Michael Coren argued that one way to fight climate change is to take a weekly day of rest. He called his idea a "green Sabbath."

"[C]lergy are now arguing that this practice, whether in a secular or religious context, can help redirect the world's societies away from catastrophic climate change. In their view, it's as essential to the future as any clean-energy technology or electric vehicle. A shared day of rest, at a minimum, might slow the pace of consumption, curb emissions or ease the burden of so many people working weary weekends."

Coren paraphrased Pope Francis, who argued in a 2015 encyclical that refusing to rest is bad for the Earth. According to Coren, "The constant drive to produce and consume more is squandering natural resources, and it prevents us from treating the living world, and one another, with dignity and respect."

There is truth here. In addition to the weekly, personal Sabbath instituted at creation by God, the Israelites were to recognize a Sabbath rest for the Earth. Every seven years, according to Exodus 23, the Israelites were to let fields lie fallow, and their refusal to do this was among the reasons given for the Babylonian captivity, during which, according to 2 Chronicles, God gave back to the land the sabbath years it had missed.

Still, the weekly Sabbath rest, Jesus said, was created primarily for man. The pattern of work and rest was established by God in the beginning when he created for six days and then rested on the seventh, setting a rhythm that his image bearers and vice regents were to follow each week. In other words, creation gets a rest because we were made to rest. Not the other way around.

In his article, Coren sort of acknowledged that the practice of a day of rest dates back more than 2,600 years and that its foundation was originally religious, not environmental. Still, the whole piece is burdened and preoccupied with a need to justify this inherently good (and deeply biblical) practice of rest with a nod to fighting climate change.

Whenever the ultimate is instrumentalized in this way, it is evidence of how restless the secular mind is without God. There are much better arguments for seriously practicing a weekly Sabbath and how integral it is to human flourishing, to worship and even to the effectiveness of our work the other six days.

These arguments can be found, for example, in Matthew Sleeth's book, "24/6: A Prescription for a Healthier, Happier Life." In it, Sleeth effectively argues that God created human beings to work and to rest. God patterned that rest, not for his sake, but for ours. This is why our attempts to work all the time are, among other things, failures of trust — an unwillingness to acknowledge that God alone is all-powerful and that we, therefore, are not.

The Sabbath, just like exercise, better eating and less coffee is good for us because of how God made us. The strange need to justify everything with another threat of catastrophe is anything but restful. The original reasons to take a day off are better than an appeal to reducing carbon emissions.

From Breakpoint, Feb. 26, 2024; reprinted by permission of the Colson Center, breakpoint.org.

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