Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Shades of Grey

As Christians we strive to make moral decisions.  But often the answers are not so clear as we would like them to be.  The evangelical movement, for example, has recently begun to acknowledge that caring for and protecting the environment is a moral choice that had been ignored for decades.  Good stewardship of God's planet means not squandering its limited natural resources.  Newer technologies are allowing us to take better care of our environment on a national, a local, and an individual level.  Such environmentally friendly philosophies, then, are always the moral choice in a given set of alternatives, right?


It would seem so, but this story out of the UK reminds us that applying any moral choice to every situation is a dangerous thing, especially when it comes to technology.  In this case, one scientist, Sir David King, is making the argument that environmental philosophies which encourage organic foods and "traditional farming" techniques are, in reality, keeping Africa poor.  Because improved agricultural technologies have become readily available, they should be alleviating some of the hunger and poverty in Africa as they are starting to in Asia.  Instead, Western Non-Governmental Agencies and aid organizations are emphasizing a "focus on nontechnological agricultural techniques, on techniques of farming that pertain to the history of that continent rather than techniques that pertain to modern technological capability."  Such a focus discourages technologies such as genetic improvements that could protect plants against new diseases,  as well as provide drought resistance, saline resistance, and flood tolerance.  In fact, one organization "worried that drought-tolerant crops may have the potential to grow in habitats unavailable to conventional crops.  The priority of providing food to an area of the world in greatest need appears not to have been noted."  King calls such environmental agendas "well-meaning but fatally flawed." 


Adopting any idea or philosophy wholesale without fully considering the consequences is always dangerous.  And to claim that my personal convictions should be applied to everyone in the world is, likewise, dangerous.  It may be a good moral choice for me to eat only organic foods as a way of demonstrating kindness and good stewardship.  But in Africa, where genetically altered crops could save many lives, to insist on low-tech methods of agriculture is certainly not the best moral choice.   


Sometimes making a moral decision is not as clear as we would like it to be.  Sometimes it requires wisdom simply to live righteously.  When discussing personal convictions and "the right thing to do," perhaps we should always start where Proverbs 9 starts, with the fear of the LORD.


Josh R

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