Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Thinking Christianly About Gas Prices

A few decades ago an astute evangelical pastor recommended to me a book by the British author Harry Blamires entitled The Christian Mind: How Should a Christian Think? A few weeks ago I finally acquired a used copy and began to read.

Blamires' thesis is that whenever Christians think and talk about anything other than specifically "Christian" issues they simply adopt the perspective of secular culture and debate the issues using the same criteria as non-Christian thinkers. The "Christian mind" no longer exists. That is, there is no longer a field of Christian discourse into which a Christian thinker can enter on such issues as politics, social policy, war, economics and the like. If an individual tries to bring a specifically Christian, or biblical, perspective to such public issues he or she is dismissed as a religious fanatic, someone who lives "in a world of his own."

Blamires, a student of C. S. Lewis, wrote 45 years ago. While today there are some forums where Christians can engage the overriding issues of our time from one or another Christian viewpoint (such as the periodical First Things), in the main the situation Blamires describes has probably worsened, rather than improved, within the Western world.

One example Blamires gives is a striking one, given the current upheaval in gasoline prices at the pump. Blamires asks if there is a way to think Christianly about something as mundane as a "petrol pump." He lists several questions a gasoline pump might raise for a Christian thinker, such as the degree to which automobiles have made us slaves of a mechanized order, whether it's right for a privileged few worldwide to enjoy the benefits of a motorized society, or whether our dependence on machinery has pulled us away from dependence on both the natural and supernatural orders.

Blamires' examples, reflecting the world of four decades ago, impress me as dated and almost trite. But the price-per-gallon on today’s "petrol pump' might be another matter. How do we think Christianly, or biblically, about a national average now well over $4.00 per gallon and climbing? I just tried to ask myself some questions that issue raises. The possible answers to these questions may seem contradictory, but this is only an exercise in "Christian" thinking about a "secular" issue.

(1) In a world where the price of gasoline exceeds $18.00 per gallon in some countries, what is the Christian's attitude toward paying only $4.00-plus? Is there a place for thanksgiving in the Christian's life, replacing the idea that we're somehow entitled to pay less than most of the rest of the world?

(2) Further, does a Christian recognize that the earth itself does not make a charge for the resources God has placed in it? Money is always paid to people, in this case all the people involved in the production and distribution of gasoline and the financing thereof. While the Christian, on biblical grounds, may be scandalized by the greed shown by speculators or Arab potentates, does he or she begrudge the prosperity of pension funds that have invested in oil for the benefit of their retirees?

(3) "A prudent man sees danger and hides himself; but the simple go on, and suffer for it" (Proverbs 22:3). Should more prudence have been applied when the Interstate highway system was constructed, resulting in the expansion of motor carrier traffic and the abandonment of a large proportion of the railroad network? The unintended consequence is that the transportation of goods is becoming more expensive, resulting in higher prices for food and other items. Now some major cities with no rail passenger service are in danger of losing their airline service as well. Can American voters show prudence today by electing leaders who will have the wisdom to take the long-range view that was lacking in the massive conversion to highway transportation?

(4) Finally, what about drilling? Environmentalists object to extracting oil from the "pristine wilderness" of ANWR. But what is there in the Christian perspective that exalts a wilderness? In the Bible the wilderness and its conditions are part of the curse upon the disobedient; God’s plan for His people takes the form of a city (Revelation 21). Mankind wasn't placed in a jungle but in a garden, and was told to "subdue the earth" (Genesis 1:28). Can a Christian support the environmentalist mantra about keeping wilderness areas "unspoiled," with the resulting effects on the price at the pump?

These are only a few of the possible Christian approaches to today's "petrol pump." As I said, the questions may point in different, even contradictory, directions. But it's time to bring the price of gasoline, along with other public issues, within the parameters of the Christian mind.