Stewarding the Environment at SeaWorld

May 7, 2012 — Leave a comment

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After roughly two months of trying, Ali and I were finally able to make it to SeaWorld for the day. We had scored complimentary passes and so the only budget hit was the highway robbery they consider a fair price for food in the park. That, and $7 per person for five minnows, a total ripoff if not for the fact that you get to put those minnows directly into a dolphin’s mouth

As you can imagine, it was a great day. Our plan for waiting line domination was executed to perfection (we walked right on to every ride), and we saw all the main shows. The dolphin one is the best, in my opinion, mainly because dolphins are still considered safe to swim with, while killer whales are not (due to an unfortunate incident where the largest bull killer whale fell back on animal instincts with a trainer).

It was during the killer whale show that my interest was piqued an unexpected way. Before going on, full disclosure, I love killer whales. They are perhaps my favorite animals (or at least tied with their cousins the bottlenose dolphins) and on my first trip to SeaWorld at 5, my parents were literally worried I might run away before they could restrain me and just jump right in with Shamu. Now, roughly 23 years later, I’m still able to go to SeaWorld unironically (i.e. I really enjoy watching apex predators do tricks for my amusement and wish there was a petting/feeding option included in park admission).

So, back to the show, where I left off noting that my interest was piqued in a way that did not directly involve the whale gymnastics (technically, dolphin gymnastics, killer whales are really just black dolphins of death). The theme of the Shamu show is “One Ocean,” and it’s some pretty heavy handed (heavy flippered?) environmental propaganda. While on the one hand I respect the conservation agenda at SeaWorld, I realize that it comes with the price of having to listen to whatever the powers that be decide needs to be preached through the dolphins’ interpretive dance.

Though mostly trying to decide if the baby orca really knew what it was doing (or was just imitating its mom), I was still listening enough to catch an imperative in the sermon:

We all need to be stewards of the environment!

Maybe it was a poor choice of words, but I think this is a very telling sentiment in the environmentalist agenda. I hadn’t really thought of it before, but as I sat there watching killer whales use their tails to bludgeon the first few rows with gallon after gallon of water, I began meditating on what the word “steward” meant.

According to the first two definitions on dictionary.com, a “steward” is

  • a person who manages another’s property or financial affairs;one who administers anything as the agent of another or others
  • a person who has charge of the household of another,buying or obtaining food, directing the servants, etc.

As a Christian, I can (and should) be on board with the idea of stewarding the environment, since that is part of the Christian doctrine of creation (see Genesis 1:26-28). But I was trying to figure out how a more or less atheistic account of the environment could meaningfully use the concept of “stewardship” to describe our responsibility to take care of the environment. The “One Ocean” program at SeaWorld isn’t overtly atheistic, but it is evolutionary (or at least latently New Age/pantheistic) in its insistence that we are “one” meaning we are all, people and animals, part of the same continuum of nature.

On the one hand, that is true. Humans and animals are both creatures. But, there was a bit more of a “we all share a common ancestor” subtext in the “One Ocean” program. Setting the legitimacy of that aside for a moment, my question is really this:

“Without a Creator God, who are we stewarding the environment for?”

Certainly we are not stewarding the environment for the impersonal mechanism of natural selection. I mean we could, but that seems a bit silly. In the final analysis, what’s natural selection really going to do to me if I’m a bad steward? I’m certainly not going to be called to account for my actions. In the end, it’s not really all that motivating to think that you are taking care of the environment for an impersonal force that really doesn’t care one way or the other.

That’s why I think this concept of “stewardship” in the environmental agenda is a damning vestigial organ that undermines its structural integrity. What we really have here is Romans 1:21-23 in action. Instead of worshiping and serving the Creator, many environmentalists worship and serve the creatures. But in doing so, they use a motivation (be a steward!) that only makes sense if there is a Creator in the mix.

This is not to say environmentalists do not have a valid point. I think we do need to be better stewards of the environment. This needs to be done with discernment since not every green action item is serving an agenda that’s the right shade of green. Some things are genuinely good for the environment, while some things are only good for the bank account of the company looking to profit off a buzzword. Some people blow the environmental dangers out of proportion, but it doesn’t mean there are not legitimate dangers out there (man-made global warming not being one of them if you’ve done your research).

It is however still a need that only makes sense within a Christian framework. That doesn’t mean non-Christians can’t be good stewards or that many of them put Christians to shame in their efforts. It does mean that non-Christians cannot account for why we should be stewards of the environment or who we are stewarding the environment for. A paradigm that truly values natural selection should let the mechanism runs its course and not interfere. And if that course leads to producing animals that actively destroy their own environment, then that must be the course that is best for nature, as counter-intuitive as that might seem. After all, what kind of pretentious animal would suggest that it knows better than the mechanism that produced it how to manage the environment?

I am speaking of course with tongue firmly embedded in cheek. But the point is that if you really want to be a good steward of the environment, that desire is only consistent with being a Christian. The flipside of this, and probably another blog post altogether, is that if you really claim to be a Christian, you cannot be callous toward being a good steward of the environment and treat it as your personal garbage disposal. Christians have notoriously been bad about this, but that is just us being inconsistent with our faith. If we are truly consistent, we’ll lead the way in caring for creation. Creation’s certainly not going to care for itself. Unless of course you’re an evolutionist and then it has to, and it has to steward itself on behalf of itself.

But that’s not gonna happen because while dolphins may be the smartest animals out there, all they care about is fish. I suppose with enough fish maybe dolphins could be trained to lead the way in being stewards of the environment, but something tells me they won’t go for that unless a serious amount of gymnastics are involved.

That at least was my impression after a day at SeaWorld, but what do I know?

Nate

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I'm an avid reader, musician, and high school Bible teacher living in central Florida. I have many paperback books and our house smells of rich glade air freshners. If you want to know more, then let's connect!

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