Thursday, March 7, 2013
My article from this week's Algona Upper Des Moines about Natural/Organic foods:
Q: Is there a moral obligation for Christians to follow natural, organic, or other recently-popular food production methods which avoid the use of modern advancements to enhance yield/growth or protect crops/animals?
This is a topic I have heard an increasing degree of advocacy for recently in Christian circles. The reasoning typically follows the line that people ought to raise plants and animals in as close a state to the way God created them as possible.
Some advocate this out of a belief that pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers on crops or antibiotics and hormones in animals are harmful to humans. Others believe that alterations to the genetic composition of plants or enhancing the growth or immunity of animals is too close to “playing god.”
Others do not object to the morality of these things, but feel that such practices are unwise for a wide array of reasons, from the sustainability of the practice to the long-term impact on the various species under these practices. Another variation stems from the belief that humans ought to provide the most desirable and natural environment possible for animals during their lives out of respect for the fact that their death will eventually result in our being fed.
Theologically, some of these reasons are lacking, however, because they fail to recognize the impact of sin on the world. Human sin has impacted not only our actions, feelings, and emotions, but it has even broken creation. Because of this, all of nature no longer works as it should. Disease and adverse conditions threaten both crops and animals. Our breaking of the world by sin even results in animals whose natural instincts fail them, sometimes to the point that they may turn on one another or even their own offspring apart from human intervention.
Certainly all people would agree that abuse, neglect, or mistreatment of animals, whether they are raised for food or not, is unacceptable, but it can be argued that present-day practices serve to protect them from disease and the elements, which is likely more vital than what we perceive their emotional needs might be.
Likewise, it would be broadly accepted that we ought not place hazardous chemicals in dangerous quantities into our bodies, but it has also been noted that all chemicals used in the production of food undergo extensive testing regarding the extent of their absorption into the plant and its fruit and the quantities at which they become hazardous in the event they would be consumed.
Additionally, it is important to note that, even though the idea of making alterations to nature might seem unsavory to some, God has given us the intelligence to make the advances to feed a growing population. The person who discovers safe methods to increase yields or protect from pests and disease is using their God-given ability to help their neighbor. Some would propose that without the kind of advances that have been made in agriculture, the loss would be more than income or comfort, but that he lack of these methods would come at the expense of lives, as the present population could not possibly be fed with nineteenth century levels of production.
The Apostle Paul writes on several occasions in his epistles about matters which are neither commanded nor forbidden by the God. In such things, he instructs the believers that they should follow their own conscience, but not impose their conscience-driven position on their neighbor who believes differently. This question is one of those matters.
Those who are convinced it is more wise to raise crops and animals without these advancements should follow their conscience in doing so or buying from those who do so. At the same time, those who are convinced otherwise should not feel any guilt because they benefit from these advancements.
Both those who make use of these innovations and those who refrain should understand that their actions are neither more nor less righteous because of this choice, but that they are following their own conscience and using their own God-given wisdom to make the best choice on a matter that has not been addressed in Scripture.