Most teens and young adults believe not recycling is more immoral than watching pornography.
The specific statistic comes from interviews with over 3000 respondents in a 2016 study called The Porn Phenomenon, commissioned by Covenant Eyes and Josh McDowell Ministry. The data says teens and young adults aged 13-24 believe not recycling (56%) is worse than viewing pornography (32%).
What does this mean?
I honestly don’t know if there’s a better statistic out there that encapsulates the largely well-intentioned, but misguided, spiritual condition of modern America.
Having moved into a more urban area in recent years, not too many things have thrown me. One of the few things that has most definitely jumped out at me, however, is the moral stance that young, progressive-minded adults take on recycling.
I honestly don’t know if it’s the sad pictures we saw of seagulls caught in plastic 6-pack rings when we were growing up, or the image of sea otters drenched from an oil spill, or Al Gore’s conscience pricking documentary An Inconvenient Truth, but this generation’s young adults most definitely are affected.
By and large, it’s a GOOD thing. After all, God gave mankind the position of prominence in the kingdom of his creation, in part, because mankind had unique abilities to care for creation (Gen. 2:15). Throughout Scripture we find God commanding humans to watch over animals (cf. Prov. 12:10; Ezek. 34:2-4). We learn that caring for the planet is godly because Scripture tells us that God himself cares for his earth (Matt. 10:29). And therefore, the consistent message of the Bible is that the earth belongs to God, but suffers due to mankind’s sinfulness (Rom. 8:19-22). So now God desires us to manage and care for the planet as an expression of our faith in Christ’s rule and redemption of the world.
“The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it,
the world, and all who live in it.” (Psalm 24:1)
Consequently, recycling is a perfectly good application of the biblical principle of ecological stewardship. But recycling is NOT a direct biblical command, nor even really a biblical principle. It’s an application of a principle.
Contrast that with something like lust, which falls into the realm of direct biblical command. Jesus said,
“But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matt. 5:28)
If a society becomes increasingly out of touch with Scriptural truth, you would expect to find research exactly like that described in The Porn Phenomenon data. Something that Scripture doesn’t directly forbid (i.e. not recycling) is perceived as a far worse behavior than a behavior which Jesus himself calls sin (i.e. pornography). At this point, the evidence suggests that values are being shaped out of instincts and cultural ideals ahead of actual Bible study.
A similar illustration can be seen in society’s preference of animals over humans. My wife and I went to see the summer blockbuster The Meg last night. It wasn’t exactly a Jaws ripoff, but obviously derivative. As you can imagine, there’s a decent amount of humans getting torn apart by a giant-toothed prehistoric Megalodon. The audience, so far as I could tell, was perfectly comfortable with this. However, when a tiny Yorkshire Terrier fell into the water at one point, and the Meg was looking for a fun size snack, you could feel the mood of theater change. The movie’s director clearly understood this perception as well. We witnessed humans getting executed repeatedly, but this particular scene was shot in such a way as to suggest that the execution of an animal was more than audiences could handle. The general populace is more sympathetic to animals than to humans today. I say all of this as a pet lover myself.
Some day, when my pit bull Gemma inevitably passes away, I’m going to be an emotional wreck. My instincts and my life conditioning tell me to value my dog ahead of most humans. It’s my theology alone that tells me to value the often annoying humans ahead of a creature that loves me unconditionally. If I couldn’t quote chapter and verse of biblical texts that tell me to value human life (i.e. if the Holy Spirit hadn’t convinced me through his Word), I’m not certain I’d feel the same way.
For the sake of clarity, this post is not about recycling, and it’s not about pornography, and it’s not about prehistoric sharks. It’s about what happens when a society starts following it’s heart while its Bible gathers dust.
The modern western world retains a skeleton of Christian values, the haunting of Jesus’ teaching. But some signs would suggest the meat on the bones is mostly gone. And therefore its as important as ever that Christians today are overflowing with biblical reasons for why they do what they do and why they hope what they hope.
So…do I recycle? Yes. It has nothing to do with thinking human life is in jeopardy due to a hole in the ozone layer or anything like that. Humanity as we know it will end precisely when God chooses to bring that end (Matt. 24:36). Instead, I recycle as a testimony of faith – I know that my Redeemer lives and he’s coming back to sit on his throne and renew all things (Matt. 19:28). As I care for the planet, my recycling foreshadows, in a small way, the ultimate recycling of the planet by Jesus.