The Environment

Document Type

Contribution to Book

Source Publication

The Oxford Handbook of Christian Fundamentalism

Publication Date



Andrew Atherstone and David Ceri Jones


Oxford University Press





First Page


Last Page



Religious Studies


Over the past several decades, Christian fundamentalists have developed a seemingly paradoxical relationship to the environment. On the one hand, their biblical interpretations and theological convictions prompt their sense of responsibility to care for the earth. On the other hand, fundamentalists reject the foundational principles of the environmental movement itself, which they regard as misguided at best and malicious at worst. They oppose all forms of ecocentrism, instead championing the anthropocentric doctrine that God gave humans dominion over the natural world. Fundamentalists also refuse to accept scientific conclusions and warnings that human activities are creating impending ecological crises. Not least, they align with other conservative opponents of government regulations and restrictions intended to protect the environment. Primarily focused on the American context, this chapter traces and analyzes the evolving responses of fundamentalists to the environmental movement. While they have agreed that humans should care for God’s creation, anti-environmentalism has become a distinguishing and characteristic feature of contemporary fundamentalist Christianity.

Christian fundamentalists express great respect for the environment but great disdain for the environmental movement. While acknowledging the need to act as prudent stewards of God’s creation, they have refused to soften or to abandon the traditional anthropocentric Christian belief that humans should exercise dominion over the natural world. As a result, fundamentalists prioritize human welfare above all other environmental concerns. In addition, they reject not only most scientists’ warnings regarding looming ecological catastrophe but also the government regulations championed by the environmental movement. This chapter traces the evolving responses of fundamentalists to the rise and development of contemporary environmentalism, with a primary focus on the American context. While they agreed that humans should address pollution and other ecological degradation, fundamentalist leaders in the 1970s and 1980s accused environmentalists of denigrating Christianity and promoting unjustified restrictions on private individuals and companies. Their anti-environmentalism hardened in the 1990s and early twenty-first century. In reaction to burgeoning sympathy for environmentalist perspectives within evangelical circles, fundamentalists and leaders associated with the Christian Right mounted campaigns that denied the existence of global warming and other ecological dangers. They also portrayed economic development and growth as vital rather than detrimental to protecting the environment. The chapter concludes by analyzing the theological, epistemological, political, and economic factors that led fundamentalists to become staunch critics of the environmental movement.