One of the most stunning visuals in the film The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers was the scene of the ents attacking the stronghold of Isengard. Seeing this army of living oak, rowan, and beech trees chucking rocks at the tower and smashing the orcs was a hoot.
Of course this scene reminds us of Macbeth where the soldiers camouflage themselves and attack Dunsinane Castle. As they approach the stronghold, it looks as if Birnam Forest itself is alive and menacing. In his fantasy Tolkien seems to say, “Instead of humans disguising themselves as trees and attacking the castle, why not have real trees instead?”
There is a not-so-subtle environmental message here. Tolkien was clear on this matter:
“I am a hobbit myself, except for my size, of course. I love gardens, trees and farmland without machines on it. I like to smoke a pipe and eat home-style cooking; I go to bed late and get up late. I don’t travel much.” (Letters, 288.)
EARTH AND MAN
This raises a question, “What should our relationship be with the earth?” On one hand, the Industrial Age has brought unprecedented prosperity, and has raised the standard of living beyond what our great-grandparents could have possibly imagined. Think of the increase of longevity, the decrease in infant mortality, and such commonplace things as the microwave oven, cell phones, or the large things, such as MRIs, pharmaceuticals, and space shuttles.
After all, who of us has not benefited from a handy GPS or an ATM? And if you are reading this right now, you are giving tacit consent to the Internet, microchips, and computer algorithms.
On the other hand, we have serious environmental questions. For example, radiation therapy produces radioactive waste. This waste demands care in handling, storage and disposal. If you rush to the hospital in a Life Flight helicopter, then you should also know that choppers are notorious gas-guzzlers. There has been a lot of talk about carbon footprints. And before any building project is done, there must be an environmental impact study.
So industry has wrought untold benefits, but at a cost. Do we pollute the planet, and thereby undermine our own prosperity? But reverting back to nomadic hunter-gatherers also has a cost—a human cost. What happens to the standard of living and such things as dentistry, infant mortality, and the higher things of civilization, such as culture and scientific progress?
There is a reason why cavemen had such a short life expectancy, and never built things like the Mars Rover or the Hoover Dam. For example, they knew that mold was bad, and you could eat it in certain cheeses but other times it was unhealthy. However, they never realized that mold could become penicillin. And given a choice between brie or antibiotics, I’d choose the second.
So there are benefits and costs to both sides of the question. We should rephrase the question to be “How do we manage both industry and ecology?”
To begin, Joseph Smith was a religious leader and a witness of Christ. Everything he did or said resolves itself back to Christ. In summing up Mormonism, he said:
“The fundamental principles of our religion are the testimony of the Apostles and Prophets, concerning Jesus Christ, that He died, was buried, and rose again the third day, and ascended into heaven; and all other things which pertain to our religion are only appendages to it.” (“Chapter 3: Jesus Christ, the Divine Redeemer of the World,” Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith, , 45–56)
There is no mystery about Mormonism, just the majesty of Christ’s Atonement. The point of the Atonement is to save people in this life and in the next life. It undergirds all environmental questions.
Joseph Smith received a revelation from God that described creation as a gift to humanity:
“Verily I say, that inasmuch as ye do this, the fulness of the earth is yours, the beasts of the field and the fowls of the air, and that which climbeth upon the trees and walketh upon the earth;”
“Yea, and the herb, and the good things which come of the earth, whether for food or for raiment, or for houses, or for barns, or for orchards, or for gardens, or for vineyards;”
“Yea, all things which come of the earth, in the season thereof, are made for the benefit and the use of man, both to please the eye and to gladden the heart;”
“Yea, for food and for raiment, for taste and for smell, to strengthen the body and to enliven the soul.”
“And it pleaseth God that he hath given all these things unto man; for unto this end were they made to be used, with judgment, not to excess, neither by extortion.”
“And in nothing doth man offend God, or against none is his wrath kindled, save those who confess not his hand in all things, and obey not his commandments.”
“Behold, this is according to the law and the prophets; wherefore, trouble me no more concerning this matter.” (D&C 59:16-22)
This is a rather detailed statement about the interrelationship between humanity and ecology. The Lord says that nature is a gift and that “all things which come of the earth … are made for the benefit and the use of man.” To paraphrase the Savior, the environment was made for man; man was not made for the environment.
Thus there is hierarchy in the biosphere. We use the environment and natural resources to further the mission of the church. We preserve temporal life in order to preserve spiritual life. We also use the creature comforts and labor-saving devices to spread the message of Christ. Try hand-copying a Bible, and you see my point. The time saved by printing a Bible can be used in other areas.
The revelation, however, has this proviso: the blessings of nature must be “be used, with judgment, not to excess, neither by extortion.” The Lord reminds us that we do not have a free-for-all. We do not approach environmental management like a pie-eating contest. This is the “not by excess” clause.
The word “extortion” here means “plunder” or “greediness” (cf. Matthew 23:25). Hugh W. Nibley observed that “the literal meaning of the word ‘is to squeeze the last drop out of a thing.’” (Approaching Zion, 193). We are not to wring nature dry. This reminds us of the commandment about not harvesting the corners of a field to allow the poor, like Ruth, to glean the field (Leviticus 19:9).
Gordon B. Hinckley, the fifteenth president of the Mormon Church said this:
“As I walk about my little cluster of trees, my feet on the fruitful earth, there wanders through my mind the words of the seventh chapter of Revelation (verses 23) interpreted by Joseph Smith in section 77 of the Doctrine and Covenants: “And I saw another angel ascending from the east, having the seal of the living God: and he cried . . . saying, Hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees, till we have sealed the servants of our God in their foreheads.” Even without reference to the theological meanings of this declaration, I like the injunction: ‘Hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees.’
“I look up to the stars and sense in some small degree the majesty and wonder and magnitude of the universe, the awesome greatness of its Creator and Governor, and the implications of my own place as a child of God.” (A Wonderful Summer)
To sum up, we should not feel guilty about industrialization, so long as it is done with common-sense, wisdom, and care for the environment.
Born in 1805, and living in the 1830s and 1840s, Joseph Smith in general approved of the Industrial Age.
In a letter to his wife Emma, Joseph Smith talked about his first trip to New York City. Joseph Smith was overawed by what he saw:
“This day I have been walking through the most splendid part of the City of New York. The buildings are truly great and wonderful to the astonishing of every beholder.”
“And the language of my heart is like this: Can the great God of all the Earth maker of all things magnificent and splendid be displeased with man for all these great inventions sought out by them? My answer is no, it can not be, seeing these works are calculated to make men comfortable wise and happy.” (Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, 277ff. Standardized)
Again, Joseph Smith reaffirms that progress is good because it benefits humanity. In fact, Joseph Smith used many of the spin-offs of industrialization to accomplish his work, the foremost being the printing press.
Imagine what would happen if we did not have the printing press. The scriptures would be a rare commodity. Consequently, we would not know the mind of God. Obedience and righteousness would be haphazard. This would hinder God’s work.
“They had brought no records with them; and they denied the being of their Creator.” (Omni 1:17)
So one of the blessing of the Industrial Age was that it facilitated the information explosion. An essential part of that was the publication of the scriptures. As Isaiah prophesied:
“For the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea.” (Isaiah 11:9)
Later on, other aspects of technology and progress were used to further the Lord’s work: plains, trains, automobiles, telegraphs, telephones, telefax, and Internet. We are all better believers and more righteous because of the Industrial Age.
Gordon B. Hinckley once observed:
“There is no music like the music of industry.” (“Nauvoo Symposium Held at Brigham Young University,” Ensign, Nov. 1989, 109–11)
Joseph Smith taught that we need to have both industry and ecology, each of which are assets to the Atonement of Christ. So Joseph Smith would disagree with Tolkien’s position. The key is wise stewardship, since both sides have valid points.
Then again, Tolkien was more of a folksy old man in the sunset of life than a Luddite. Think of all the technology used to publish his books and to make the films.