Temptation in the Consumer Wilderness

In Jesus' temptation in the wilderness, the devil asks Jesus to convert stones into bread, to leap from a pinnacle, and to worship him. Living with this gospel story has inspired me to reflect on humanity's role in climate change. As a Christian and a historian of technology, I've realized that each of Jesus' temptations can reverberate for all of us living in the age of fossil fuels -- because there is a powerful analogy between those three temptations and the temptations humanity faces in using those fuels.

In Matthew 4 we read that the devil first tempted Jesus by saying, "If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread." Jesus refused, but we have, in a sense, taken the devil up on the offer: "Petroleum" means "rock oil" -- and in our American agricultural system we now burn about 10 calories in fossil fuel for every calorie of food we produce and deliver to the supermarket.

Such inefficiency is far from the system of food production that God created. On the third day, according to the Genesis account, God created plants; on the fifth day, birds and fish; and on the sixth day, humans. All animals, including humans, depend for their livelihoods on the solar energy photosynthesized by plants into stored chemical energy.

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July 2011 Sojourners
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