God’s Wonderful Creation
1The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it,
the world, and all who live in it;
2 for he founded it on the seas
and established it on the waters.(Ps. 24:1-2)
In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth and it was “very good.” God is the designer of the entire creation. The bible testifies that the entire community of creation shares divine blessings. They became living beings because of God’s breath; there are no non-living beings or dead objects in God’s creation. God’s breath makes all life possible. The earth and all living beings thus reflect God’s image. This makes the earth sacred; the trees, living animals, flowers, mountains, seas, river, fresh air reflect the image of the Creator. The beauty and splendor of nature testify who God is. The beauty of nature reminds us of the Goodness of the Creator. The landscapes, terrains, and millions of living beings that surround us convey the greatness of the Living God. “In all things of nature, there is something of the marvelous” – Aristotle. The Wisdom Literature in the Bible affirms creation’s praise of its Creator (Ps. 9:1-4; 66:11-13; 98:4; 100:1; 150:6). It is not only humans but also creation sings praises of God!
God is not only the Creator but also the source of all life on earth (Job. 12:7-10). God gives life and sustains all the earth. The earth gives us all that we need and so it is our Mother and Nourisher. The earth itself is like a great life-giving loaf of bread which God bakes and breaks daily for God’s cherished family of humans and other living things. Humans are bestowed with a special responsibility to take care of the bread for all living beings. Human’s responsibility is not to dominate, exploit, but to be loving and caring stewards. Human beings have to ensure that the great life-giving loaf is available to living beings now and for the future.
The Diversity of God’s Creation
The diversity of creation is God’s design. All are distinct, beautiful, different, and mysterious. In this unique design of God, there is no superior or inferior status among the creatures. All are distinct in their way. By the virtue of possessing rationality, it is wrong to think that human beings are superior to the rest of God’s creation. Humans have life only in relation to and dependent on the entire cosmos. God created humans in such a way that they cannot survive without the non-human creatures. Humans exist because of the nurturing power of other God’s entire creation.
Objectification and Commercialisation of God’s Creation
Objectification is treating God’s creation as something inferior to be abused, extracted, and exploited for human needs. It perceives that there is nothing amazing in God’s creation and they are valuable only by serving the human’s needs. This anthropocentric utilitarian view of life is desecrating, polluting, wasting, privatizing, and degrading the Home (the earth) of all beings to the status of a market commodity or something to gaze for mere enjoyment. Today the whole of God’s creation is reduced to mere commercial value. The earth cried out to God over humanity’s injustice (Gen. 4:10). The earth cries because of disrespectful lifestyle and development activities. Limitless growth, competition, and greed are destroying the earth and its resources on a massive scale. All living beings are threatened to death. Global warming and other forms of climate change is thus a major concern for all of us today. Pollution of God’s breath leads to respiratory and other air-borne diseases. The Covid-19 pandemic is a classic example.
One of the major modern factors that contribute to the destruction of God’s creation is the commercial tourism industry. We need to acknowledge that many negative environmental impacts are the result of commercial tourism. The construction of general infrastructures such as roads and airports, and tourism facilities, including resorts, hotels, restaurants, shops, golf courses, and marinas contributes to environmental destruction. Tourism development can destroy the vital environmental resources on which many people depend for their livelihood.
Travel for Need and Pleasure Tourism
Travel and tourism are interrelated, but the motifs are completely different. People ‘travel’ from one place to another in search of a better quality of life, refuge or sanctuary, missionary purposes, trade, etc. The tradition of ‘pilgrimage’ to religious places/holy places for spiritual renewal is common among different faiths. Travel is therefore an essential part of human existence. Some travels are undertaken for conquest. European explorers traveled across the world in search of new land and migration in the form of colonization. When the colonizers arrived in the new land, they killed the indigenous people, occupied their land, replaced their language, and demonized their cultural values and religious practices. Treating Africans and indigenous people as inferior, the colonizers took them out from their homeland and sold them as slaves in different parts of the world. Today, thousands of people flee from their homeland due to violence, war, and natural disaster, e.g. Syrian refugees in Europe, Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, and climate refugees from the Pacific islands. Sometimes people move in large numbers in search of work as migrant workers due to the unequal distribution of wealth.
The definition of ‘tourism’ is travel for pleasure. It is a human’s self-seeking satisfaction or pleasure-driven enterprise. Such pleasure travel is undertaken mostly by the rich in developed countries. The majority of the pleasure travelers are from Europe, North America, Australia, South Korea, Japan, etc. Travelers from other developing countries such as China and India are also increasing year by year. In such a pleasure-driven adventure, the travelers objectify others and nature as mere commodities for enjoyment. Therefore, ‘travel’ for human needs should not be confused with commercial tourism which is connected with sole enjoyment and pleasure. The Bible challenges human’s self-seeking satisfaction or pleasure-driven enterprise that objectifies nature as a mere commodity for enjoyment.
Government and Tourism Industry
Tourism is a major industry promoted and fully sanctioned by the government. It is applauded in many countries as the “motor for development.” It gives employment to millions of people. It is intensified everywhere promising peace and prosperity. Alongside oil, arms, pharmaceuticals, and auto-industry, it is one of the largest industries in the world, and it is growing rapidly on a massive scale. It is estimated that more than five million tourists, excluding domestic tourists, arrive in India, annually. The United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) also projects 1.5 billion arrivals of tourists by 2020 globally (it will be different since the whole world is locked down for months due to the Covid-19 pandemic). Its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) share is 5.89 trillion which is higher than the GDP of the richest countries. Excluding unaccounted labourers, tourism comprises about 300 million people. To intensify the tourism industry, Governments have relaxed tax on air-fuel and promoting budget airlines. With cheap flight tickets, the tourism industry will continue to grow all over the world.
In many developing countries, policymakers think that tourism development will alleviate poverty. The income generated from tourism is perceived as a panacea for the problems of the poor countries. This perception is based on an assumed understanding that the profits from the tourism industry will trickle down and benefit the poor communities. This is the reason why the nations of the world have devised ever more ingenious ways of attracting tourists such as the use of catchy marketing slogans to entice tourists. In Asia alone, there is a plethora of these, including Incredible India, Amazing Thailand, Malaysia Truly Asia, and Remarkable Indonesia, and Hornbill Festival – Nagaland.
The tourism industry as a new-liberal economic project does not respect mother earth. It violates the Creator’s intention of creation; it is an affront to God’s purpose of creation. We need to have a deeper analysis of the interconnected problems associated with the development of tourism, poverty, and exploitation of biodiversity and the earth’s resources. We also need to uncover the linkage between natural disasters and the tourism industry. One will discover that there is no justice and respect for the integrity of God’s creation.
Tourism Industry and Climate Justice
The tourism industry contributes substantially to global warming. It is estimated that 4-7% of global carbon emissions are through the aviation industry. It says that “tourism-related air and sea travel has been a major source of pollution. An ocean-going ship can generate emission of more than 12,000 cars.” Though the carbon emissions of the developed countries are far higher per person than from the global developing countries, the poor people, especially indigenous communities, are blamed for global warming citing age-old ‘slash and burnt’ (or Jhum) cultivation, population growth, and poverty. This is a serious deception. Rather, we have to recognize that climate change is connected with the destructive one-sided developmental activities of the rich countries that promote consumerist lifestyle and culture. The study has proved that there is no large-scale environmental effect by ‘burn and slash’ (or Jhum) cultivation though we need to seek an alternative sustainable farming system. Climate justice is thus a serious ethical issue for humanity.
Destruction of God’s creation contributes to natural disasters and massive migration. A study on the effect of the tsunami in December 2004 in Indian Ocean Asia; 2007 and 2010 earthquake and landslide in Chile; 2009 earthquake and tsunami in Samoa; 2018 earthquake and tsunami in Sulawesi; 2015 Nepal earthquake and many others disaster have revealed that the devastation of the tsunami, landslide became more serious due to destruction of mangrove and other littoral forests, dunes, coastal wetlands, and reef system. Had the natural protections still been in place, the damage would have been greatly reduced. The natural protective environment systems were removed for construction of hotels, resorts, golf courses, or to provide access to beaches, sea view, or mountain view for the sake of pleasure-seeking tourists.
The Bible and Travel
The Bible is an account of people on the move. God called Abram. He and his family traveled through Moreh at Shechem, the land of Canaanites, where he built an altar there for the Lord. From there he went on toward the hills east of Bethel and then continued toward the Negev (Gen. 12:1-9). In their journey, Abram and his family never tried to occupy other lands forcefully or abused God’s creation. They did not impose their culture, language, or ideas. They never condemned and attempted to conquer others. Abram and his family were welcomed by the local host; they respected the local people, their culture, and lived with them. But modern tourism does not respect the host community.
Fearing that King Herod would kill Jesus, Joseph took the child Jesus and his mother during the night and traveled to Egypt, where they stayed there until the death of Herod. They traveled to Egypt for safety. The Egyptians protected and nurtured them (Mt. 2:13-23). Abram and Joseph traveled in search of a better place and protection. We also have the great Exodus Event led by Moses and Aaron. The Israelites traveled for forty days from Egypt to Canaan to escape slavery and oppression. Hence, while they travel for need does not have a destructive aspect, the travel for self-seeking pleasure brings immense destruction to nature.
The Bible testifies that in the scheme of God’s creative plan, creation belongs to all, shared by all. God has entrusted humanity to govern all creation responsibly, nurture carefully, and love gratefully. God’s creation is neither meant to be exploited nor destroyed. Its fruits are a repository bequeathed for the benefit of all humanity. This is the reason why the Bible speaks about the observance of the Sabbath and Jubilee. The seventh-day rest in Biblical tradition does not even come close to the idea of the holiday of modern times. The Bible testifies that a holiday is a day free from work, just as God rested after the completion of the work (Gen 2:2-3). In Exodus 20:8-11, God commanded the people of Israel that the Sabbath be kept holy. It is not a time for personal pleasure as the tourism industry promotes, but a time of prayer, contemplation, a rest from our daily work to foster closer relationships with God, community, the whole of God’s creation, and be blessed. It is not a time to get away from or forget God but to get closer to the Creator. The Sabbath is thus rooted in doing justice to the poor and the entirety of God’s creation. The concept of holiday promoted in tourism is in contrast to Biblical understanding. The increase of tourism with a profit-oriented objective and the promotion of leisure is merely pleasure-driven rather than opportunities to meet God, which is not ethical. As Christians, we have the duty and the task to provide leadership through our ideas and practice. When creation is under threat and commoditized, we are called to speak out for responsible stewardship and affirm the integrity of creation.