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Mark Zuckerberg is slated to appear before Congress this week, and most observers anticipate that he will be filleted, skewered, and roasted before it’s all over. Facebook is at once a great success story and a scary success story. And at the top of the Facebook mountain is just the one man yet, riding herd on an ocean of personal data and user profiles that have already proven to be woefully vulnerable to theft, abuse, and other nefarious political ends. From what I have been hearing from both sides of the political aisle, it is almost certain that Congress will see the need for regulating Facebook and other social media giants the same way we have long managed and regulated phone companies and utilities like gas and electric providers as well as transportation providers like airlines and train services like Amtrak. When something is this big, this pervasive and inevitably involves so many people, it’s unwise to leave it in the unregulated, largely unaccountable hands of only a few (or of one).
The irony of all this is that it coincides with some significant political woes for EPA chief Scott Pruitt. But Pruitt seems safe for the moment–as does Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke–because both are heroes to many people because they are the great deregulators. The President loves Pruitt because he continues to roll back environmental regulation after regulation. True, as a New York Times story reported, it’s mostly being done so sloppily and haphazardly that it cannot stand up to the scrutiny of most judges. But the point is to get rid of all those business-stifling regulations on mercury being dumped into waterways, emissions from vehicles, health-threatening pesticides or the amount of lead in paints. It’s a well-known fact that Mr. Pruitt has traditionally hated the very agency he now heads. Small wonder it seems now less the Environmental Protection Agency and more the Business Protection Agency.
The thought seems to be that regulations are almost always bad for business. And anyway, in a free market economy we need to trust corporations and CEOs and the like to do the right thing when it comes to protecting the environment. Who is the government to suggest prudent use of pesticides, safe levels of lead in drinking water or lead in paint products, or safe emissions from factories and their smokestacks? Just let business proceed unregulated and people will generally do the right thing.
I have had this argument with fellow Christians for years. What amazes me is that some of the same people who will insist the loudest that Total Depravity is a reality among fallen creatures are some of the same folks who also somehow believe that such depravity goes off duty and gets replaced with some inexplicable level of virtue and selflessness on the part of business folks who need to figure out what to do with leftover mercury or other toxic, sludgy byproducts of their manufacturing processes. Somehow we pivot from saying “We are woeful sinners prone to all manner of evil” to saying “Except for businesses that will pretty much always do the right thing when it comes to protecting the environment, children’s health, our drinking water, the air we breathe, and so on.”
As they say on Sesame Street, “One of these things is not like the others.”
But look: I have no doubt that governments sometimes overreach and impose regulatory statutes that are unnecessary and genuinely prevent some businesses from thriving. I guess you’d have to argue them on a case by case basis when you come right down to it so I do not intend to paint with too wide a brush here. But I am mystified by the attitude among fellow Christians that especially when it comes to God’s creation, most all environmental regulations are bad and thus anyone who, like Scott Pruitt, spends his days peeling them back are somehow heroic figures.
When you read the Pentateuch and especially Leviticus, it is interesting to note how often God’s laws for Israel included regulations on the use of the land. The land and the animals and the birds are included in Sabbath laws and the land is also to be given a rest on sabbath years and in the once-every-fifty-years Jubilee as well. Of course, Israel mostly did not follow those laws and so by the time you get to the Minor Prophets, the land itself is depicted as rebelling against Israel for its carelessness and recklessness even as the leaders of Israel are upbraided for being so in love with commerce and business that they cannot wait for the Sabbath to be over every week so they can get back to making money. “‘When will the New Moon be over that we may sell grain, and the Sabbath be ended that we may market wheat?’–skimping on the measure, boosting the price and cheating with dishonest scales” (Amos 8:5).
If it may be worth regulating Facebook to protect my user profile and personal data, it is surely worth it on a regular basis to protect God’s good creation. That’s what being stewards means, tending and keeping the earth for the sake of the God who loved it so much, he sent the Son of God who had spoken that creation into being in the beginning to die in order to redeem it all into what will one day be a wonderful New Creation. Seems to me that one of the myriad things that points to is the idea that in a fallen world where the creation groans, our attitude toward environmental regulations should be a lot warmer than it sometimes seems to be.