A Year Without Toilet Paper

toilet paper

toilet paper

Could you go for a year without using toilet paper?

Colin Beavan did.

The AP reports a story about Beavan and his family, who for the past year have sought to make zero impact on the environment around them.

They shut off the electricity to their apartment. They refused to use anything disposable, and they wouldn’t buy anything that was new. They traveled by bicycle, only bought fresh food from farmers, put away their television, and even gave up toilet paper. They didn’t want to leave a single fingerprint on the earth.

I admire Beavan and his family for their desire to preserve the Earth. But as I thought about Beavan and his year-long experiment, I couldn’t help but think of Genesis 1:28, where God says to Adam and Eve:

?Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.?

Based on Genesis 1:28 it would seem that Colin Beavan’s desire to make zero impact on the earth is unbiblical. God has given humanity a mandate to subdue the earth and to have dominion over it. We don’t exist on an equal plane with the rest of creation. The earth exists so that we might subdue it, and make it useful to us, and receive benefit from it. To make no impact on the earth is to ignore the mandate given to us by God.

In his book Business for the Glory of God, Wayne Grudem comments:

God’s command to “subdue” the earth implies doing productive work to make the resources of the earth useful for themselves [Adam and Eve] and others. This is what he wanted Adam and Eve to do, and that is one of the things he wants us to do as well.

We’re called to be stewards of the earth. Yes, it’s possible to sinfully destroy and harm the environment, instead of stewarding it. But it’s also possible to try and preserve the environment too much. God created the earth so that we might use it for our good.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going out to purchase some toilet paper.

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+photo by Andrei!


  • Courtney says:

    This is a touchy subject for me. I’ll give you toilet paper because it breaks down, but I have a real problem with “disposable” items that, once their usefulness has expired, go on to live their lives in landfills. What you have failed to consider in Beavan’s experiment is that they obviously used SOMETHING, it just wasn’t what you consider normal. I’ll even venture to say that they subdued the earth better than you do. Here’s what I mean by that… paper products today may have an itty bitty bit of natural products in them(tree pulp, etc), however, for the most part they are chemicals(bleach, etc). UNpaper users(like my family)use fabrics made of unbleached cotton, hemp, bamboo, etc, rather than traditional diapers, napkins, and paper towels. So, who is practicing better stewardship?? Those who make and use sustainable products from the earth’s resources or those who create toxic waste that will forever live in a landfill?

    Just something to think about. :)

  • Dan Smith says:

    Ok, I’m going to disagree with this, but only because I think it’s an issue that can be disagreed with and not send anyone to hell. I can’t imagine that God thought cars, massive power plants, and throwing trash into huge piles was a great idea for subduing the earth.

    In my opinion, Gen 1:28 is a mandate to be overall in charge of the earth, not mar it with our own handiwork. Feel free to disagree, and I’m not ready to go without toilet paper either, but I will be as green I can.

  • Those are good thoughts Courtney. It would seem to me to be both a spiritual issue and a physical one.

    From my perspective, Beavan wasn’t practicing stewardship. He was trying to leave zero impact on the Earth, which I don’t believe is Biblical. We are supposed to leave an impact on the earth.

    I can’t necessarily say that using organic products is right and using chemicals is wrong, or the other way around. We’re called to subdue the earth, and it would seem that there is a lot of gray area in that command. That’s why there seems to be a spiritual element involved as well. We need wisdom on how to most effectively subdue the earth without wasting the earth.

    Does that make sense?

    This isn’t something I’ve thought alot about, so I’m still formulating my thoughts. Thanks for your comment.

  • Helpful thoughts Dan.

    I’m not so sure that all the things you mentioned are bad, because in a lot of ways they are actually helping to negate some of the effects of sin.

    Power plants for example, make subduing the earth much easier. They make hospitals, restaurants, and car repair shops possible.

    Does that make sense?

    As I said to Courtney, I’m still formulating my thoughts on this one…

  • Jeff Dories says:

    I think that one of the words that has had the most impact on contemporary Christian is “dominion” from Genesis and a debate as to what it means (I will deal with subdue in another post). For many centuries dominion was defined as *caretaker*, but with the rise of modern capitalism and industrialization many churches have changed the meaning to mean something close to *domination* or exploitation. This change has really affected our society and polluted our environment to the point that cancer and asthma rates near cities are at all time highs.

    The word for dominion in Hebrew is “radah”. It is a word that denotes royalty, as in a King has dominion over his subjects. So, let’s look at how “radah” has been used in other parts of the Old Testament. In Psalm 72, “radah” was used in regards to the coronation of Solomon. It says “May he have dominion from sea to sea”… But, importantly, how does it say he should use this dominion? Verses 12-14 clarify:

    “He delivers the needy when they call, the poor and those who have no helper. He has pity on the weak and the needy, and saves the lives of the needy. From oppression and violence he redeems their life; and precious is their blood in his sight”

    So, when God says we are to have “dominion” over the Earth, if we use Solomon’s example as a guide, he clearly is saying we need to “help” nature, have “pity” on it, and “save the lives” of the parts of nature that are weak. It also says that a part of dominion is protecting the Earth from “oppression and violence” and that it is “precious in his sight”.

    Think this is an isolated description? It is not.

    Another example of how Kings should act to their dominion appears in Ezekial 34:4:

    “You have not strengthened the weak, you have not healed the sick, you have not bound up the injured… but with force and harshness you have ruled them”

    So, God condemns Kings that treat their dominion with “force and harshness.” Think about this – do we treat nature with force and harshness? We lop off the tops of mountains that causes run-off that kills many people, we pollute our rivers, our air, fill our landfills beyond capacity with things that are not necessary, etc. If this is not harshness, I am not sure what is. Would God condemn us in the same way?

    When pulling Gen 1:28 out of context, dominion can be read as domination, but when we read it with context, the fact that God wanted us to take care of the Earth is unquestionable throughout the Bible. For instance:

    Genesis 2:15 – “The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.”

    Job 12:7-10 – “But ask the animals, and they will teach you, or the birds of the air, and they will tell you; or speak to the earth, and it will teach you, or let the fish of the sea inform you. Which of all these does not know that the hand of the LORD has done this?”

    Leviticus 25:23-24 – “The land must not be sold permanently, because the land is mine and you are but aliens and my tenants. Throughout the country that you hold as a possession, you must provide for the redemption of the land.”

    ~ These verses are the most powerful – we do not own the land, it is a gift that is loaned to us. How are we going to treat this gift?

    Jeremiah 2:7 – “I brought you into a fertile land to eat its fruit and rich produce. But you came and defiled my land and made my inheritance detestable.”

    ~ species are dying at quicker paces every year, we live in an increasingly throw away society, and we consistently pollute the water – are we making the land “detestable”?

    Revelation 11:18 – “The nations were angry; and your wrath has come. The time has come for judging the dead, and for rewarding your servants the prophets and your saints and those who reverence your name, both small and great ? and for destroying those who destroy the earth.”

    So, when we think of ourselves of rulers, or Kings, of the Earth (having dominion) – which is the better King: 1. The King that exploits their subjects, drains them of everything they have, use and abuse them to the point that many of them die off, etc.; or 2. The King that loves their subjects, cares for them so that they replenish themselves and refresh themselves, and do not allow their subjects to die off because of abuse.

    When we view ourselves as rulers or kings of nature, it seems to me that it provides even more of a mandate to take care of our subjects (nature) as any good King would.

    It should be embarrassing that Christians are 1/4th of the world population, yet we control 2/3rds of the Earth and the portions of the Earth that we control are the most polluted by far.

    We need to take care of our inheritance and encourage other Christians to do the same. On a practical level what does this mean? Do I think that we should go without toilet paper? No (unless you want to that is). But, be conscious of what our impact is on the Earth – for instance, the puffiest toilet paper comes from the Oldest, most beautiful trees, whereas, we can easily pay a few cents more to buy toilet paper that comes from recycled materials. Is this a reasonable change we can make? Of course. Same with recycling, energy conservation, making the most of what we have (not throwing away perfectly good things), etc. etc.

    There are many reasonable things that we can do to show how much we cherish God’s gift to us and to act as Humble Kings (and Queens) towards our dominion.

  • Thanks for your thoughts Jeff. I appreciate the amount of time and thought you’ve put into this subject, and generally I would agree with you. Just a few distinctions I would make.

    – I don’t think we should equate our relationship with nature to the relationship of a King and his subjects. Gen 1.29 makes it clear that creation was given to humanity for the enjoyment of humanity, whereas a King’s subjects are not for the enjoyment of a king. Plus, I don’t think the use of the same Hebrew word necessarily indicates identical meaning. For example Lev. 26:17 uses the same word in a distinctly negative way.

    – I agree that we as Christians should steward the earth. To destroy the earth is unwise and ungrateful. However, I would always want to maintain the position that creation was made for us, and that we are called to subdue the earth in wise ways. In this post I was simply trying to contrast that position with the position that says we should leave zero impact on the earth.

    Thanks for your thoughts.

  • Jeff Dories says:

    Thanks Stephen, i actually have some thoughts on the word “subdue” as well, but that will have to wait for now, as I have a lot of work tonight. I probably will write about it tomorrow and would love to see your perspective on it. Thanks again!

  • Ashley says:

    I am so thankful for this post. I’m taking a “Religion and Ecology” course this semester at a secular university. Every class I hear how Christians are responsible for our culture’s disregard for the environment and how making zero or minimal impact on the Earth should be our ultimate goal. While I believe that making environmentally conscious choices is wise, simply saving the Earth will not save us. It is refreshing to hear truth from God’s word amidst all of the voices urging us to move on and ignore passages like this. Thanks Stephen!

  • Jeff says:

    There are, of course, two sides to every horse. And you can fall off either. So let me give the perspective of someone who’s been falling off the horse on the “don’t you liberals touch my SUV” side and is moving steadily toward the “reduce your carbon footprint” side.

    We’re completely right when we say that the earth is something put here for our use and enjoyment. While we are commanded to rule the earth well, the environment does not have the same moral implications as a fellow human being (as Stephen pointed out). That’s why we can eat a cow and not a human. One is not like the other. We can exercise a certain unilateral dominion over one that we can’t over the other.

    That said, most people (conservative Christians, especially) shrink from doing some digging into exactly HOW they can be good stewards of their resources (whether time, money, or the environment). There’s plenty of information out there. But most of us know that if we start looking, we won’t like what we see. So we don’t look. “Don’t read me that book on the food industry because I won’t want to eat anymore.” It’s not as serious as saying “Don’t read me that book on human rights abuses because I’ll feel like I have to do something about it.” It’s not as serious, but it does show an underlying willingness to say “certain places in my life are not open to the prying of a Christian conscience.”

    My hope is that people will open their hearts first to ANY poor stewardship that they may be involved in. That we wouldn’t have knee-jerk reactions to environmentalists trying to “save the planet” but that we recognize the legitimacy of so much of their concerns. And that we would open our hearts to legitimate charges of bad stewardship, repent, and allow the Spirit to direct us in God-honoring ways.

  • Thanks for your balanced perspective Jeff. I appreciate that you’re willing to dig into God’s word and other info to find God-honoring ways to steward the earth.

  • k nation says:

    an interesting read, thanks.

    If I may suggest – I reckon the first and last sentences of this paragraph could (or have?) come across as saying the opposite to what you were trying to –

    “Based on Genesis 1:28 it would seem that Colin Beavan?s desire to make zero impact on the earth is unbiblical. … To make no impact on the earth is to ignore the mandate given to us by God.”

    … because you’re saying: “it’s biblical to make an impact on the earth so we must”, but the ‘impact’ language usually has negative connotations in environmental-speak, so you could be unintentionally read that way.

    I have another couple of musings –
    Post-fall, our impact on the earth even as the most careful Christians will never be ‘zero’ pretty much by definition of the Fall. The God-like dominion over it that we are commanded to exercise will never be perfect and the earth and its resources will always degenerate. (which is not to say: thus we shouldn’t bother trying to keep our ‘impact’ minimal, but to acknowledge that our priority is preaching the Gospel -alongside, but not just- environmentalism) Praise God that the re-creation we await is a physical, material one!

    And on this note, I was wondering just the other day how Jesus will rule over a re-created earth that will be wonderfully perfect, never to be marred by environmental degradation, yet perhaps somehow also using perfect technologies (that in the world as -we- know it, have been so responsible for both good and bad). ie. won’t it be so intriguing and wonderful and interesting to see how he will do it?! and won’t we praise Him for doing it with such magisterial wisdom and intelligence.

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