photo: James Jordan/CC BY-ND
by Matthew McDermott, New York, NY
After reviewing the major religions of the world's stances on the environment, it seems pretty clear to me that there are more commonalities than differences. In the realm of metaphysics there are genuine and significant splits between Dharmic faiths ( Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism) and the Abrahamic faiths ( Judaism, Christianity, Islam), but in the realm of practical action to protect our shared environment, there is a great common ground.
No Religious Path Advocates Environmental Destruction
In other words, while there are differences in motivation for environmental protection between a Hindu, a Buddhist, a Jew, and a Christian--the first two generally seeing humanity as a integral part of nature, the latter two likely seeing the man's relationship to the natural world through the eyes of a caretaker--none of that matters when it comes to the need to preserve our water, our air, our land in an unpolluted state, in growing healthy food in a way that doesn't harm the land, et cetera.
Even more bluntly, there is not a religious path that says environmental destruction is a good thing, that pollution is a good thing, that dirty water are good. Such a belief system doesn't exist--unless you count some of the musings of industrialists looking at billowing smokestacks in the 19th century as a belief system. Maybe it is.
As I've said throughout this series, brief as each exploration is, environmental protection is an intrinsic theme in every world faith--even if there has always been vary degrees of appreciation and application of those beliefs. Which is also true of every non-theistic belief system, it should be said.
Why Are Greens Afraid To Talk About Spirituality?
If there is such a large common ground in support of environmental protection amongst the world's religions, why does it often seem then that religion and spiritual beliefs get sidelined in public discussion of going green?
Why is the ethical, the moral, the spiritual component of our efforts to tread more lightly on the planet not discussed more?
After all, the polluting class, who stubbornly refuse to bend from business-as-usual methods of production and attitudes towards environmental protection, regularly invoke beliefs in the superiority of the unfettered free market, when they are asked to not make such a mess of the world.
So why do environmentalists all too often shy away from talking about the deeper aspects of their beliefs? Why do we favor talking about rational self-interest when discussing more wind power, or clean air, or green jobs? Why not instead talk about enthusiastic love of life, compassion for all beings, the sacred imperative to live in balance, in an ecological sustainable way?
I've gone into this more recently, talking about the need to cultivate love of life, love of nature, and how this will bring about the external aspects of living a green life in a green society - so need to rehash that any more than I have.
Cultivate Holism to Develop A New Paradigm
I will say though that without holistically incorporating, and publicly talking about, a spiritual element to the modern environmental movement I am convinced we will fail to bring about the change we seek, at least in any sort of lasting way.
In the editor's message in the newest issue of Resurgence, Satish Kumar makes the case more eloquently than I, so I'll just quote part of it (apologies to Kumar for grabbing a great deal of his wonderful words here):
If the green movement wishes to be radical and effective and wants to embrace a new paradigm of the future, then our work has to based in harmony and wholeness incorporating spiritual wellbeing, artistic imagination, social cohesion and reverence for the whole of life.
Through the observation and analysis, experiment and evidence, reason and logic of our great scientists, we know the truth of harmony and the laws of Nature such as gravity, Gaia, relativity and evolution.
Through words, colors or images, music, movement, poetry and stories we communicate and express our experience of the universal harmony. And through reverence and restraint, through simplicity and frugality, reflection and meditation, synthesis and spirituality, dialogue and philosophy we learn to live in harmony with the universe and with ourselves.
But much of the environmental movement is missing out on this holistic approach.
Limiting itself to working within the partial parameters of secular rationalism, facts, figures and pragmatic arguments, the green movement has failed to make an impact on changing the direction of politics, business, academia and media. The culture of consumerism and materialism continues to intensify and there is little prospect of real change if we confine ourselves to green growth, renewable energy and very few other areas of policy.
We need to develop a bigger vision and to present a bigger picture to the world.
So what I charge you all with is going deeper within both yourself and your tradition. There's no need to change your path if that path is working for you; I hope this series has shown that. Go deeper to develop that holism, that bridging of spirit, science, and society. Develop your wonder and willpower, your conscience, compassion and consciousness. Develop a greener spirit, if you will.
More on Religion & The Environment
All of Existence Should Be Revered: Hinduism & The Environment
A Responsibility To Defend A Fragile & Glorious World: Judaism & The Environment
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