There is a crisis and it is serious. At this point in history there is enough scientific evidence to explain and prove that global climate change is indeed happening, despite what our president has to say about it. I would consider myself an environmentalist, a tree hugger if you will. I feel spiritually connected to nature. This idea of environmentalism has been described by some as a spiritual or religious movement.
If indeed environmentalism could be described as a religious or spiritual movement then maybe science and religion are more connected than we think. Environmentalism, religion, and spirituality are three words I would have never connected to one another until I started reading the book Ecology and Religion by John Grim and Mary Evelyn Tucker.Their book is “based on an exploration of religions as vehicles encouraging change of attitudes and value regarding the environment.” Over the next couples of posts I hope to explore this idea of religious ecology with my readers.
By examining sacred text quotes we can develop an understanding of the relationship between religion and the environment.
Genesis Chapter 1
Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.” So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.
The word”dominion” in the first line dictates the relationship between humankind and the rest of the creatures on earth. The word dominion has a negative connotation and takes on the meaning of control, dominance or power. There is not an equal relationship between humankind and other creatures; in fact humankind controls the other creatures that inhabit the earth. Dominion also brings about the question of responsibility, just because one has control over someone or something else does that also mean one would have the responsibility of watching or caring for someone or something else? To me dominion means you do what you want, just as a King who rules with absolute power can choose to rule with an iron fist. The relationship between humankind and animals can be explained using one word, control, but the relationship between the creator and humankind is much different. According to this religious tradition God created humans in his own image, he had a specific purpose to making humans and in doing so they share a special relationship with God. This relationship to the creator makes humankind the closest connection to the creator himself and allows humans to assert this dominion over other creatures.
The Bhagavad Gita
“I am the Self seated in the heart of all creatures. I am the beginning, the middle, and the very end of all beings.” All beings have, therefore to be treated alike. Sloka 20, Chapter 10.
The religious tradition of Hinduism the Bhagavad Gita is much different than that of Genesis. The creator says that the creatures and humankind shall be treated equally. Not only shall they be treated equally but the creator is a part of the creatures and humankind unlike Genesis where the creator creates humankind in his likeness, to mirror his image but he himself is not a part of humankind. The word Self refers to many gods of one divine being – Brahman. In the Bhagavad Gita the creator or Brahman is present in both the spiritual and material world, he is within every part of the universe. One world cannot exist without the other because the creator is the beginning, the middle, and the end. If you omit the middle, the story ceases to be a story. The very last sentence reiterates that this religious tradition believes that the relationship between humankind and the rest of the creatures that roam the earth are equal, unlike Genesis where the religious tradition is that humankind and the creatures of the earth do not share an equal relationship, but humankind has dominion over the creatures of the earth.
The idea of religious ecology, that which incorporates religion and the environment together will explain what might be the contributions of religions towards environmentalism and this is what we will uncover in my next post.