Today is Earth Day. We use this day to raise awareness of environmental issues and to encourage people to do something about them, but one thing that is often overlooked is the basic perspective that people have on the world. The perspective that may allow them to ignore the problems, or may force them to confront the issues. That perspective is often influenced or even entirely dictated by religious views, and it can differ dramatically from one religion to another, and even from one practitioner to another, based on the same set of scriptures.
It is not uncommon to hear Christians who follow “Dominion Theology” claiming not only a right, but a God given right to do anything they want with anything non-human on the planet. Whether it’s polluting or otherwise destroying the land, air or water, or using and abusing animals in any way they see fit, they have no remorse and no hesitation because they “know” that God himself said that it was okay.
And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.
In an overlapping group, there are even large numbers of people who believe that what we do here today doesn’t matter because the end of the world is imminent, not through our own rampant destruction, but by God’s design. They believe that they are living in the “last days”, and the worse things are, the more they think they’re right. There is little reason for these people to be concerned about the long-term environmental impact that we are having, and it’s unlikely that many of them care.
Fortunately, some of the more reasonable Christians have seen the problems with these other views and have started calling for proper stewardship of our planet. This still seems to be a small minority view among Christian leaders, or one that most don’t care to stress, but as environmental awareness continues to spread throughout the population as a whole, more and more of these church leaders may be forced to lend their support to the environment.
Islam on the other hand, for all of its violent reputation, actually does go beyond Judaism and Christianity in its scriptures, officially enjoining some greater care for animals and the environment than either of its relatives. Sadly the potential environmental boon that Muslims could provide is currently lacking due to the lack of a concerted effort to make a difference in Islamic countries.
There are religions which more clearly teach responsible behavior. Although it may seem counter-intuitive to people who see all of history as a continuous march from less to more perfect forms, some of the more ancient religions provide a more modern progressive perspective on the environment and other life on Earth.
We do not have complete and accurate records of the most ancient spiritual beliefs of native Americans or others like them around the world, but from what we know of their more recent past, they appear to have led very sustainable lives using only the resources they needed rather than the maximum they could acquire as so many of us seem to do today.
In better documented ancient religions and philosophies such as Buddhism, Hinduism and Jainism, we see even more thought being put into our relationship with the world. Rather than seeing everything around us as being placed here under our dominion, all three see the interconnected world we live in, and look for our place in it. They recognize that we must relate to it not as a race of heartless dictators, but as an important part of the world, as is all life.
Jains in particular, along with many Buddhists and Hindus, believe in and practice “ahimsa” (doing no harm). Jains go so far as to avoid harming insects and even plants whenever possible. This may sound too extreme or too difficult to most modern people, but nevertheless it does have the least impact on other life and the environment as a whole.
Realistically, for most people living today, the best we can hope for is a reasonable middle ground. With as much as 2/3 of the world’s population believing in some version of the Abrahamic Mythos however, this task is made much more difficult. It has taken decades for the environmental movement to begin making serious inroads in mainstream Western culture, and for these gains to continue and garner the results we all need, religious leaders must either lead or stand aside.
We can’t afford to ignore dominionist ideologies any longer. Ideas promoted by religions are some of the most difficult to stamp out, and the idea that the world is our plaything is in desperate need of retirement. So please, discuss these issues with your friends and family, even your clergy if you are religious. Do your part to put ideas like this out to pasture along with slavery, the subjugation of women and all of the other terrible injustices which have been promoted through religion.