Religion and ecology

There has been a great deal of attention paid to the new advocacy on environmental issues by several Evangelical leaders. As the Economist reports, environmentalists and religious groups are allies on environmental issues across the globe:

In many other parts of the world, secular greens and religious people find themselves on the same side of public debates: sometimes hesitantly, sometimes tactically, and sometimes fired by a sense that they have deep things in common.

One more case from India: ornithologists who want to save three species of vulture (endangered because cattle carcasses are tainted by chemicals) see their best ally as the Parsees, who on religious grounds use vultures to dispose of human corpses.

In China, organised religion is much weaker and conservationists also feel more lonely. But Pan Yue, the best-known advocate of green concerns within the Chinese government, says ancient creeds, like Taoism, offer the best hope of making people treat the earth more kindly.

Other tie-ups between faith and ecology are less obvious. In Sweden, the national Lutheran Church, working with Japanese Shintos, recently held a multi-faith meeting on forestry. They agreed to set a new standard for the care of forests owned or managed by religious bodies—in other words, they said, 5% of the world's woods.

This month, representatives of many faiths, including a local Lutheran bishop and a shivering Buddhist monk (see above) gathered in Greenland to talk to scientists and ecologists. Patriarch Bartholomew, the senior bishop of the Orthodox Church, led his impressively robed guests in a silent supplication for the planet.

The terms of the transaction between faith and ecology vary a lot. In places like Scandinavia, where religion is weakish, a cleric who “goes green” may reach a wider audience; in countries like India, where faith is powerful, spiritual messages touch more hearts than secular ones do. That doesn't stop some environmental scientists from saying they are being hijacked by clerics in search of relevance. But Mary Evelyn Tucker, of America's Yale University, says secular greens badly need their spiritual allies: “Religions provide a cultural integrity, a spiritual depth and moral force which secular approaches lack.”

Martin Palmer, of the British-based Alliance of Religions and Conservation, says faiths often have the clearest view of the social and economic aspects of an environmental problem. In Newfoundland, he notes, conservationists put curbs on cod fishing—and left the churches to care for families whose living was ruined.

Still, one selling point often used by the religious in their dialogue with science—the fact that faith encourages people to think long-term—may be a mixed blessing. The most pessimistic scientists say mankind has a decade at most to curb greenhouse gases and fend off disastrous global warming; that doesn't leave much time to settle the finer points of metaphysics.

Read it all here.

Comments (1)

But does faith necessarily encourage you to think long-term? There are some evangelicals who believe the church's primary task, if not its only task, is to save souls. Saving the planet is not their concern.

Pope John Paul focused on the rights of today's unborn. Did he issue any encyclicals about the future?

More generally it is not unfair to say that most churches, from the denomination level down to the local parish, are bringing up the rear environmentally.

Has your church done an energy audit?

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