The Earth's natural beauty and bounty have inspired awe, reverence, and spiritual passions for millennia. Today, religious and environmental leaders around the world are working to connect the religious traditions that support nature with environmental activism and protection.
This emerging alliance of religion and ecology is rooted in a belief that environmental protection can be promoted by activating a sense of the earth's sacred qualities. It’s happening all around the globe.
Buddhist monks ordain trees in Thailand to prevent their destruction; Hindu communities in India encourage water conservation and tree planting; indigenous groups in Latin America and the South Pacific organize to protect their forests and homelands. A remarkable example of interreligious cooperation around reforestation is ZIRRCON (Zimbabwean Institute of Religious Research and Ecological Conservation), which brings together Shosoni tribes with Dutch Reformed Christian Churches to plant over one million trees annually.
“Every religion encourages respect for nature,” said ocean conservationist Carl Safina, the founder of Blue Ocean Institute. “Many Biblical passages encourage or direct Jews and Christians to act as Creation’s stewards. The Koran encourages Muslims to examine the beauty of nature with curiosity and attentiveness. Buddhism emphasizes restraint.”
Safina organizes gatherings of religious and environmental thinkers to find pathways for working together to secure the planet’s future.
Religions play an important role in promoting persuasive visions of a more sustainable future because they are key repositories of human civilization's enduring values, as well as indispensable motivators in moral transformation.
And they clearly affect how people value the environment, on both a local and global level. For example, the Earth Ministry in the Seattle region promotes environmental concern in more than 170 Christian churches. The National Religious Partnership for the Environment (NRPE) has organized Jewish and Christian groups around this issue in the United States.
Often some conservative religious movements are thought to be opposed to the cause of environmentalism. Indeed, some conservative Christians in the United States, for example, tend to be opposed the kinds of government regulation and oversight that environmentalists clamor for.
But while religions preserve traditions, they also have a history of provoking social change. They can be limiting but also liberating in their outlooks. During the 20th century, for example, religious leaders and theologians helped give birth to progressive movements such as civil rights for minorities, social justice for the poor, and liberation for women.
And a similar tide seems to be rising for the preservation of the Earth’s natural resources, even among more conservative groups.
In 2007, a group of Evangelical Christian leaders joined Safina and other environmental scientists on a trip to Alaska to observe climate change first hand.
Mary Evelyn Tucker is Professor at Yale University and founding member of the Forum on Religion and Ecology.
What do you think?
The aspects of environmentalism that are inherently political tend to turn off religious individuals that shun policy solutions. The opportunity to attract these people through innovative approaches is ripe for the involvement of social entrepreneurs. Where do you think this movement should begin?
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