Religion and Ecology
Religion and Ecology
Every thread of the problems faced by the present human society can be traced back to first industrial revolution of late 18th century and early 19th century that took place in Britain and from where it was embraced by the entire world. The industrial revolution set in motion the process of changes that have since then subsequently transformed the character of not only human society but of entire earth (Gatta, 7). Air, water, land and sky, all bear the effects of the changes inflicted by human march through industrial revolution and the effects have not been pleasant by any order.
The modern society is the product of new-classical theory of economics and the anthropocentric view of environment, both of which advocates completely human centered progress and development utilizing all the resources and potentials of the nature and the environment around them (Nassar, 40-46). This view has been at the core of all the human activities and development planning taking place since more than 200 years now and it has encouraged massive rate of consumption and utilization of all the natural resources at an ever increasing scale.
As almost a direct evidence of the expanding human footprint on earth, our population has increased from 1 billion to around 7 billion in past 150 years (Gatta, 20). This growth is based on the foundation of an efficient but brutal system that mastered the art of misusing the full spectrum of available natural resources, causing their widespread destruction, contamination, and debilitation.
Examples of this destruction can be seen in extensive deforestation around the world, rapid destruction of rainforests in Brazil and Africa, fertile soil erosion, severe contamination of several important rivers of world due to continuous effluence of industrial and municipal sewage, air pollution, ozone layer destruction, depletion of non renewable energy resources especially oil and natural gas, global warming and climatic change. The extensive damage to the natural resources and ecology has deeply imbalanced the natural system, creating a disharmony and conflict with human development and its environment.
The destruction of ecology and nature have caused unprecedented rise in extinction rates of animals and plants, who have found their ecological niches disappearing due to human activities. The emergence of massive urban centers around the world where millions of people live within few square kilometers of area exert tremendous pressure on the environmental sources which has put earth’s biodiversity and consequently humanity’s own survival chances at risk (Gatta, 62).
The threat that human development is causing to the entire living world, including its own self, has not remained unnoticed and there many global social and political movements have started during past 30 years, with sincere intentions and efforts to create and implement an alternative system of social and economic model where human interests and development share a symbiotic relationship with nature, environment and ecology; where advancement and development have mutual linkage across the entire natural continuum (Nassar, 68).
These efforts have been so far varyingly successful, where some countries and regions have adopted one set of selective steps for ecological integration, while others have adopted different set of steps, all determined by their economic convenience and financial constructs (Gatta, 65-69). This has led to an inward analysis and evaluation process in ecology and environmental thinking, which looks at the very basics of our social development and structure and try to re-align them with many old and yet existing religious and community view of social development, which is embedded in ecology and environment.
But the question of human pressure and influence on its ecology has several parallel sides, each of which poses its own crucial question. The first question that comes up is that, is human species is constrained by any limiting factor- does its growth and expansion has a maximum attainable size, or can it continue to swell indefinitely, maximizing the resources for itself, for its need for infinite consumption and consequently infinite growth?
If this is not possible , then is it possible for human beings to exist and thrive in exact optimum conditions, where population growth, consumption requirements, and growth needs are exactly balanced with the ecosystem, and stay in this balance forever? If the attainment of this balance is not possible then does it mean that for its own survival humanity is causing destruction of other species, destabilizing the ecosystem, and tripping the biosphere? (Gatta, 141-147) Religion and Ecology
While all the religions of world have a strong foundation in ethical learning and teachings, with distinct emphasis on concepts of good and bad, divine presence, and determinism, the ancient cultures and indigenous traditions have taken this concept much further to include divinity and God as a part of their local environment and daily living system. The essential principle is same in all the religions, which states that God has created the entire world, including all the nature features, plants and animals, and human beings.
However, as it is seen, some of the earlier interpretations of modern religions, such as Christianity, took a rather human centric religious approach (Gatta, 208). In essence, they popularized the notion that man is designed to be the ultimate consumer of all the natural resources, or in other words, the whole natural world exists in order to serve and meet human needs and requirements. This view in considered as one of the acting principle behind neo classical theory of economics as well as anthropocentric world view as discussed earlier.
The view of ancient and traditional cultures and religions does not take such an exclusive view of human influence. For example it does not recognize human beings as isolated and separated from their surrounding environment and ecology, neither it sees humans as controller of the natural resources and final arbitrator of their destiny (Nassar, 71). The learning that we receive from these traditional cultures and religions is that we must recognize ourselves as parts of a widely distributed and ranging biotic communities and ecosystems, each of which has its own important role to play in design and creation of God and nature.
Human beings occupy a very important niche in nature, but yet its only one of the numerous niches, while the complete scope of the ecology goes much beyond the human considerations and interests (Gatta, 219). Then, there are many internal and subtle relations present between man’s interaction with nature and vice versa. Ecology is not only a biological function of our existence but it also regulates the cultural gradient, the behavioral landscape and the social outlook of people.
Therefore, when we deeply disturb the ecosystem through persistent and determined set of harmful activities- acidification of natural resources, toxifying land and water bodies, resource depletion, modification and destruction of habitats and unintended or deliberate elimination of native species, then we destroy our cultural tie from the ecosystem. Howe we act and when we act should always remain attuned to our environmental and ecological perspective.
The lessons from the past, and the ecological wisdom of ancient religions should form our guiding principles at every stage of intervention or interference in the ecosystem. Taking a step ahead, it should create a pro-active approach to look into the possible avenues of meaningful interference and interaction to search for, identify and implement the ways in which our impact on our own ecosystem is as free of protuberance as possible (Gatta, 223-232). Our actions should be well reasoned out and their consequences considered in all the possible ranges.
The ecosystem balance is dependent upon a vast number of factors, many of them yet unknown or improperly understood, and therefore even an unintended disturbance on our part produce enormous and unexpected ecological backlash. These backlashes symbolize the failure of man’s relation with nature, failure of the understanding and appreciation of ecosystem’s intrinsic value in defining the human niche, and a failure to secure corrective steps to improve the interaction.
The ancient and indigenous cultures, such as Inca, red Indians, Buddhism and Chinese culture, took a very different view of the role of humanity in the nature’s order. They did not see nature and its bountiful gifts as resources that require taming, mastering and exploitation. Quite contrary, they viewed man in a wholesome, nurturing and co-dependent relation with the nature, where every aspect of nature, whether it’s a tree or an animal, shares a relationship with the man.
Explaining the meaning and depth of this relationship, the older religions and cultures state that as the entire nature is a creation of the God, therefore it’s every part is a close a representation of God, and hence their destruction or violation is a direct violation of God’s own creation (Gatta, 237-241). This idea is further developed in eastern religions where man is viewed as just one part of the infinite range of nature’s creations, with no superiority or ascendency accorded to him over other forms of life or natural features.
Human being hold a place in the continuum of natural order, but apart from their wisdom, there is nothing to distinguish them, or accord them the status of master of other resources. The implications of this view cut deep and profound, even for the standard of modern environmentalism and ecological movements. A majority of these movements still see the issue from the point of saving earth and nature from human desire and want of growth-insinuating a weak and fragile nature and a powerful human civilization which is threatening the vulnerable nature (Nassar, 91-96)!
This is Older traditions, cultures and religions, take quite an opposite view on this issue, where they see human beings as fragile, vulnerable and dependent upon the nature for their own survival. Nature, on the other hand is all powerful, protean, strong, and controlling lives and deaths-in fact nature is deemed so powerful that it is worshipped in many ancient civilizations and we can see why- the human survival is impossible if the nature dies around (Nassar, 107-111).
We have always considered the nature and ecology as taken for granted in our environment; however, if we once stop to consider the situation when all the standing forests have been cut down, all the rivers polluted and turned into industrial sewage, all the natural diversity in animal and vegetation life lost on account of human exploits then it is not difficult to see that the this situation signifies the end of humanity as well-with no resources left, no natural cover to fall back, and left in a barren and dry world, human beings would run out of their capacity to struggle and survive (Gatta, 151-156).
Thus the teachings of the indigenous cultures and older religions is towards ingraining humanity into a natural system that is based on mutual benefit, organic growth and interdependent development. This is a holistic, broad, and profound approach, which makes man a factor in the nature’s grand design of world, brining understanding, compassion, humbleness and realization of the coherence and integrity that is pre-requisite for our existence.
Gatta, John. Making Nature Sacred: Literature, Religion, and Environment in America from the Puritans to the Present. Oxford University Press, 2004. 291 p. Nasar, Sayyed Hossein. Religion & the Order of Nature. Oxford University Press, 1996 . 312 p
University/College: University of Chicago
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Date: 30 December 2016
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