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Archive for Saturday, April 22, 2006

Faith in the earth

Roots of most religions call for nurturing the natural world

April 22, 2006

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When Mehdi Khosh recycles an aluminum can, he does it with God in mind.

"I think if anyone looks at nature, it reflects the qualities and attributes of their God," says Khosh, a member of the Lawrence Bahai Community. "If anybody believes in God, they have to care about the environment and the land, too."

While the world's religions vary greatly on many of their details, people of most - or perhaps all - religions can come together to celebrate Earth Day. The need to care for the earth is found in many religious texts and is shared by many who believe in some sort of religion or spirituality.

"As far as I know, there is no faith that says, 'Let's destroy the earth,'" Khosh says. "We all respect it in a different way and have a different understanding."

'God's land'

Donald Worster, a Kansas University professor who studies environmental history, says people of faith have made their mark on environmental movements through the years.

Japan, in part because of its predominately Buddhist faith, is known for fairly strong environmentalism, he says. And one of the modern world's greatest conservationists, Sierra Club founder John Muir, was a deeply religious Presbyterian.

But that doesn't mean all faiths - or the people who practice them - are consistent in their views.

"The major international faith traditions ... have changed so much over time that they cannot be said to have any single, predictable or persistent view about caring for the environment, or any other ethical behavior," Worster says.

"In the U.S., think of Tom DeLay (the former House majority leader), whose Christianity has served to prop up his belief in capitalism and anti-environmentalism. But also think of the new evangelical 'earth stewards,' who emphasize that humans are responsible for taking care of God's creation."

The notion of environmental stewardship is a common theme among religions. The Rev. Bill Woodard, pastor at West Side Presbyterian Church, 1024 Kasold Drive, says the Bible doesn't say humans are more important than other creation - only that we have a responsibility to care for the earth.

"We're called to be stewards of God's land and God's creation," Woodard says. "We're not the owner, we're caretakers."

Obviously, there are times when different people's ideas of stewardship come into conflict. But Woodard says the question "How can we best be God's steward?" should be central to many decisions.

Different faiths, similar views

For those who practice Buddhism, the best path toward the answer to that question lies in understanding the world around them.

Judy Roitman, guiding teacher at the Kansas Zen Center, 1423 N.Y., says one of the most important emphases of Buddhism is the interdependence of all things.

"Everything in this universe is connected very intimately," she says. "We're not on top. There isn't this sense of human beings having a special status that gets them extra privileges. So we kind of bear responsibility for all creatures, and they bear responsibility for us. It's mutual, so that environmentalism is a natural outgrowth."

Though some Buddhists are well-known environmentalists, she says most choose to just apply their "intimate perception" of the earth on a daily basis. Instead of teaching people not to litter, she says, Buddhism would stress the idea of public space and responsibility, so littering wouldn't even occur as an option.

Another faith tradition, Judaism, includes the concept of "tikkun olam," which is translated to "repairing the world." Susan Elkins, a board member with the Lawrence Jewish Community Center, 917 Highland Drive, says the idea refers to both healing the physical world as well as people.

"Judaism sees the earth and the human body as holy vessels that we must nurture and protect," Elkins says.

Though the details may be different, that's a general concept with which Khosh, the member of the Bahai faith, can agree.

"Humans must protect the heritage of the world," he says. "This land is not only for us, but for our children and their children."

Verses about earth

Here are verses about the earth from the Bible.

¢ "The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it." (Bible, book of Genesis)

¢ "God said, 'See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.'" (Bible, book of Genesis)

A sampling of religious texts and teachings about the environment:

Buddhism

"Knowledge accords with things, being in one and the same realm, made by conditions, tacitly conjoining, without rejecting anything, suddenly appearing, yet not without before and after. Therefore the sutra says, 'The sphere of the universal eye, the pure body, I now will expound; let people listen carefully.' By way of explanation, the 'universal eye' is the union of knowledge and reality, all at once revealing many things. This makes it clear that reality is known to the knowledge of the universal eye only and is not the sphere of any other knowledge." ("The Jewel Net of Indra" by Tu-shun)

Christian and Judaism

"The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it." (Bible, book of Genesis)

"God said, 'See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.'" (Bible, book of Genesis)

Confucianism

"Master Wang said: The great man regards Heaven and Earth and the myriad things as one body. He regards the world as one family and the country as one person. ... Therefore when he sees a child about to fall into a well, he cannot help a feeling of alarm and commiseration. ...

"Again, when he observes the pitiful cries and frightened appearance of birds and animals about to be slaughtered, he cannot help feeling an 'inability to bear' their suffering. This shows that his humanity forms one body with birds and animals. It may be objected that birds and animals are sentient beings as he is.

"But when he sees plants broken and destroyed, he cannot help a feeling of pity. This shows that his humanity forms one body with plants. It may be said that plants are living things as he is. ("Inquiry on the Great Learning" by Wang Yang-ming)

Daoism

"Respect the world as yourself:

The World can be your lodging.

Love the world as yourself:

The world can be your trust." (Tao Te Ching)

"Best to be like water,

Which benefits the ten thousand things

And does not content.

It pools where humans disdain to dwell,

Close to the Tao." (Tae Te Ching)

Hinduism

"Living bodies subsist on food grains, which are produced from rains. Rains are produced from performance of yajna (sacrifice), and yajna is born of prescribed duties. Regulated activities are prescribed in the Vedas, and the Vedas are directly manifested from the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Consequently the all-pervading Transcendence is eternally situated in acts of sacrifice. My dear Arjuna, one who does not follow in human life the cycle of sacrifice thus established by the Vedas certainly lives a life full of sin. Living only for the satisfaction of the senses, such a person lives in vain." (Bhagavad Gita 3:14-16)

Indigenous

"American Indians believe it is the breath that represents the most tangible expression of the spirit in all living things. Language is an expression of the spirit because it contains the power to move people and to express human thought and feeling. It is also the breath, along with water and thought, that connects all living things in direct relationship. The interrelationship of water, thought (wind) and breath personifies the elemental relationship emanating from "that place that the Indians talk about," that place of the Center where all things are created." ("Look to the Mountains" by Gregory Cajete)

Islam

"And it is he who spread out the earth, and set thereon mountains standing firm and (flowing) rivers; and fruit of every kind he made in pairs, two and two; he draweth the night as a veil over the day. Behold, verily in these things there are signs for those who consider." (Quran 13.3)

Shinto

"Environmental issues, after all, depend on our self-awareness of the problems and our determination to take responsibility. We often say that things look different depending upon one's viewpoint.

So, Shinto suggests that we should shift our point of view and look at our environment with the spirit of "reverence and gratitude," that is, with the spirit of parental care for children or with the spirit of brotherhood. And if we can extend this spirit to our neighbors, to our society members, to our country members, to peoples of the world, and to nature, too, transcending differences of thought, ethics and religion, then this spirit will serve to foster criteria and morals indispensable for keeping our human life healthy." (statement prepared by the Jinja Honcho)

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