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Engaging a sustainable spirit

Peter Robinson in Uzbekistan
THERE ARE both practical and spiritual dimensions to the way we relate to the world of nature, but is there an overriding philosophy that guides our personal theology and action?

In the West, Christian scriptures have deeply influenced people’s ways of thinking about the environment.

But people draw different interpretations.

These range from the idea of human dominion, to that of human responsibility, to the idea humans share no special place in nature.

Lynn White, in his 1967 essay, argued that Christianity is highly anthropocentric (more so than other religions), and creates a dualism (separation) of humankind and nature.

He links Christianity to exploitation (Genesis 1:26, 28) and environmental degradation.

Some theologians are critical of classical Christian dualism and propose a return to the idea of mankind in unity with nature.

Others point to the idea of stewardship, drawing on Genesis 2:15 and passages in Leviticus and Exodus, as an expression of the call to social justice.

We find Christian outlooks anchored firmly on both sides of the debate.

There is the Evangelical Environmental Movement that in 2002 sponsored the slogan “What would Jesus drive?”

At the other extreme, Millenarianists are convinced the ‘Last Days’ are nigh and environmental concern is not on their agenda.

Some suggest Judaism originated the idea of separation of humankind and environment, in rejecting older animist religions that worshipped the cycles of nature.

However, Judaism has always been grounded in the rhythms of life, land and harvest.

Judaic scholars see God as both creator and sustainer, and often argue ‘dominion’ implies ‘stewardship’.

Islam also places humankind at the head of nature, but with an obligation to care for the environment.

In Hinduism and related Jainism the idea of stages of reincarnation is a powerful connector of human and all other forms of life.

Buddhism has a view of interconnectedness, where health of the whole depends on health of the parts.

The so-called Eastern religions tend to support a sustainable non-materialist lifestyle.

Influential Islamic scholar Kabir Helminski suggests both Islam and the West need to share a return to voluntary simplicity
and humane values.

In all cases, sustainability requires full engagement of the human spirit.

Photo : Peter Robinson in Uzbekistan