People of faith oftentimes ignore secular and scientific intellectual movements in the science-driven field of ecology. But despite popular belief, not all of them are against the multiple conclusions of scientific inquiry that we are harming our planet. Ecotheology provides an extension of traditional Christian religion and the philosophy of God in the field of environmental ethics. Someone who adheres to an ecotheological viewpoint believes that all Nature is the manifestation of the divine. They do not need secular proof that the Earth is unique and irreplaceable because they have God’s word for that. When comparing religions ecotheologians tend towards Eastern faiths, such as Buddhism, for sacred proof that the Earth is a place meant to be preserved and cherished. Many also believe that the Western faiths of Judaism and Christianity had and still have the potential for the appreciation of Earth and its natural beauty, though many may interpret them differently.
There are a few key thinkers who espouse the beliefs of Eco-theology. Thomas Berry, a theologian turned monk was one thinker who believed that there are principles that humans must follow in order to be in touch with the universe. He proposed that a deep understanding of the history and functioning of the evolving universe is a necessary inspiration to solve environmental problems and to function as a species. Two key principles of Berry’s are: one, the universe is the only thing that can be seen without context and everything is seen in context to the universe and two, that everything tells the story of the universe and it has its imprint everywhere.
Prominent eco-theologian Mary Evelyn Tucker, a professor at the Yale school of Forestry where Aldo Leopold began developing his Land Ethic, discusses the importance of Christian involvement in the ecological movement. Especially noteworthy is her faith in the coming generations that need to unite in order to stop the coming tide of destruction.
When looking at the role of consumer versus a spiritual person, Tucker notes that maintaining your spiritual depth is important. She agrees that becoming more in touch with religious spiritually will help those of faith become more environmentally minded. Her expression of dismay at the media’s “mindset of looking only at monotheistic, fundamental religious beliefs that are incorrectly interpreted,” is also important to note. She leans towards Asian religions such as Buddhism that look at humans as being a part of something much greater, a thought catalog more conducive to environmental awareness. Looking to give future generations a sensibility without reductionism in politics, law, economics but with theology is her challenge to society.
“Awe, wonder, emotion will drive us, [which is] difficult for scientists … How do we awaken our own passion for the future of the planet and share it? We … create a spiritual community that is more aware of the importance of the truth of climate change, other environmental problems.” -Mary Evelyn Tucker
Andrew Lindzey, another theologian and a prominent member of the Christian Vegetarian Movement, sees animal rights as undoubtedly found in the teachings of the Bible. As an adherent to animal abolitionism, and using scripture to back up his remarks, Lindzey remarks that animals are inherently equal to humans spiritually. He maintains that there is no Spiritual hierarchy. Despite Regan and Singer’s calls for animal ethics based in ethics, Lindzey (perhaps even more effectively) drums up awareness based in the holy writings that millions of people follow today.
“Animals are God’s creatures, not human property, nor utilities, nor resources, nor commodities, but precious beings in God’s sight. … Christians whose eyes are fixed on the awfulness of crucifixion are in a special position to understand the awfulness of innocent suffering. The Cross of Christ is God’s absolute identification with the weak, the powerless, and the vulnerable, but most of all with unprotected, undefended, innocent suffering.” -Andrew Lindzey
The group National Religious Partnership for the Environment is an association of independent faith groups across a broad spectrum. Each member draws on tradition to undertake scholarship, leadership training, agency initiatives and public policy education in service to environmental sustainability and justice. Clearly, despite the opinions of contemporary religious groups there still exist people who are firm in their beliefs of environmental sustainability and justice, without getting caught up in the rhetoric that other fundamentalist sects are involved in. This group is anthropocentric and lean less towards Berry’s and Lindzey’s beliefs, yet still deliver the important message of sustainability and taking care of your planet.
There are other thinkers such as Thinkers such as Lynn White believe quite the opposite of the previous thinkers: he feels that there are definite roots of Christian influence in the ecological crisis of today and thus religion will find it hard to be extricated from destruction. His two basic points are that “the Bible asserts man’s dominion over nature and establishes a trend of anthropocentrism,” and “Christianity makes a distinction between man (formed in God’s image) and the rest of creation, which has no “soul” or “reason” and is thus inferior.” Extrapolating from his opinion, then, Christians cannot also become ecologically aware due to the way that they interpret the scriptures.
In White’s opinion, Eastern religions are more accepting to the cause of eco-theology. However he maintains that most of the time religion must be abandoned altogether in order to found a more equal world.
Clearly, as past patterns have suggested, there will be wide variations in the interpretations of the words of scriptures, but perhaps eco-theology will set a precedence in the call to action for the environment as well. Perhaps going back to the religious roots of ethics and morality will convince the millions of people on Earth today who adhere to any number of mono or poly-theistic faiths to save the Earth. Perhaps the spiritual members of humanity can one day adopt the practices of the Catholic St. Francis, or Buddha in their thoughts towards the environment. They would neither betray their faith to the “cold, calculating, science-driven studies,” but be nurturing the Earth for spiritual reasons. One can only have faith in the future.