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Environmental Protection: Religious Beliefs and Approaches

Author: Rangarajan R



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Introduction


The term Natural Environment, encircles all living and non-living beings occurring naturally, without any artificial ingredients/interference by the humans. This term is frequently used to define the Earth and its components. The scope of the term Environment is vivid and can’t be defined in single term. For some the definition of Environment may include living and non-living ecological units such as flora, fauna, microorganisms, soil, rocks, the atmosphere, etc. For others Environment may have a different meaning.

The term Religion is associated with a social-cultural system of designated behaviours and practices, morality, ethics and prophecies. It may be defined as “any set of attitudes, beliefs, and practices pertaining to supernatural power, whether that power be forces, gods, sprits, ghosts or demons”[1].

However, there can’t be one definition over what precisely constitute a religion.

The two concepts are deeply connected with each other. The Indus Valley Civilisation is considered to be the forefather in associating the religious practices and deities with the environment. The concept of idolism was an age-old practice of human civilisation. Man used natural elements such as soil, rock and water to create a deity for his worship and used the abundance of other natural, environmental resources as offering.


Religion and Environment


In 1967, historian Lynn White Jr, in his article “The Historical Roots of Our Ecological Crisis”[2], observed that the action towards the environment, depends upon how people see themselves in relation to the nature. The destructions done to the nature is an outcome of how people believe themselves to be superior to the natural creation of the God. From Lynn’s viewpoint, the crisis on the environment is solely because of the belief that the nature is only to serve the humanity and has no other reasons for existence. This viewpoint may and may not be accepted by the whole. Some might agree to the notion of nature, existing for the only purpose to serve the needs to the humanity, while others might be of belief that there is no on way dependence and that humans and nature are interconnected, feeding each other’s need.

The come to an conclusion on whether the existence of the environment is solely to feed the human need and nothing else and that there is no need for it to be protected or vice- verse, that there the environment and the human life are interconnected and require each other to protect one-other, requires a review towards what the sacred scriptures and teachings of different religion has to say. The reason behind studying the various religious belief is due to the fact that religion has been viewed to influence the attitudes of the society towards all.

All religions agree that nature is an act of divinity. All religions agree that the creation is an act of God and address the issue of the creation the universe or the universes in different forms and with varying degrees of details[3].


Some of the Religious Belief


Hinduism


A religion deeply rooted in nature. The holy scriptures such as “Upanishads”, “Vedas”, “Bhagavad Gita” has mentioning’s of many divinity related to environment such as the rivers, mountains, animals, etc. Vedic literature clearly talks about a vital balance between the Man, Nature and the God. Naturel sources are viewed to be the expressions of the God himself. For instance, Chapter 2, verse 10, Text 41 of the Bhagavata Gita states-

According to the different modes of material nature — the mode of goodness, the mode of passion and the mode of darkness — there are different living creatures, who are known as demigods, human beings and hellish living entities. O King, even a particular mode of nature, being mixed with the other two, is divided into three, and thus each kind of living creature is influenced by the other modes and acquires its habits also.”

A simpler translation of the above text would be that, the living entities individually are being conducted by particular mode of the nature. The rig Veda, describes the universe to be comprising of five elements, namely – Earth, Water, Air, Fire and the Space, which provides the basis of the life to the man and in return, man is appointed to the protection of these elements. In the Vedas and Gita, the Nature is an essence to the human culture and it is believed that a Human society without Nature is considered to be a skeletal body without flesh, blood and the soul.


Islam


The holy text of Muslims, “Qur’an” has several verses supporting the protection of the nature. Many of the Islamic organisations have a stewardship approach towards the environment. Qur’an bestows the responsibility to protect and ensure the unity (Tawheed) of the God’s creation upon the humanity.

The Qur’an in one of the verses states that-

“Do not strut arrogantly on the earth. You will never split the earth apart nor will you ever rival the mountains’ stature” (Qur’an 17:37)”

Similarly, in another verse of Qur’an, it requires the followers to simply devote themselves to the God and to the god’s creation.

“Devote thyself single-mindedly to the Faith, and thus follow the nature designed by Allah, the nature according to which He has fashioned mankind. There is no altering the creation of Allah.” (Qur’an30:30)”

Sikhism


According the sacred text, “Guru Granth Sahib”, there are teachings on environment. According to the Granth, the mankind and environment are oneself and are interconnected.

The verses of the Granth states that-

Yourself created the Universe, and You are pleased…You, Yourself the bumblebee, flower, fruit and the tree.”
“You, Yourself the water, desert, ocean and the pond. You, yourself are the big fish, tortoise and the Cause of causes.” (Guru Granth Sahib, Maru Sohele, page 1020)”

Christianity


There are several verses of the Bible, that talks and preaches environment protection. The Bible requires all of the mankind to have environmental responsibility. The verses of the Bible, states as following-

“We must treat nature with the same awe and wonder that we reserve for human beings. And we do not need this insight in order to believe in God or to prove his existence. We need it to breathe; we need it for us simply to be.” (Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, 2010)"

Conclusion


There are several other religions apart from those mentioned above, such as Buddhism, Jainism, Baha’i Faith, Judaism, which propagates the need of Environment Protection. All of these preaches, regard the Earth as “Mother” and urges the mankind not to exploit it.

In my opinion, the need to protect the environment shouldn’t be taught individually. All the living being should be entitled to protect the nature. It should not be considered as a separate or additional right to executed.

There is no need to teach a baby to breath. It learns and breaths on itself. There is nothing to be taught on how to breath, similarly the mankind shouldn’t be taught to protect the nature. It should be taken as a right entitled from the birth to the Environment. The protection of the nature should not be bestowed, but is attached to life as a part and parcel of it.


References

[1] Stephen D. Glazier, Carol R. Ember, Religion, EXPLAINING HUMAN CULTURE, https://hraf.yale.edu/ehc/summaries/religion [2] Lynn White, The Historical Roots of Our Ecological Crisis, http://www.cmu.ca/faculty/gmatties/lynnwhiterootsofcrisis.pdf [3] Religions and Environmental Protection, UN Environment Programme, https://www.unenvironment.org/about-un-environment/faith-earth-initiative/religions-and-environmental-protection

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