The environment has been a part of human observation and manipulation since humans evolved. Naturally, once human beings developed the concepts of language, speech and complex thinking, the importance of the environment and nature would have been a big topic for them. Nature was thought to be a form of God, each resource it provided us was given a manifestation and was intensely revered.
When organized religion developed, this relationship between environment and its worship took a more concrete form. Most places in the East, considered nature to be sacred. The examples of this are rife in Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and other cultures across the region. I mentioned some of the teachings of Buddhism and Jainism in my post on The Muse Within. Both these religions have explicitly professed the conservation of wildlife and nature, Jainism sometimes going to the extremes. Buddhism has continually promoted the “middle path” or a “life of balance”. According to its teachings, humans are interwoven in the fabric of nature, and any harm to nature will come back to affect humans. Therefore, environmental consideration for all our actions will help us achieving that “middle path”; a balance between self-destruction and self-indulgence.
Hinduism has been on the biggest proponents of environmental protection. Out of the 33 million Gods and Goddesses in this religion, many are devoted to natural forces like wind, fire, rain, trees etc. Further, local gods in different parts of rural India also exist. The tribes of India have a special practice called “sacred groves”; parts of the forest that remain untouched for the sake of religion value. They pray to these groves, thanking them for the bounty they provide. The religion professes that we ought to live with only what we need, nothing more and nothing less. As mentioned in the Upanishads, “Everything in the universe belongs to the Lord. Therefore take only what you need, that is set aside for you. Do not take anything else, for you know to whom it belongs.”
Christianity has been more complicated when it comes to the environment. The drive for progress and the industrial revolution, right from the 15-16th centuries to the end of the 19th century, has been justified by many in the West because the Bible states that “humans dominate the Earth” (Gen 1:28). However, this view has been changing in the last few decades, culminating with the Pope officially acknowledging climate change two years ago.
Islam has also been one of the proponents of nature conservation. The teachings of Quran say that there is a lot humans can learn from nature. We are to therefore, consider Earth as a “loving and caring friend”.
Judaism has been anthropocentric for most part of its history. However, the teachings are very varied. Many parts of Judaism are also anti-anthropocentric. Modern rabbis have emphasized a central belief of the religion, which states that Man must keep the Earth in the same state as he received it from God, its eternal and actual “owner”. There are also numerous sources mandating the proper disposal of waste is properly and that noxious products from industrial production must be kept far from human habitation.
If so many religions profess nature conservation and protection, why is the world as it is today?
Why does this all matter?
It matters because religion is a big, big part of human life today. Many of us consider religion as a compass that guides us in life. Therefore, it holds immense power in our lives. Anything that goes against one’s religious teachings is immediately discarded and rectified. That is why in today’s environmental crisis, the religious teachings from different religions have to be retold. The call for environmental protection has to be repopularized. Considering religion’s power, it could be a big factor in dealing with the environmental crisis we are facing today.