Will Religion and Faith be the Answer to Climate Change?
The purpose of this paper is to examine how the major world's religions view the environment. Specifically, it will review and discuss the various tenets of each faith and in order to discern how the tenets of each faith dictate encourage or require those that hold that faith to believe, act, or be responsible towards the environment in keeping with their faith. It will describe how each of the faiths following through or acting on their tenets and teachings.
The religions which will be examined include Judaism, Islam, and Christianity. The Christian faith will include two sub-categories for the Evangelical and Catholic faiths. There will be a cursory review of some other religions including Hinduism and Native religions.
In the end, we need to ascertain if religions or persons of different faiths can find enough commonality in their faith to provide the necessary guidance for them to work together in order to protect and conserve the environment and resources that all of humanity needs to survive.
The main assumption for this paper is that climate change is real. One only has to look at recent news to see there is something going on with the world's climate. Whether it is a recent climate change report issued by the United States government called the National Climate Assessment which includes input, analysis and opinions of more than three hundred scientist, or you look at real time events such as the wildfires in California as the result of a decade of severe drought, they dying Dead Sea which is drying up, as well as the river that borders between El Paso Texas and Mexico, or more people around the world wearing face masks due to the quality of air. Studies have shown that air quality can affect everything from respiration to heart health and diabetes. Some even feel it can impact the incidents of genetic defects or autism rates. It is clear; the world must make changes to protect our must necessary resources, air and water. The poisons and pollutions at humans are putting out into God's creation are endangering those resources necessary us to survive!
According to Pew Research, eighty percent of the people in the world identify with a religion. Over fifty-four percent belong to the Christian, Muslim and Jewish faith. Fifteen percent identify with the Hindu faith, and over sixteen percent are not affiliated with any faith, and there is another fourteen percent are spread among other faiths like Buddhism and Folk or Native religions. If eighty percent have as part of their faith foundation that they should be good stewards of the environment, then it should be possible for everyone to come together and solve the climate change issue. In her article about religion and climate change titled Religious Identity, Beliefs and Views about Climate Change, Sonya Sachdeva, stated; Religious perspectives affect how humans see their place in the environment, but environmental features shape religious perspectives as well (1)
The analysis and conclusions in this paper are based on reading several books, articles, websites and an interview. The research was completed and each of the sources summarized and reviewed. In addition, the material within the sources was identified as either scientific or factual data, or the author's opinion based on their own research, experience and expertise. This paper summarizes the prevailing opinions that agree or commonality that is indicated across the works, or will point out areas where there is a lack of commonality or disagreement about the religious belief or tenet. Lastly, it will examine each faith's source of their perspective from the Bible, Qur'an and Torah to their religious leaders.
Christianity and the Environment
There are many references in the bible pertaining to the environment from which all Christian should hold as a tenet of their faith. There actions should be governed directly by these biblical teachings. Here are a few and it should be noted that they are open to some interpretation. But if the words are taken at face value, it seems evident that God wanted man to be good steward of the earth He created and all living things on it. From the web page Open Bible.Info are the following biblical references;
- Genesis 3:26 Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock, and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth"
- Leviticus in 25:1-55, there is reference to conservation as it tells the people of Israel to rotate their crop every six years allowing the soil and land to rest in the seventh year.
- Psalms 24: 1-2 says that people will be the stewards of the earth that was created by the Lord our God. The concept of stewardship is mentioned in the Christian and Jewish faiths.
- Numbers 35:33-34 You shall not pollute the land in which you live, for blood pollutes the land, and no atonement can be made for the land for the blood that is shed in it, except by the blood of the one who shed it. You shall not defile the land in which you live, in the midst of which I dwell, for I the Lord dwell in the midst of the people of Israel.
There are so many denominations of Christianity; it is difficult to determine a monolithic view of Christianity and the environment. However, starting with Catholicism, the past two Popes have made clear the teachings of the Catholic faith and the responsibility of all Catholics. Starting with Pope Benedict who said I willingly join in spirit all who are grateful to the Lord for the fruits of the earth and the work of human hands, renewing the pressing invitation to respect our national environment, a precious resource entrusted to our stewardship (Pope Benedict 13).
Pope Benedict believes the negative impact of climate change and a deteriorating environment being more impactful on the poor and the gap between the rich and poor is already widening, dividing them further apart. He also points out that water is the source of life as well as the air, and that a good environment allows more peace as people are not fighting over resources (Pope Benedict 29). Pope Benedict's directive relative to the environment is comprehensive and succinct. He stated: The Church has a responsibility toward creation, and she must assert this responsibility in the public sphere. In so doing, she must defend not only the earth, water and air as gifts of creation that belong to everyone. She must above all protect mankind from self-destruction. (Pope Benedict 109).
Pope Francis wrote the encyclical Laudato Si which is an official church treatise about environment. Pope Francis believes that due to the complexity of the ecological crisis, we need to understand that solutions will not come from interpreting it in one way, but rather we must respect other cultures, faiths, and people so that we can find solutions that are amenable to all of us. (Pope Francis Location 3313 on Kindle).
Evangelicals seem to be quite different from other denominations of Christianity. Even though they use virtually the same bible, they seem to have taken the position that climate change or protecting the environment is a liberal political position, and if they accept and adopt it, they would have to accept other liberal political principles such as gun control. In the Christian Scientist Monitor June 2017 article How Climate Change Became a Question of Faith, authors Harry Bruinius and Amanda Paulson discuss how the National Climate Assessment was released to the press first before it was released by the White House. They did this out of fear that the President and his Administration would undermine the report because President's political based is comprised of evangelicals who do not believe in climate change.
But evangelical meteorologist Paul Douglas who wrote Caring for Creation: The Evangelicals Guide to Climate Change and a Healthy Environment is trying to change that. He explains that that facts and data do matter. He realized climate change was real after becoming a meteorologist (Douglas 13). He uses the bible reference Isaiah's prophetic that said humans will defile the earth and it will dry up. (Douglas 47). The condition of the environment can be considered the perfect problem as it is global, and no one group of people can escape the actions of others. (Douglas 125). When water and air are affected, it will affect all of us regardless of who is causing the pollution because water and air are not contained. Therefore, we all have to work together on this problem.
Judaism and the Environment
Research for how Judaism views the environment started with an interview with Ilana Bofford-Entin. Ms. Entin is an environmentalist, children's book author (Our Earth, Our Friend, Jul 14, 2014), and specialized in communication. She has worked and advised candidates for political office, elected officials, and others on many topics, including environmental policy. She has researched the issues extensively as part of that process.
Ms. Entin responded to the email questions by providing Torah references about the environment. She gave as a starting point, the first chapter of Genesis where it states fill the world and master (rule) it. She mentioned Deuteronomy 19:19-20 in which there is a prohibition against needless destruction and waste. She said that Judaism teaches that during war, fruit bearing trees should not be destroyed and resources should not be used needlessly. Finally, she said the Shulchan Aruch teaches that when someone pollutes the water, they will eventually pay for it.
While the Jewish holy book the Torah provided clear evidence that one role of their faith is to take care of the earth and all that is in it, due to the schisms and splits creating many denominations of Judaism, orthodox, conservative, progressive, it makes it difficult to hear one voice from the faith about how to act with regards to the environment. (Halpert, Judaism and Climate Change, February 29, 2012).
Islam and the Environment
The Islamic faith also has primary religious sources regarding their responsibility to the environment. The Hadith is a report that many Muslims, especially orthodox Muslims, believe includes some of Mohammed's actual words. (Edis Location 33 on Kindle). In addition, the Qur'an also has references to the environment. For instance, To Him belongs every being that is in the heavens and on earth: all are devoutly obedient to Him (Islamicity.org, Qur'an 30:26). Another even more clear and direct reference is So eat and drink of the sustenance provided by Allah, and do no evil nor mischief on the face of the earth. (Islamicity.org, Qur'an 2: 60). Like Christians, who believe to honor all of the creatures God created is necessary to honor God; Muslims believe they have to honor the earth and all life on it to honor Allah. The Qur'an also states each Muslim is a khalifah, or custodian of the earth which again support the responsibility to the environment. (Mohiuddin, The Natural World, Islamicity.org).
Other Religions and the Environment
A cursory review of other religions mentioned in many of the resources used indicate that Hindu, Native Indian or Indigenous populations and other smaller denominations of faith all seem to have tenets of faith that believe the care of the environment is a central theme to their faiths as well. One specific group, indigenous natives or tribes are actually taking action. They are using their legal claims to lands and resources as way to stop pollution, even at the cost of so- called progress.
How the World's Religions Can Work Together to Protect and Conserve the Earth's Environment for all Humanity?
In Sharon Degado's book Love in a Time of Climate Change, she argues that many churches cannot or do not actively try to address or motivate members to change the environment because many believe they cannot really impact the problem with their solutions.
It appears that all of the major faiths in the world have a responsibility according to their holy books and teachings to take care of our planet and hence our environment. However, it is also apparent that each faith is not monolithic relative to what role each human, the group, or their branch or denomination, or overarching church should take relative to this responsibility. This shows that even though religions may have the same beliefs about something based on their holy books and the words of their prophet or God, they also have different perspectives or priorities relative to how to act on that tenet of their faith.
The world's religious leaders are starting to take action to organize and address climate change. They have recognized that political leaders are not willing to do address the issue. For instance, the United States would not sign the Kyoto Protocol in spite of being one of the world's largest polluters. In the past few years many religious leaders have started to convene meetings of faith leaders to discuss how they can work together. As recently as of June of 2018, Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople, leader of three hundred million Christians, told his audience comprised of religious leaders, academics and activists that they needed to move beyond intellectualism when it came to the environment. He stated What remains for us is to preach what we practice, said Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople. Now we must begin the long and difficult way from the mind to the heart. May God guide you in your service to his people and the care of his creation. (Eilperin, WashingtonPost.com, Climate Change, 2018)
The environment has to become a top priority for all faiths, all religions and all spiritual leaders. Only then can they reset priorities to find the common ground necessary to solve our climate change and environmental issues. A first step to understanding and overcoming our differences is to meet in person, talk and listen to one another. In the end, all humans must understand regardless of their faith, that in order to survive, we must take care of our planet and resources that keep us alive, and if everyone can rally around commonalities in their faith, which should be their moral core and determine their values, then humans should use faith as a leader to resolve environmental issues.
In order to overcome all of that, people will have to listen and learn about each other's religions and faiths in order to have conversations and agree to approaches about protecting our environment together without being offensive to one another. We will need to set aside any differences, and use our commonalities to ensure we act to protect our own survival, as well as be responsible to the teachings of our faith, no matter what faith you are, that we are the stewards of this planet as it was given to use by our own god or gods. Our human survival depends on it.