The Ganges River
The Ganges River: See, Judge, Act Using the Catholic Social Teaching Method
See the Ganges River: The Ganges River is approximately 1,560 miles long and is located in in India and Bangladesh. Much of the water comes from China, Tibet and Myanmar. The river is located in a large plain which includes a lot of fertile farming area.. It is important to the hundreds of millions of people who live along its' banks as a water source and for transportation, power, and food. Over four hundred million people use the river as a source for water, cooking and bathing. The river is used as a source of water for irrigation systems for their crops. It also provides water for drinking and bathing. The river supports a great number of fish species which serve as a food source for the growing population. Since the river is not too deep, it is used for transportation and moving goods with the use of flat bottom boats, small sail boats and steamer ships. It is like a highway of water for trade and people.
Both India and Nepal draw hydroelectric power from the river and its' tributaries. These power plants have also contributed to negative environmental impacts on animals, plants and have even forced some people to relocate. It flows from the Himalayas at about thirty miles in altitude into the Bay of Bengal. The river also flows through Bangladesh a large populated city. While the region used to be rich in forest and wildlife, it is now mostly agricultural farm land which supports the people who live along the river.
Over the years, the population in the river basin has been diverse, including different ethnic, cultural, and religious groups. However, the Hindu faith has considered the river central to their faith and religious practice for centuries. It is probably one of the most revered rivers by any religion in the world.
Cattle are often given free use of the river and since they are also considered a religious symbol, they are protected and allowed to roam free including eating garbage from the river. Ganges or Ganga in Hindi is important to the Hindu religion. Hindus believe the river personifies the goddess Ganga and when you bathe in the river, your sins are gone and you can be released from the cycle of life. So many followers bathe in the river. They also are buried in the river.
Judge the Ganges: With the hundreds of millions of people living along the river, the pollution of the river is a major issue. Many cities pump untreated sewer into the river. Many people and cities dump raw garbage into the river hoping it will carry it away from them. With all of the farms, runoff that includes pesticides also contributes to the pollution and can affect humans and animals that use the river for drinking water or bathing. The pollution affects the plant life in and around the river. It can generate many bacteria which can make people and animals sick.
The Hindu faith believes all living things are part of God and should be revere. They revere the Ganges. But how will the Ganges continue to live if everyone keeps allowing it to be polluted? Pope Francis in Laudato Si speaks about the interconnectedness of all humanity with respect to the environment (Francis, 2015). The Hindus cannot prevent the continued pollution of the river on their own. They have to get all of the people, regardless of being different religions to work together to protect the river and clean it up. Using the theory of Praxis, the followers of Hindu as well as other religions who also believe that taking care of the planet is important to their faith, need to work together to turn their ethical beliefs based on their faith into a plan of action to clean up and protect the Ganges.
In the Catholic faith, Jesus would and Pope Francis would say that we should all work together to stop the pollution clean and protect the river. All life is sacred and the Catholic faith teaches that we have to take care of the planet as good stewards. We must protect the life that lives in and along the river. This includes fish, animals, plants and people. As importantly, each of us must learn about the other faith so that we can work together in a way that is not offensive, but instead look for common beliefs and values from which to take action. Pope Benedict and Pope Francis have taught that the environment belongs to all of us as it does not have any borders. Just as the Ganges flows across countries and borders, the air we breathe blows around the planet. We must be work together to solve the pollution problems and it is our responsibility to take care of pollution where ever it is as eventually, it will affect all of God's creatures. We have an obligation to prevent that from happening.
So many religions, Islam, Judaism and other believe the environment should be protected based on the tenets of their faith. The Indian government has tried many approaches to clean up the Ganges. They created various agencies and groups, but nothing has worked. Maybe the solution lies in our common faith based values and ethics. The Indian government could make the cleaning up and protection of the Ganges an exercise of faith.
All of the other faiths would have to take the time to understand the Hindu faith's reverence for the Ganges, and ensure they approach the problem with the sensitivity needed to be respectful of their beliefs. But this would be a great time for the different religions to come to some understanding and work together on a real world problem, and actually solve the problem. In this way, we all put our faith into practice in real world experience and make our planet that we all must share better for all of us. We can then take this model of cooperation and use it in other places on the planet.