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Non-Christian Religion and the Environment

This blog has previously addressed “creation care,” a primarily Christian (and evangelical) movement to incorporate religious responsibility into environmental protection. Western religions have been plagued with the accusations of Lynn White Jr. of their abandonment of stewardship. Other religions, however, have not had to reclaim a focus on the environment or experience eco-rebirth. Faiths such as Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Jainism, and paganism include tenets about the environment and have long been active in the environmental movement.

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One of the tenets of Buddhism is to minimize dukkha or suffering caused by ignorance. Buddhism treats all elements of the natural world as connected: humans, animals, and the environment are equals and should be treated as such. Buddhist monks practice nonviolence towards all animals and humans, including practicing  vegetarianism. The Dalai Lama has spoken out repeatedly in favor of acting on the environment. He noted that climate change is “adversely affecting not only human beings but also other living species.”

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It is against the teachings of the Qur’an to allow for “corruption on land and sea.” Countries with many Islamic adherents are already facing many conflicts over resources due to environmental changes. Conflicts “having to do with the decrease of agricultural yields, the expansion of the desert into pastoral and agricultural areas, and water shortages caused by climate change” are becoming prominent in areas of Africa. With a scarcity of resources there is an opportunity for the exploitation of them by radical and terrorist organizations. This can lead to instability and even war that cannot be contained by government (see: Climate Wars or Global Environmental Change and Human Security).

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Judaism incorporates nature and trees in the teachings and rituals of the Halakha. The environmental focus of the faith became formalized in the creation of the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life, which was started in 1993, the same year as the Evangelical Environmental Network. In their mission statement, the COEJL highlights the importance of “shalom (peace or wholeness), which is at the very core of Jewish aspirations, is in its full sense harmony in all creation” in being stewards of the environment.

Scholars in the United States have a tendency to preference Western, Christian faiths in their study of religion and the environment. It is important, however, to note the important work that other faiths are performing in service of the environment, with common goals, and success in local communities. Respecting the tenets of all faiths helps illuminate the similarities between moral mandates that drive environmentalism.

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