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Human-Environment Relations. Religious roots of various attitudes. Judaism/Christianity/Islam. Everything in nature was created by a single supreme being with unlimited powers. Nature as God’s Handiwork.

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human environment relations

Human-Environment Relations

Religious roots of various attitudes

judaism christianity islam
  • Everything in nature was created by a single supreme being with unlimited powers.
nature as god s handiwork
Nature as God’s Handiwork
  • “But ask the beasts, and they will teach you; the birds of the sky, and they will tell you; or speak to the earth and it will teach you; the fish of the sea, they will inform you. Who among all these does not know that the hand of the Eternal has done this?” (Job 12:7-9)
judaism christianity islam4
  • A single, supreme God created man and woman, who lived in perfect harmony with nature, and had all their needs provided for by nature until they committed an act of evil. All of humankind was subsequently punished for this act by being forced to work in order to survive. Struggling against nature is therefore part of humanity’s “fallen” condition.
nature as place of exile punishment
Nature as Place of Exile & Punishment
  • And to Adam, the Lord said: "Because you have listened to your wife, and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat: Cursed be the ground because of you; in toil shall you eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles shall it bring forth to you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. In the sweat of your brow you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, since out of it you were taken; for dust you are and unto dust you shall return" (Gen. 3, 17-19).
judaism christianity islam6
  • Humankind was granted dominion over the earth by a single, supreme God. A particular way of treating the environment would only be bad in this God’s eyes if it resulted in harm to another person or was in violation of one of God’s commandments.
  • “And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.
  • And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat. ”
  • Genesis
  • “Each thing that God has created is a wondrous sign, full of meaning; pointing beyond itself to the glory and greatness of its Creator, His wisdom and His purposes for it. ‘He Who has spread out the earth for you and threaded roads for you therein and has sent down water from the sky: With it have We brought forth diverse kinds of vegetation. Eat and pasture your cattle; verily, in this are signs for men endowed with understanding.’”
  • Islamic Organization for Medical Sciences, ISLAMSET
judaism christianity islam9
  • A single, supreme God created both humankind and nature and meant for humankind to assume stewardship (benign authority) over nature. A particular way of treating the environment might be bad if it shows a lack of respect for God’s creations.
  • “Because God has chosen the sphere of nature as the setting for human interaction, his covenant with us gives us the responsibility of caring for, nurturing, respecting, sustaining, and replenishing his creation. We often respond by viewing nature as a commodity to be done with as we please. However, God’s relationship to non-human nature, which has intrinsic value, calls for a higher ethic.”
  • Global Stewardship Task Force, Abilene Christian University,
  • “In Genesis 2:15 humans are told to ‘abad’ the garden in which they have been placed. This Hebrew word is most commonly translated as ‘tend’. This might imply that we look after the garden so that it serves us. Elsewhere in the Old Testament, however, ‘abad’ is translated as to ‘serve’ (eg Genesis 25:23; 27:29; Ex 14:12). In other words, our task is to operate within our particular garden (ie the area we can influence) in a way that primarily benefits the garden - so as to be the garden’s servant.”
  • John Ray Initiative,
  • Muhammad: “Created beings are the dependents of God, and the creature dearest unto God is he who does most good to God's dependents.”
  • Islamic Organization for Medical Sciences, ISLAMSET website:
judaism christianity islam13
  • Nature as a place of punishment
  • Nature as human property (dominion)
  • Nature as dependent on human care (stewardship)
  • All three reflect a single idea:
    • Alienation from nature
    • People are separate from nature
    • Nature exists “out there” and people (a) suffer from it, (b) exploit it, or (c) have to maintain it
indo european polytheism
Indo-European Polytheism
  • Nature arose from a process of procreation (e.g. between the sky and the earth) which gave birth to the first generation of gods (e.g. sun, moon, sea, time, mountains), who in turn produced the other gods. These gods have human emotions and attitudes (jealousy, lust, creativity, courage, etc.) and may take human form. They also may interfere in human events for noble or base reasons.
indo european polytheism15
Indo-European Polytheism
  • Living religion
    • Hinduism
  • Dead religions
    • Greek
    • Roman
    • Norse
nature as immanent gods and place of punishment
Nature as Immanent gods and place of punishment
  • Greek Creation Myth
  • Darkness and emptiness, bird with black wings (Nyx) lays egg. Out of egg hatches Eros, god of love. Half of shell becomes sky and other half becomes earth. Eros makes them fall in love.
  • Uranus (sky) and Gaia (earth) have many children (the Titans). One of them Kronus, swallows his children until wife, Rhea, hides youngest (Zeus) and gives Kronus a rock wrapped in swaddling cloths to swallow.
  • Zeus grows up & sets free his siblings. They conquer Kronus and furnish Gaia with life and Uranus with stars. Zeus summons his sons and tells them to go to Earth and create men and animals and give each one a gift. Epimetheus uses up all the gifts on the animals so Prometheus gives man fire although only the gods were supposed to have it.
  • Zeus becomes furious and sentences Prometheus to have his liver pecked by a vulture every day till eternity. To Epimetheus he presents a beautiful wife, Pandora, but he gives Pandora two gifts, curiosity and a box she is not supposed to open. Pandora opens the box and out fly all of the horrors which plague the world today--pain, sickness, envy, greed.
animism in greek thought
Animism in Greek thought
  • There was a clear pool, with shining silvery waters, where shepherds had never made their way…Its peace was undisturbed by bird or beast or falling branches.
  • Narcissus, wearied with hunting in the heat of the day, lay down here…
  • As he lay on the bank, he gazed at the twin stars that were his eyes, at his flowing locks, worthy of Bacchus or Apollo, his smooth cheeks, his ivory neck, his lovely face …
  • No thought of food or sleep could draw him from the spot… “I am in love and see my loved one, but that form which I see and love, I cannot reach”…
  • …his body was nowhere to be found. Instead of his corpse, they discovered a flower with a circle of white petals round a yellow center.
animism in greek thought18
Animism in Greek thought
  • Byblis confessed her passionate love to her brother Caunus, was rejected, went mad
  • “The woods were thinning when, weary with her pursuit, Byblis collapsed and lay where she fell, her hair spread out upon the hard ground, and her face pressed into the fallen leaves. …She uttered not a word, but lay digging her nails into the green grass, watering the meadow with a river of tears. They say that the nymphs fashioned a channel for these tears, which could never run dry…so Byblis … was consumed by her own tears and changed into a fountain, which even now wells up in that valley, beneath a dark ilex tree, and still bears the name of its mistress.”
greek thought
Greek thought
  • Many tragic and melodramatic tales could be recalled by looking at trees, flowers, etc.
  • Nature as a collection of gods, goddesses, and transformed people
  • Motif of punishment is present, but not punishment of current inhabitants—punishment as a kind of geological force
buddhism hinduism
  • Nature is populated by an infinite number of perfect living souls, clothed in various forms of matter (from worm flesh to human flesh) that makes them imperfect and confused. When a being dies it is reincarnated again into the world of illusions and suffering. This happens again and again until a being achieves enlightenment, which it can only do in human form.
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  • To kill another living being is to cause the suffering of another perfect being which is in a sense an equal, and also a part of oneself. This harm weighs upon the killer like a debt to the universe and acts to delay his or her transcendence of the world of illusions and suffering.
  • The things that make up the world, including people, are not really separate from each other; the perception of separate things is an illusion. The path toward enlightenment involves conquering the desire to possess and control things, because this desire, and our efforts to satisfy it, maintain the illusion of the self as separate from the rest of the universe.
experience as illusion
Experience as Illusion
  • “Maya, as per Hindu thought, is illusion, and what mankind understands to be reality is in fact the dream of Brahma. Brahma is the creator and great magician who dreams the universe into being. The dream itself is maintained by Vishnu, the Preserver, who uses maya to spin the complex web that we know as reality. It is not that the world itself is an illusion, only our perception of it. Whereas we suppose the universe to be made up of a multitude of objects, structures and events, the theory of maya asserts that all things are one. Rational categories are mere fabrications of the human mind and have no ultimate reality.”
  • A Tribute to Hinduism,
hinduism buddhism
  • The cycle of death and reincarnation is a cycle of suffering and pain. To achieve release from this cycle, people must avoid activities that contaminate them in a spiritual sense. People with a low social status are delegated the task of killing animals so that high-status people do not have to suffer from this form of spiritual contamination.
hindu buddhist views of nature
Hindu/Buddhist views of nature
  • Nature and humanity are part of the same order
  • People and animals are both caught up in the cycle of death and rebirth
  • Suffering is not a form of punishment, but part of the universal condition of living things
  • To harm part of nature is to harm oneself
    • Do not harm cows
    • Harm other animals only if necessary
    • Delegate this task (butchering) to “polluted” people
  • Nature provides a model for the way to achieve satisfaction and contentment during one’s life. Nature achieves incredible things without exerting itself, forcing things, or developing plans of action. Just as a river simply wears down rough stones by following the path of least resistance, people can achieve much by following the path of least resistance.
  • Only fragmented pieces of reality can be captured in words. Nature itself speaks more truly about the meaning of existence than any religious beliefs that can be put into words.
platonism greek philosophy
Platonism (Greek philosophy)
  • Nature is a collection of imperfect approximations subject to various forms of corruption. For example, the horizon approaches flatness but never is entirely flat. The path toward understanding of nature lies in recognizing the ideal forms which natural phenomena only approximate.
  • The natural world contains places, plants, and animals with special powers. People can benefit from these powers if they use metaphorical logic to determine what those powers are. E.g. a plant that oozes red fluid should have special powers over diseases that lead to excessive bleeding.
scientific rationality
Scientific Rationality
  • The natural world contains places, plants, and animals with special powers. People can benefit from these powers if they use rational-analytic logic to determine what those powers are.
  • e.g. a plant that causes paralysis may contain chemicals that are useful during surgery to prevent convulsions.
  • Nature is the product of laws and forces, not of conscious creation. People are not judged on the basis of their treatment of nature except by other people, and nature has no value unless it is of use to people (for example as a source of food, building materials, chemicals, or knowledge).
  • The entire universe is a living, conscious being. People, like everything else, are part of this being. What people call “God” is in everything equally and cannot be separated into creator and creations. People should therefore treat all of nature with respect, awe, and humility.
“Nature does not work with an end in view. For the eternal and infinite Being, which we call God or Nature, acts by the same necessity as that whereby it exists.”

(Spinoza, The Ethics, iv. Preface)

“Individual things are nothing but modifications of the attributes of God, or modes by which the attributes of God are expressed in a fixed and definite manner.” (Spinoza, The Ethics, i.25.)

Larry King:

Do you believe in God?

Stephen Hawking

Yes, if by God is meant the embodiment of the laws of the universe.

(Larry King Live, December 25, 1999)

“god is not the voice in the whirlwind

god is the whirlwind.”

(Margaret Atwood “Resurrection”)

  • Albert Einstein
  • Georgia O’Keeffe
  • Henry David Thoreau
  • Rachel Carson
  • Margaret Atwood
  • Stephen Hawking
  • Sitting Bull
  • Mikhail Gorbachev
  • Terry Jordan-Bychkov