A New Reverence for Life – Introduction

May 04, 2007 No Comments

A New Reverence for Life: Redeeming Humanity’s Relationship with the Earth
by Carol Hohle

Introduction

A groundswell of environmental social action once again is reaching critical mass in North America.  April 22, 2007 was the biggest Earth Day since it first appeared twenty-seven years ago.  Just one week earlier on April 14, 2007, record numbers of citizens “stepped it up” in a National Day of Climate Action to advocate that a mandated 80% reduction in carbon emissions by 2050 be integrated in the legislation the U.S. Congress is currently debating.  Last month penguins (the “co-poster child” together with polar bears for global warming) graced the magazine covers of both Time and The Atlantic. And, mainstream media commonly carry commercials promoting energy saving services.  It appears that the environmental movement may have reached a tipping point and is finally being taken seriously at many levels of society.

The world/earth view being reshaped is highlighting humanity’s need to rise above itself and its anthropocentric behavior to embrace the very planet itself and all its inhabitants.

Beyond recycling paper, glass, plastic, etc. and replacing home light bulbs with energy efficient compact fluorescent bulbs – as necessary as these individual actions are – the fledging environmental cause championing the rights and needs of the earth is seeping into the collective consciousness of Americans.  The world/earth view being reshaped is highlighting humanity’s need to rise above itself and its anthropocentric behavior to embrace the very planet itself and all its inhabitants.  Martin Luther King Jr. referred to this view as the “network of mutuality” ––

We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.  Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.  There are some things in our social system to which all of us ought to be maladjusted.  Hatred and bitterness can never cure the disease of fear, only love can do that.  We must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression, and retaliation.  The foundation of such a method is love.  Before it is too late, we must narrow the gaping chasm between our proclamation of peace and our lowly deeds which precipitate and perpetuate war.  One day we must come to see that peace is not merely a distant goal that we seek but a means by which we arrive at that goal.  We must pursue peaceful ends through peaceful means.  We shall hew out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope.(1)

The earth, we are re-discovering, is a part of this network of mutuality.  It is more than a rich set of resources for humanity to use up as it chooses.  It is in a complex, interrelationship with the human race.  Not only does the environment suffer from humanity’s mistreatment, but humans suffer as well.  The violence in Darfur, the first war caused by global warming, is just one example of how our estranged relationship with the earth impacts both the earth and its inhabitants.(2)

There are many other horrific examples of humanity’s relationship with the earth gone wrong.  The “environmental crisis,” as it is commonly known, is a multi-faceted reality with interconnected aspects of resource depletion and species extinction, pollution growth and climate change, population explosion and over consumption.  This crisis is global and local.  The current trajectory, unchecked, places the world as we know it in serious jeopardy of self-destruction.

Gratefully, however, there is growing a new sense of humility about what humans have wrought and a renewed sense of hope at what might be achieved to save life on the planet.  The way out of this problem will eventually take everyone, not just the scientists and technology engineers.  “The environmental crisis is not a ‘problem’ that any specialization can solve.  Rather, it is about how we – all of us human beings and all other creatures – can live justly and sustainably on our planet.”(3)

This paper will look at this new sense of emerging humility and hope.  It will briefly examine some of the theological underpinnings that have shaped humanity’s attitude about the environment, and then explore more fully the new role faith is playing in religious environmentalism.  Lastly, it will look at a few examples of recent and possible future actions intended to bring healing to the earth.

Endnotes:
1.  Martin Luther King, Jr., “A Network of Mutuality,” The Unitarian Universalist Community Church of Santa Monica, http://www.uusm.org/services/091601.php (accessed April 30, 2007).
2.  Stephan Faris, “The Real Roots of Darfur,” The Atlantic, April 2007, 67.
3.  Sallie McFague, “New House Rules: Christianity, Economics, and Planetary Living,” Daedalus – Journal of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Fall 2001, 125.

PART TWO

Eco-Spirituality, Environment, Religion
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