Utne Blogs > Mind and Body

Can Spirituality Save the Earth?

 by Bennett Gordon


Tags: Environmentalism, Religion, Everyday Spirituality,

And 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 fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.

—Genesis 1:26

Hands in the dirtGiving humans dominion over the all creatures of the earth may not have been God’s best decision. The current state of the ecosystem would seem to indicate that we haven’t done a great job with it. The view that earth is there for humans to use and abuse is all too common according to Tony Woodleif writing for World on the Web, “especially if our theology tells us that God will soon whisk us away to a better place.”

A shift in that theology is already underway. Spirituality and a respect for the earth would seem like a natural fit, and plenty of ink has been spilled about the growing connection between religion and environmentalism.

That connection is being strained, however, by a mistrust on both sides. Religion may instill a sense of superiority over the natural world, but environmentalists are threatening to alienate spirituality with an “unbridled materialism,” Ross Robertson writes for What Is Enlightenment. All the new cool, new eco-friendly gadgets and technology are integrating environmentalism with progress and the economy, but many in the movement are over-emphasizing materialism to the determent of spirituality.

What is needed, according to Chris Dodge in the latest issue of Utne Reader, is a “new, healthy land ethic,” inspired by the conservationist Aldo Leopold. Dodge never mentions an overt spiritual bend in his piece, opting instead for 13 concrete suggestions on how people can reconnect with the earth. Some are as simple as “sleep on it,” encouraging people to camp outside every once in a while.

Rather than a sense of dominion, thinkers like Leopold encouraged “an obligation to care for land and that goes beyond seeing it as private property,” Dr. Cheryl J. Fish writes for Busted Halo. Since everyone has the ability sleep outside sometimes, the land ethic alienates neither the eco-technophiles nor the more spiritual members of the environmental movement. Instead, it instills a sense of connection to the earth, which in some ways, is what environmentalism is all about.

david macbryde_4
6/9/2008 5:42:21 AM

Fine article. Readers may enjoy insights of the Dean of Yale University School of Forestry and Environmental Science at recent conference with Yale Divinity School. http://www.yale.edu/divinity/news/080305_news_speth.shtml and http://www.yale.edu/divinity/news/080306_news_hope.shtml In Germany, where I am writing from, the major Protestant and Catholic churches work on "Justice, Peace and Creation" has had a significant effect in public political interest in good stewardship.