Thanks to our outstanding guest blogger Juliet for this week’s post! Juliet is a strategic communications consultant with a strong focus on issues related to the environment and public health. An accomplished marketing and communications executive, she has nearly 20 years’ experience in branding and communications strategies, public relations, social marketing and public awareness campaigns. Juliet is also an ardent yoga practitioner who frequently explores the world of vegan cooking (with wildly inconsistent results).
You can reach Juliet at either Juliet@julietglassroth.com, by posting a comment below, or by visiting our contact page.
Recently, I’ve had the pleasure of working with a small, faith-based environmental organization. The project I am doing for this group has given me the opportunity to ask a number of spiritual leaders of different ilk the question: “Does faith play a role in protecting the environment?”
Though their individual ideologies differ, on one thing they were unanimous: Heaven yes! What I heard in response to my question is that faith not only plays an enormous role in environmental protection, it is perhaps one of the strongest arguments for protecting “God’s creation.”
At this auspicious time of year, when multiple religions have cause to celebrate as well as worship, it seemed appropriate to take a moment to assess where environment and faith may intersect. Not coming from a faith-based background myself, this topic intrigues me. Full disclosure, I grew up as a non-practicing Jew. And my mother, herself a non-practicing Jew, had us celebrating Christmas Gangnam style from the time I was born. My religious background? Let’s just call it confused.
That said, if I trace the roots of my own passion for environmentalism back to their origin, it probably lies in my yoga practice. Although I didn’t know it when I first started my practice well over a decade ago, yoga has given me solid roots in the spiritual realm. That is not to say that I believe yoga is in any way a religion – there are plenty of atheists who have a very strong yoga practice. But, similar to religions, it does provide moral precepts. Included in these precepts, called the yamas and niyamas, are ethical standards including non-harming (ahimsa) and nonstealing (asteya).
If you’re so inclined to follow them, the yamas and niyamas without question apply to avoiding doing harm to our home, the planet. They also guide us to take no more than we need – in other words, not plundering the Earth’s precious resources. Over time, I have certainly taken ahimsa and asteya off the mat and into my life. And although the scope of the yamas and niyamas extend beyond the environment, my attempts to follow without question spilled over into how I thought about and treated the planet.
Many of the spiritual leaders I spoke with expressed similar views about how their faith facilitated environmental activism in themselves and in their congregations.
“Bad faith has helped to contribute to the degradation of the environment. When theology is interpreted inaccurately, one would believe that God doesn’t really care about physical matter but only about spiritual beings; one might misinterpret scripture to think that home is not on Earth – it’s in heaven,” said Eugene Sutton Bishop of the Maryland Episcopal Diocese. “But we can look to Jesus as the example of what our having ‘dominion’ over the Earth truly means. He showed us that we must care for that over which we have dominion.”
Rabbi Elissa Sachs-Kohen of the Baltimore Hebrew Congregation, agrees, “Faith has a role in redirecting society toward the values that will sustain all of us in the long run. For all faiths, protecting the earth is a sacred gift to humanity.”
“It is our job to protect god’s creation. What we are being called to do – particularly in light of the obsession to create more fossil fuels with respect to jobs – is to educate others and take action ourselves. If bad faith got us into this mess, than it is good faith that will help get us out of it,” said Bishop Sutton.
I couldn’t agree more. In my opinion, whatever it is that will ensure people take better care of the greatest gift we’ve been given – in the holiday season or any other – I am all for it. For some, it may be science that encourages them to leave a smaller footprint on the Earth. For others, it may be a desire to leave the planet in the best shape possible for their children and grandchildren. And for people for whom faith leads them down a path leading to conservation? To that, I say Hallelujah, Mazel Tov, Namaste and Amen.