Spirituality and the environment

I just came across an Ensign article on a topic I never expected to find in that magazine – the environment. Not our spiritual surroundings, but the actual great outdoors. Titled “Our Deteriorating Environment” and written by A. B. Morrison in 1971, the article describes in detail the pollution of our air, water, and land. While the information is a bit dated (lead pollution in the air has been wiped away with the use of unleaded gasoline, and Lake Erie has been largely cleaned up), many of the points Dr. Morrison makes are still pertinent.

Morrison makes the point that “in the last few years” opinions on environmental problems have become dangerously polarized. 40 years later, that’s certainly still true. Concern for the environment is often cast as an obsession of the political left, the cause of aging hippies like Al Gore. It’s not widely considered a to be a political issue with high moral stakes, like abortion or gay marriage. It’s certainly not a topic that I ever hear discussed in church. There are no save-the-environment themed Sacrament meetings, no Enrichment meetings on recycling, no requests from First Presidency to call your senator about CAFE standards.

But Morrison says that the problems of pollution and environmental deterioration are primarily moral and spiritual in nature. He wrote, “The prevalence of pollution stems from a lack of proper knowledge and understanding of the real purpose of life and of man’s place in the eternal plan provided by a loving Father in heaven.”

Specifically,

“Many of our environmental problems arise from the fact that our society has become obsessed with materialism. We must come to realize that there are higher motives for human existence than technological advancement and the acquisition of material gain.”

and

“The reason we are in trouble ecologically is because of our inability to see ourselves as a part of nature. We have not seen ourselves for what we are: part of the web of life and part of the biological community; a portion of an incredibly complex ecological system; and intimately a part of the total environment… We have behaved as though we have some sort of divinely provided right to despoil the physical world.”

and finally,

“In addition, too often we fail to see ourselves as part of a human continuum. We think only of our own generation as though it exists alone, with no obligations to the future and without any heritage from the past.”

Materialism, entitlement, and selfishness. All of which could find an antidote in charity, which is definitely a moral and spiritual concept. Morrison concludes by saying he believes the answers to all environmental problems and their underlying moral failings can be found in the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. His reasons are the following:

1 – “The gospel teaches us that this world is our home, created for us under the direction of a loving Father in heaven, whose sons and daughters we are… As such, it must not be misused or looted, for we are stewards entrusted with its care.

2 – “The gospel teaches us there are purposes to life that transcend the acquisition of material things. [The purposes of mortal existence] are primarily spiritual and center on development of the divine potential for growth and advancement that we all have.

3 – “The gospel teaches us that we are part of the continuum of human life. We draw from the past and are obligated to give to the future. We have an obligation, therefore, to others yet unborn—an obligation to present to them a world with beauties that they too can enjoy.”

What do you think? Is the connection between our spirituality and the environment tenuous and not worthy of much attention, or is Morrison right? Should our stewardship for the environment receive more attention in our worship and classes at church? Why do you think the environment has become so politicized, and would it be possible to discuss our stewardship of it in church without it becoming a political argument?

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  • http://prolusionsix.wordpress.com DLewis

    I think it comes down to how broadly we’re willing to consider the concept of charity. It’s easy to think of it in sentimental terms–helping human beings experiencing pain and suffering–but are we willing to think of what it means to have charity towards animals? Plants? Even rivers and oceans? Mormonism, it seems, is in a prime position to make that step because we have the concept of spiritual creation, of progression, and a celestial world based on this Earth.

    The problem is that environmental issues have been cast in zero-sum terms: if we focus on the environment, than we’re taking charity/resources away from people in need, or if we try and protect the environment, we’re hurting the economy. It’s a false dichotomy: helping other people and the economy often means ensuring that livable and useful environments remain sustainable. We’re just not good at thinking in the long-term and about beings w/o human-like feelings.

  • Ben Spackman

    There’s a lot of good stuff in the Ensign in the 70′s. I do wish there were more discussion of this in Church; given the recent shift to LEED buildings, *someone* in SLC sees this as important.

    However, I think it would be difficult to do without raising political hackles. Many people see sustainable living not as the primary environmental issue, but global warming, which then brings up everyone’s scientific biases (pro and con) that we also see with evolution discussions. And as you said, many people see environmental concern as an expression of Left/Democrat politics.

  • http://www.wonderfulworldoffranry.blogspot.com Fran

    Ehem, I think this is a superimportant topic, and it’s actually been on my mind this very week. The environment should matter to members a far greater deal than it does, and to me it’s outright against the gospel doctrines I know that we don’t talk about it more in Church, and don’t actively engage in protecting our environment more.

    I think we should be concerned because, first and foremost, as most Mormons believe, the earth was created for our indispensible earthly experience. It’s a fundamental part of the Plan of Salvation. However, by destroying the environment, we’re actually destroying life. The western meat industry causes about 50 percent of the ozone troubles we’re facing, as well as problems with land errosion and so forth. All these problems directly impact the lives of others. In many cases it has lead to increased flooding (which in poor countries equals starvation and death), health concerns etc. Basically, because of our gluttons, materialistic life-style (mostly in the West) and disregard for how our life-style impacts the world, we’re destroying lives, others and our own, and the world Heavenly Father has created for us to live in and learn in.

    Of course, mortality with all its pitfalls was part of the plan.
    So, maybe that’s the reason why we disregard these issues so comfortably in Church, but it really makes me mad to think about the lack of care a lot of members display in this area, but who then get worked up over some member having two pairs of earrings, or wearing flip-flops to Church, or who knows what. It bothers me that we can discard direct scriptures so easily (like all the ones mentioning that our body is a temple, that we have a scared stewardship over the earth, that we should eat meat sparingly, etc.) but then get worked up over stupid stuff. Arghhhhh!

    Oh, and it bothers me also that there isn’t much coming from the Church leadership in this regard either. We teach kids songs in primary about the beautiful earth God has given us and blablabla, and then trash it as best we can. Hmph…


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