The Bible and the Environment

Today another colleague in religion and I made a guest appearance in a class on environmental biology. I covered primarily the Jewish and Christian traditions (with the main focus on Scriptures and the use to which they are put), while my colleague focused on Hinduism and Buddhism.

We were both able to talk about our visits to India and the fact that revering the Ganges as a mother and a goddess does not automatically translate into not pollution. Indeed, the notion that a deity needs to be protected from us can be counterintuitive.

I think we both agreed that the effect of religion can be harmful or good, and so it may be that the net effect balances out to zero.

The change in our technological vantage point is a key aspect of this subject. It should be no surprise that ancient texts written before the development of technology capable of irreparably damaging the environment don’t address technology or the environment in the way we would today. Also important to remember is that it is easy to say we should “live in harmony with nature” once we have developed vaccines against some of nature’s most debilitating illnesses and technology that elevates farming beyond mere subsistence level.

I also mentioned the Green Bible and quotes taken out of context. If you leave out the references to blood and killing, for instance, Numbers 35:33-34 can seem very relevant to modern environmental concerns, and I found a site online that quoted it in precisely that way to make precisely such a point.

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