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4 Paths Toward A Religious Vision of Nature

4 Paths Toward A Religious Vision of Nature June 14, 2021

June is the month I consider again the same is question. What paths lead to a spirituality for Environmentalism? Ideas about recycling, green energy, rain forest protection, and catastrophic warnings have been offered in my lifetime. Few of these ideas have caught on with the general public. Recycling turns out to be a matter of convenience. Green energy is only gradually coming into mass use. Hollywood style catastrophes rarely happen in real life. A spiritual vision for the natural world is missing. There are some general approaches for such a vision. The four paths I describe are religious visions.

The Paths Of Abraham

The Abrahamic religions each possess a theology of Creation. The Divine Being creates everything that is not itself. Both human beings and the natural world are products of Creation. Each of these paths include an understanding of human stewardship of Creation. Humanity has the responsibility to preserve and “enhance” the natural world. Humanity is also given the responsibility of doing the same things with human beings.

One can easily see how abuses arose from this perspective. Concepts like “dominion” or “domination” allowed for perverse practices that destroy to maintain. These abuses can be traced to the desire for humans to preserve, above all things, for themselves the divine image. Each Abrahamic religion seeks to overcome the issue of sin that developed from this desire.

The positive take away here is that Creation is also viewed as holy. The Creator continues to work within the Creation and makes it holy. Human beings are a part of that work and have tasks to perform. The spiritual work involved includes prayer and plowing.

The Path Of All Is One

Many religions contain no creator god. The majority of religions hold a pantheistic worldview. God is All. All are One. We are part of it all. Pantheism could be our original theistic view. But it cannot be said for certain. Various forms of theistic beliefs can be traced back to it. Monotheism may have. It is difficult to say for certain.

A criticism of pantheism is that it leads to indifference. No differentiated Creator means no differentiation with the natural world for humans. We become no different than any other animal. We can be either ethical or, well, beastly. Does this belief contribute to moral behavior? I risk oversimplifying here.

The religions that formed within pantheistic worldviews recognize the need for social ethics and personal morality. There are many examples of abuses in these traditional ethics. The principle of ultimately being of the source of all still makes one consider these abuses for what they are.

Scientific Naturalism

Strictly speaking scientific naturalism is non-spiritual perhaps even anti-spiritual. But as a philosophical position it does have a potential spirituality. This view simply stated is the world exists as it does by natural processes. Evolution is the umbrella idea of these. Evolution by natural selection is the biological understanding of one of these processes.  Answers to the questions of how, why, or what should be done for the natural world will be found by continued scientific study. It does not require a large step from this point to consider human society as an ever evolving process. Our myths, morality, and ethics contribute to human survival.

Again, as a person who does not hold this view I am oversimplifying it. I can say with confidence that our present day scientific naturalism is a product of the early modern philosophical schools of the Empiricists, Rationalists, and synthesis of the two by Immanuel Kant. Unlike the two previous paths I mention, it is also a product of technological development. While we no longer hold a Newtonian mechanistic view of the world, we continue to have a technological view of it. Which is why we look for technological answers to environmental problems. Recycling, Green Energy, and the redevelopment of economies are examples of this technological way of thought.

Paths of Spiritual Economics

Trade is a pre-historical human practice. Modern technological advances are made for the most part to make trade easier. Steam ships were faster and more reliable than sailing ships. Mechanical clocks enhanced navigation and thereby trade. People trade ideas too. Let me give an example.

Christian monasticism developed from ascetic practices borrowed from Eastern practices as well as certain Greek philosophical schools. The story of St. Josaphat is a retelling of the story of Buddha. The spirituality of Christian monastics developed around these practices combined with Christian stories. This is but one example. There are others. I do not argue for syncretism. Contradictory positions are not easily reconciled even when they eventually are. I believe in the religious toleration of John Locke. And I believe that allowing spiritual practices from the various paths described to mingle and draw from each other helps.

One religious vision for the Natural World may not be possible. But an agreement to honor the natural world and liberate humanity from systems that destroy both can be made. Spiritual practices are the means by which we see the world. We can keep our paths and keep them clean.


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