Fordham Notes: On Earth Day, Reflection on Religion and Ecology

Thursday, April 22, 2010

On Earth Day, Reflection on Religion and Ecology

Why are religions’ contributions to combating the Earth's environmental woes somewhat non-existent, or at best not effective?

Earlier this week, Fordham’s Center for Ethics Education spearheaded a conference on ethics and climate change. Panelist Elizabeth Johnson, Ph.D., Fordham’s Distinguished Professor of Theology, said most religions in the 21st century face conflicting interests and a new 'secular' world that values material over spiritual.

Speaking on Religion’s Resources for Environmental Ethics, Sister Johnson said that, traditionally, many of the world’s religions have fostered an orientation toward the natural world and the cosmos, one that has often times glorified nature as God’s creation.

However, through the rise of “unfettered capitalism," i.e. irresponsible market practices, the modern industrial world has ushered in a competitor -- what Sister Johnson sees as a new form of religion—the idolatristic religion of “unending growth.”

“Once we define ourselves as consumers we can never have too much, and the GNP can never be big enough,” she said. “Hence, creating consumerist needs for the sake of corporate profit becomes the highest good.”

Unfortunately, she said, what is sacrificed in this new “religion” are the traditional religious “fundamental values of common good, including social justice and ecological integrity.”

Today’s western religions themselves have come to reap profits from the 21st century brand of unfettered capitalism, said Sister Johnson. They have also have seen their influence diminished by secularism.

“Part of the solution to the environmental crisis will occur when the religions rediscover their own soul, refresh their worldview and ethical values, and struggle prophetically against the false religion of our age. Then we might understand the wisdom in the prophet Mohammed’s saying: ‘When doomsday comes, if someone has a palm shoot in his hand, he should plant it.’”


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