The Europeans who came to North America were farmers and settlers, rather than adventurers or traders, like many of the other Europeans who settled in what became Latin America. Their theology was based upon the Bible, which taught in Genesis that people should multiply and fill the Earth. In addition, they were to subdue the Earth and make a garden of it. Obedience to these commands may have been fulfilled too well. However, the land and water practices of Europeans had developed independently of Christian influences for centuries before their conversion. The Europeans had effectively deforested much of Europe and killed off a variety of species before the arrival of Christianity. What Christianity taught was stewardship.
It was like the stewardship practiced in ancient Israel. The religion of the Israelites included farming land owned by a family that would be handed down to the succeeding generations. This meant that the owners needed to practice careful husbandry that preserved the land and its resources for continued use over the generations. The idea of "development" by commercial developers common in the United States today would have been completely alien. In the modern State of Israel, there has been an ongoing project of afforestation, of identifying ancient practices and using them to make the Negev region, which is very arid, to bloom. The religious beliefs of earlier times have pushed the greening of the land since the beginning of the Zionist movement to return to the land of Israel. Oddly enough, those Christians who are most supportive of the return of the Jews to Israel are often not inclined to conservation.
Those groups that are usually evangelicals and fundamentalists who accept the end of history with the return of Jesus Christ in his Second Coming are those who believe that this divine event will happen very soon. To them, it is important to use Earth's resources before Christ returns, or else they will be wasted. The theological doctrine they commonly subscribe to is premillennialist. This, however, has historically been a minority view. Most Christians have been amillennialists, who believe that the Second Coming will be a complete surprise.
Therefore, the appropriate ethic for the eschaton (the period of waiting or the period of the last days) is to practice good stewardship of the resources of nature. The remaining theological position is postmillennial-ism. It is a very optimistic teaching about the unfolding of the events of the last days. The belief is that most people will become Christians and that the world will make steady progress until virtually near the end of the age. Most adherents discarded this optimistic view after the two world wars.
Religion has a powerful effect on people in a variety of ways. It can satisfy spiritual needs and organize energies to accomplish grand projects. The building of the pyramids, and other numerous architectural monuments in the ancient and medieval world, were driven by religious faith. Today, most of the peoples of the world belong to one of the major religions of Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism, Judaism, Islam, or Christianity. Those who still follow Confucianism or Daoism are mostly confined to Taiwan or to other overseas Chinese communities. Among these and many smaller religious groups, there is developing a great concern for the present state of the globe.
Jainism has since its beginnings over 2,500 years ago practiced reverence for life or ahimsa. For the Jains, all living things are not to be harmed, because this will add karma to the soul of those who kill other living creatures, such as animals or even insects. This has made merchants of Jains, rather than butchers or farmers. Their ethic is one that requires urban living tolerance of wildlife if it invades the urban area.
For example, there are both Christian ethicists who teach in seminaries and lay people who work with environmental issues who are seeking to develop principles of a Christian environmental ethic. The goal is then to apply the Christian ethical principles to agriculture, to natural resources, and to the environment that go beyond traditional principles of stewardship. Ethical debates about environmental issues such as global warming are about problems that are current or that are likely to arise. The problems are likely to be caused by technological advances that allow for exploitation of resources in ways that are very productive, but also destructive of future utilization. The issues that arise concern agreement over what are the environmental facts, the nature of the problem, and the appropriate solution(s).
At the core of these disagreements are different values and beliefs related to nature itself, and the use and management of nature by people. A growing number of scholars in the humanities, social sciences, and physical and biological sciences are emphasizing that the problems causing environmental issues are fundamentally interrelated with ethical issues.
sEE ALso: Climate Change, Effects; Conservation; Education; Ethics.
BIBLioGRAPHY. C.E. Deane-Drummond, Ethics of Nature (John Wiley & Sons, 2004); David Edward, Edward Cooper, and S.P. James, Buddhism, Virtue and Environment (Ash-gate Publishing, 2005); R.C. Foltz, ed., Islam and Ecology: A Bestowed Trust (Harvard Center for the Study of World Religions, 2003); Stephanie Kaza and Kenneth Kraft, eds., Dhrama Rain: Sources of Buddhist Environmentalism (Shambhala, 2000); Michael Northcott, Environment and Christian Ethics (Cambridge University Press, 1996); J.M. Sleeth, Serve God, Save the Planet: A Christian Call to Action (Zondervan, 2007); F.H. Van Dyke, et al., Redeeming
Creation: The Biblical Basis for Environmental Stewardship (Intervarsity Press, 1996).
Andrew Waskey Dalton State College
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