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God and our Planet

Let me set the context first. As far as historians, archeologists, and anthropologists can determine, all societies, past and present, have some form of a belief in a superior or supreme being or beings. Having said that, there are also people in many of the cultures who do not share such a belief. Nonetheless, as we again approach Earth Day (This is the 46th year this day is celebrated), a quick review of what the five major religions believe about the planet we all share might be informative.

Christians generally believe that the earth and all forms of life on it are gifts from God, given us to share and develop, not to dominate and exploit. The material resources of the earth and the beauties of nature are to be enjoyed and celebrated as well as consumed. Given that perspective, we nonetheless have the responsibility to create a lifestyle balance between consumption and conservation. We are called by God to consider the welfare of future generations in our plans for and uses of the earth’s resources.

Muslims believe in Tawhid or the Unity of God. Allah is Unity which is also reflected in the unity of mankind, and the unity of humans and nature. We are God’s trustees and are responsible for maintaining the unity of His creation, the integrity of the Earth, its flora and fauna, its wildlife and natural environment. Unity cannot be achieved by setting one need against another or letting one end predominate over another; it is maintained by balance and harmony. Muslims believe that we are expected to have maintained balance and harmony in the whole of creation around us.

Hinduism is very concerned with the relationship between humanity and the evironment. Karma teaches that resources in the world become scarce because people use them for their own ends. People should use the world unselfishly in order to maintain the natural balance and to repay God for the gifts he has given.

Buddhists believe that the reality of the interconnectedness of human beings, society and nature will reveal itself more and more to us as we gradually cease to be possessed by anxiety, fear, and the dispersion of the mind. Among the three—human beings, society, and nature—it is us who begin to effect change. But in order to effect change we must seek the kind of lifestyle that is free from the destruction of one’s humanness. Efforts to change the environment and to change oneself are both necessary. But we know how difficult it is to change the environment if individuals themselves are not in a state of equilibrium.

Judaism defines the relationship between God and the land as continuous and longer lasting than any relationship we may have with it. Thus in Leviticus God informs us that no land can be sold forever, for “the land is Mine – you are but strangers resident with Me.” Later Rabbinic commentaries continued this theme – “God acquired possession of the world and apportioned it to humanity but God always remains the Ruler of the world.” God is therefore Creator of this world, and created human beings in the firm understanding that they are never permanent residents on the Earth – we continue to live on Earth only by the grace of God.

So politicians may argue, scientists may disagree, but the major religions are all unified in their belief that the earth is God’s and humans are the caretakers. A good reminder to ponder as we again celebrate Earth Day on April 22.