Coffin 9-23-2010

My Word: Earth care a spiritual duty

JimCoffin(Orlando Sentinel, September 23, 2010)

By James Coffin

Forty-eight years ago this month, Rachel Carson’s book “Silent Spring” helped launch our modern environmental movement. Scientists, politicians and the public continue to debate just how serious the risks are, how great a role humans actually play, and how the negative consequences might best be mitigated.

Far less debatable is the fact that the world’s major religions all recognize our human responsibility for Earth stewardship. Belief in a creator obligates us to appropriately care for what the creator has entrusted to us.

Buddhism emphasizes the interconnectedness of creation in its entirety: “The health of the whole is inseparably linked to the health of the parts, and the health of the parts is inseparably linked to the health of the whole.”

Hinduism recognizes a similar symbiotic relationship between humans and nature. The Bhagavad-Gita states: “Propitiate the Elements of Nature (Devas) and let the Elements of Nature (Devas) support you. Together, both of you prosper.”

Guru Granth Sahib, the Holy Scriptures of Sikhism, declares: “With the Will of God the Supreme Being, earth was created –– a place for dharma, duty, and action. It is the Temple of God Himself. Where created were the air, water, and soil –– the complete environs to nourish all the beings. It is God’s abode as well…”

The Quran says that Allah “created everything,” and “it is He who has appointed you guardians on the earth…” In fact, humans will be judged on how well we execute this responsibility, because Allah will “try you in what He has given you. Surely your Lord is swift in reckoning…”

Jews and Christians draw much of their earth-stewardship understanding from the Torah. There God instructs Adam and Eve to oversee (literally, to serve) his creation. The Torah also includes environmental regulations such as prohibiting the cutting of fruit trees even for use in besieging enemy cities. For millennia, rabbinic tradition has interpreted this as a general prohibition against wanton destruction, wastefulness and environmental degradation.

Good people may disagree concerning the nature and extent of our environmental challenges and the most effective ways to respond. But the unanimity of the holy writings of the the world’s great religions suggest that every believer in a supreme creative power should take seriously the universal undergirding principle that humans have a spiritual obligation to care for our Earth.

At the time this was published, James Coffin was senior pastor of the Markham Woods Church of Seventh-day Adventists and a member of the executive committee of the Interfaith Council of Central Florida.