I gave a presentation titled “Biblical Origins of Environmental Ethics” at the 35th annual meeting of the Environmental Law Section of the New York State Bar Association on January 29th.
One might ask what could a 3000-year old religious document that was developed for an agrarian society could conceivably have to say about modern 21st Century environmental issues like Climate Change, species extinction or toxic waste sites? Indeed, as western cultures have recognized individual rights and adopted economic models based on free market capitalization, the sacred teachings have been misinterpreted and come to view Creation (the Earth, living things, etc) as being here for the pleasure and profit of humans, They relied on the language in Genesis, which gave humans dominion over the earth and have tended to ignore other teachings that set forth humanity’s obligations towards the Creation.
However when one examines the original text and understand the context becomes clear that the proper interpretation is that humans have been appointed as God’s representatives on Earth and to act as stewards towards Creation. First, the chapters of Genesis show that God pronounced Nature “good” independent of any value to humans. Second, these chapters establish that humanity has a special role in and responsibility to care for that good creation and to exercise dominion over it. God commands respect for all of His creation. He teaches that human and nonhuman nature are equals in their ultimate task: the service of the Creator. This means to minimize the suffering of animals even if it comes at great costs to us. We should not just prevent the worst, but promote the good. Later Old Testament Scriptures reflects the idea that use of land and devotion to God are linked and that the freedom to use land–even the land one owns–is not without restrictions. Stewardship of the earth is a central element of the right relation between God and humans.
The powerpoint presentation is available Here.
More resources about the environmental teachings of various faith traditions including our Bible Study lecture materials are available from our website Here