Exploring the gospel principles of earth stewardship

Thoughts from an important voice on religion and environment, guest post by Nathan Waite

The Wallace Stegner Center Lecture was given last Thursday by Mary Evelyn Tucker. Dr. Tucker is a foundational figure in religion and ecology—read more about her here: http://environment.yale.edu/profile/tucker/. Her talk was entitled “The Emerging Alliance of Religion and Ecology.”

Her interest in the relationship between religion and ecological thinking began with a trip 40 years ago to Japan, where she saw the interaction of nature and religion at Shinto temples, in Zen gardens (this was before Japan was a tourist attraction, she said), etc. It’s the like the desert here in Utah—“the simplicity of bare stone and sand and a few plants; it awakens you to something greater than yourself.”

Our common ground is wonder—it unites all disciplines [and, though she didn’t say it, can bridge vast idealogical chasms]

As religions move into the ecological phase (with many bumps along the way, of course), a three-pronged approch will include engagement by leadership, grassroots efforts, and engaged scholarship. She sees an unexpected ally in the Catholic Church, with the recently named Pope Francis (“who would have thought he’d take the name of St. Francis of Assissi?”) who has eschewed the “carnival” of the papacy—his word—and mentioned care for the Earth nine times in his first address. Others include the Dalai Lama, the patriarch Bartholomew of the Greek Orthodox Church, the Plum Village monastery.

The most valuable and exciting parts of her talk were no more than bullet points, where she outlined ways of thinking about the relationship between religions and ecology. Here are a few of those lists:

Problems of religions, ecologically speaking: intolerance, dogmatism, exclusive claims to truth, otherworldly orientation, personal salvation—think the Rapture, nature devalued (sacred groves as pagan), anthropocentric [later during Q&A she added “patriarchy”]

Promise of religion for ecological concerns: Huge numbers of people, institutional authority [but to what degree WOULD a papal encyclical affect day-to-day actions of Catholics?], power of text and tradition—she talked about the “Green Bible” and asked, “What would this look like for Mormonism?”

Five elements of religion that can lead to environmental responsibility:

·         Cosmology—orienting

·         Community—grounding

·         Ritual—nurturing

·         Ethics—transforming

·         Personal—awakening

She talked about the new atheist movement—folks like Dawkins—and how their strong, loud voices rail against a caricature of religion. We can recover that picture, shift the conversation, provide a larger understanding that all religions have situated humans in the cosmos and in nature.

She urged a shift not only to nature-centric, but cosmos-centric, to understanding the way that, for instance, carbon-based life was only made possible by supernovae.

Regarding Mormonism in particular, she talked not only of a Mormon version of “green” scriptures, but also the fact that she sees this as an important moment in making Mormonism part of the larger religion and ecology movement. She spoke of relying on folks like George Handley, Jason Brown (who studied with her at Yale), Terry Tempest Williams, and other insiders. She hopes Mormonism can have a place on the Yale Center’s website. Her address made me feel like we are a part of a larger community, helping me realize that environmentally and religiously minded individuals and organizations are all over the place.

She provided a few ideas of where to go for more resources:

Yale Forum on Religion and Ecology—fore.research.yale.edu—they have bibliography, curriculum ideas, can sign up for newlsetter

www.journeyoftheuniverse.org—her current project.

The Earth Charter (http://www.earthcharterinaction.org)—an attempt to put together a universal set of environmental ethics

renewalproject.net—documentary on evangelical Christianity and ecology

  • Peter says:

    Thanks for the summary. It’s interesting to see the parallel emergence of an ethic of caring for the earth across many different religions. I think Mormonism is a bit of a special case, (Maybe all religions are special cases.) At any rate, the approaches that are bearing fruit in other religions will require some massaging to work in the LDS context,but I think we’re on the right track. It’s exciting and a privilege to be part of this effort.