Religious Philosophy of Abrahamic Religions on Environmentalism
by Tabitha Mustafa
It’s common in western culture to use religion as a moral compass and basis for just action. However, that seems to fall by the wayside when it comes to conversations about environmentalism. That directly violates the tenants of many religion, especially Abrahamic religions. In fact, Abrahamic religions actually advocate for environmentalism. If we take even a swift look at Christianity, Islam and Judaism, this fact becomes undeniable. The issue is that the relationship between religion and environmentalism is commonly ignored.
Moving chronologically, Judaism is the first Abrahamic religion to surface; it is also the first to encourage environmentalism. If we take a closer look at Judaism’s historic relationship with the land, we remember that for quite a while, the Jewish people didn’t have a land with which to maintain a relationship. They were essentially a landless people. This constant displacement continued all the way up to World War I and has created a very complicated relationship between the Jewish people, the land and their historic inability to connect to it.
However, if we delve deeper into the actual tenants of Judaism, it become abundantly clear that the Earth is seen as the creation of God meant to be cared for by all humanity—including the Jewish people. This holds true in both Judaism and Christianity, as the Torah and the New Testament of the Bible are one in the same.
There are two verses that particularly stick out when viewing environmentalism through a Judeo-Christian lens: a commandment to care for the land, as well as one not to own the land. In Genesis 2:15 it states, “And the Lord God took the man, and put him into the Garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it.” It can be understood that it humans were meant to not only care for the land but to help it flourish and be plentiful. And while the Bible states that the role of humanity is to care for the earth, there is also a clear distinction in Leviticus 25:23 that “The land must not be sold permanently, because the land is mine and you are but aliens and my tenants.” Therefore, a literal reading of Judeo-Christian theology suggests that humans are merely custodians of the earth—caretakers who are to work in unity with the land and actively work to maintain, and not destroy, the environment.
Contrary to this belief, Judeo-Christian nations and other countries alike have directly disobeyed these directives. Even Pope Francis has proclaimed that, “It is man who has slapped nature in the face…We have in a sense taken over nature.” But in fact, humankind was instructed to do just the opposite. We were never meant to have dominion over the earth. Now that people have control of the environment, we’re in a sense playing God. If we, as a species, are going to take on such a bold task, it remains abundantly clear that it is up to us to right our wrongs.
Much like Judaism and Christianity, Islam also demands that humans have a symbiotic relationship with the Earth. The Quran states, “Devote thyself single-mindedly to the Faith, and thus follow the nature designed by Allah, the nature according to which He has fashioned mankind. There is no altering the creation of Allah.” This means that, in Islam, humanity has an obligation to work with nature and not to disturb the natural formations of the Earth—as predetermined by Allah. There is also a principle called Hima, which encourages Muslims to create conservation areas where cutting down trees, allowing domestic animals to graze, harvesting during low seasons and utilizing the land’s resources for those outside of the particular village are all illegal. This suggests that Islam encourages small scale living with minimal waste where humans live in harmony with the land.
Using Islam, Christianity and Judaism as examples of religions which compel their followers to be in unity with the Earth, it is clear that environmentalism is central to Abrahamic religions. If Western Christians, Muslims and Jews are going to continue to use religion as a central part of arguments about the ethics and morality of key issues, they must also remember that environmentalism—including everything from climate change to environmental and food justice—is also an issue of faith.