I was quoted briefly in this article in the Charlotte Observer this morning about religion and the environment:Believers say religion goes hand in hand with protecting the earth – CharlotteObserver.com. (Of course the interview was much longer, but at least I got a paragraph!)
We think of Environmentalism as a modern ethic, tied especially to climate change and the particular ecological crisis of the modern age, but caring for the earth is an ancient religious command tied to our stewardship of God’s earth. In Judaism, as least, we are supposed to view everything we have as a gift, and treat it with care, respect, and gratitude. That is the root of a number of Jewish practices:
- Saying blessings – Berachot are a kind of “permission” to use things that God has given us. When we say “Baruch atah…” we are obtaining the right to utilize things.
- Kashrut – Among other explanations, keeping kosher heightens our awareness of impact that our food has on us and the impact that that we (and our needs) have on the created world. “Eco-kashrut” – a melding of kosher and environmental thinking – is one way to apply these ancient ideas to a modern situation.
- Shaatnez – The seemingly nonsensical prohibition against wearing clothing of mixed wool and linen (animal & plant product) is actually rooted in the idea that God’s world is “Tov M’od – Very Good” and we’re not supposed to change it or mess with it.
We mess with the world plenty today, and many of us are not all that careful about wearing linen and wool at the same time. But we do believe that the natural world is Tov M’od, and it needs our help now more than ever to stay that way. The little things that we do can make a big difference, especially when we work together with others who believe similarly. It may be one of the few things that people of all religions – and people of no religion – can agree on.