Religious leaders of all faiths have expressed support for reducing carbon pollution that’s heating the sky and hitting the earth’s most vulnerable. Amidst growing debates about science and religion, where do faith and environmental stewardship intersect?
Rabbi Yonatan Neril, founder and executive director of The Interfaith Center for Sustainable Development, spoke of the message in the book of Genesis, Chapter 1: “And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth.” As part of the oral Jewish tradition, Rabbi Neril stated, “We are only given dominion over creation if we act righteously.”
The scripture that Rev. Canon Sally G. Bingham, president and founder of Interfaith Power & Light, calls on to support an environmental ethic is the second commandment, to love your neighbor as yourself. “If you love your neighbor, you don’t put engine oil in your storage drain behind your house because it goes to your neighbor and then it goes to the Bay and to the fish, and who eats the fish? We do. And that points out the interconnectedness of all things,” she said, then added, “Religion would not have a prayer without science.” Her organization stays in close contact with what the scientists are saying, and translates that into religious language to teach to her constituencies.
Rev. Ng believes that scientists are partners with all of humankind to understand “the beautiful world that God has created in the first place.” He stated that when science and religion are in conflict, it’s when religious leaders read scripture in a very literal fashion. “Science and scientists have helped us to see how the world has come to be, and there needs to be a constant dialog so that we can understand how discoveries can inform each other. I don’t see a conflict [between science and religion].” A few years ago, he had solar panels installed on his church. “We have reduced our energy bill and are contributing electricity back into the grid,” he said. The savings go toward the ministry. “I’ve always operated with the understanding that when we are doing the morally right thing, God will bless us beyond our imagination.”
According to Rabbi Neril, “The environmental crisis is actually a spiritual crisis. It’s a crisis of how we live as spiritual beings in a material reality. Consequently, a lot of the changes that religions can be most effective and encouraging are spiritual changes.” He believes that finding spiritual contentment is “the greatest source of our pleasure, and weaning ourselves away from finding our greatest pleasure in material satisfaction—that shift, that reorientation—is a tremendous environmental act.”
– Lucy Sanna
Photo: Ed Ritger Climate One, The Commonwealth Club HQ, San Francisco (December 12, 2012)