Thursday, January 10, 2013

Earth-Honoring Faith; 4 Laws of Ecology; Quotations

Earth-Honoring Faith

Does your religious tradition honor God's creation?  How does your faith, translated into action, honor the earth?

That seems to be the question addressed by Larry Rasmussen, of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, in his Earth-Honoring Faith: Religious Ethics in a New Key (Oxford University Press, 2012), as described by Internet-sourced accounts of the new book.

The problems are well-known: "climate change, species extinction, the destruction of entire ecosystems, the urgent need for a more just economic order."  As we consider the natural elements of air, water, sunlight, fire and earth, what religious resources can we use to transition ourselves "from an industrial-technological age obsessed with consumption to an ecological age that restores wise stewardship of all life"?

Perhaps what is needed, from all faith traditions, is a common "spiritual and ecological ethic that accounts for the well-being of all creation."  Such practices as "mysticism, sacramentalism, prophetic practices, asceticism and the cultivation of wisdom" can "counter the consumerism, utilitarianism, alienation, oppression, and folly that have pushed us to the brink."

His effort is given rave reviews: "a tour-de-force"; "eloquent, comprehensive, and compelling"; "a vision that is sorely needed"; "interdisciplinary thinking at its best"; "his scholarship is impeccable"; "Rasmussen shows that a paradigm shift to an ecologically conscious civilization is possible."

Rasmussen writes, in the "Prelude" to his book: "This is a work in religious ethics.  Its burning questions are the questions of all ethics: How are we to live, and for what?  What makes lives, any lives and all lives, go 'round well?  What is good, right, and fitting?  And while this book, as any book, can do precious little by itself, it belongs to those questions."

Such questions are deserving of consideration in our congregations, sermons, Christian education classrooms, homes, communities, corporate suites and halls of government.

The Four Laws of Ecology (Barry Commoner 1917-2012)

Known to many general readers as the formulator of "The Four Laws of Ecology," Dr. Commoner died last year.  A cellular biologist and college professor, in 1970 TIME magazine featured him as "the Paul Revere of Ecology" in a cover story.  Some today regard him as the greatest environmentalist of the 20th century.  His books include The Closing Circle: Nature, Man and Technology (1971) and Making Peace With the Planet (1990).

The "Four Laws of Ecology," with various simple explanations given on different web sites, and which can be applied to ones daily life, are:

1. Everything Is Connected To Everything Else.  There is one ecosphere for all living organisms and what affects one, affects all.  Humans and other species are connected/dependent on other species.  With this in mind it becomes hard to practice anything other than compassion and harmlessness.

2.  Everything Must Go Somewhere.  There is no "waste" in nature, and there is no "away" to which things can be thrown.  Everything, such as wood smoke, nuclear waste, carbon emissions, etc.,  must go somewhere.

3.  Nature Knows Best.  Humankind has fashioned technology to improve upon nature, but such change in a natural system is, says Commoner, "likely to be detrimental to that system."  The Creation, one can argue, has an intelligence, and to tinker with that "unintellectually" we get global warming pollution, etc.

4.  There Is No Such Thing As A Free Lunch.  Exploitation of nature will inevitably involve the conversion of resources from useful to useless forms.  In nature, both sides of the equation must balance, for every gain there is a cost, and all debts are eventually paid.

Among Commoner's achievements are these two:

a.  As a central figure in the mid-20th century anti-nuclear testing movement, he issued warnings about radioactive fallout (based on an analysis of children's baby teeth) that helped lead to a 1963 nuclear test ban treaty that phased out atmospheric testing.

b.  He broadened his ecological message by becoming a politician, running as the the USA Presidential candidate on the 1980 Citizens Party ticket.  His running mate was LaDonna Harris, the Native-American wife of Fred Harris, former Democratic Senator from Oklahoma.

Quotations for Inspiration in 2013

When one tugs at a single thing in nature, (s)he finds it attached to the rest of the world.  John Muir

I go to nature to be soothed and healed , and to have my senses put in order.  John Burroughs

The love for all living creatures is the noblest attribute of (humanity).  Charles Darwin

Note: This is an expanded version of the January 2013 column that appeared in the monthly newsletter of the United Churches of Lycoming County, Williamsport PA ( .