Religion and the Environment

Religion and the Environment: A Campaign to Raise Awareness of the Environment and Discover Common Ground in the Judeo-Christian and Buddhist Communities

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Tu B'Shvat

It is interesting to note that not only is the enviroment important to Judaism in scripture, but also in holiday celebrations. This past February 13th was the Jewish holiday of Tu B'Shvat. Shvat is one of the months in the Jewish calender and Tu stands for the hebrew letters "tet" and "vav" to create the number 15, so it is the 15th day of Shvat.

Tu B'Shvat is the Jewish Arbor day, celebrating the new year for the Trees. During the holiday a "seder" takes place (a ritual service invovling prayers and food) where there are 7 grains and foods that represent the 7 species of the land of Israel, this include: dates, olives, figs, pomegrantaes, grapes/raisins, wheat, and barley. There are also fruits such as oranges, avacados, and pomegranates, and nuts with shells such as walnuts, almonds, coconuts and pistachios. But that is not all. For the seder there is also a need for fruit with edible seeds (raspberries, strawberries), inedible pits (peaches, apricots), wine (both light wine and dark) and then a charity box (also known as a tzedakah box). All of these aspects are necessary to perform a proper seder. They are used to represent the different parts of nature, specifically trees.

There is a website that has more information on the holiday and even TONS of information about how Judaism relates to the environment. I think it is important to note that within Jewish tradition there are ever prayers that are to be said when amazing acts in nature occur such as a thunder strom, sight of a rainbow, eating goods from nature, and more. The site is:

And as the Jewish tradition would say, Chag Sameach (happy holiday!)

Monday, February 27, 2006

Evangelicals and Global Warming

In February a new coalition called the Evangelical Climate Initiative (ECI) released at statement, Climate Change: An Evangelical Call to Action, that calls on the U.S. government to pass legislation that will limit carbon dioxide emissions (view statement and a list of signatories on the ECI website). The statement was signed by 35 Christian college presidents, Rick Warren (author of The Purpose-Driven Life), David Neff (editor of Christianity Today magazine), and the former president of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE).

Noticably absent from the signatories was the current NAE president Ted Haggard and Focus on the Family's James Dobson. Haggard did not sign the statement because he worried it would imply endorsement by the NAE. Several weeks before the statement was officially released Dobson and other prominent evangelicals sent a letter to the NAE encouraging them not to endorse the statement because of disagreement in the evangelical community over the severity of the issue.

Evangelicals are overwhelming associated with the Republican party which is why their efforts to raise awareness on climate change have generated so much press. Despite the lack of support from Dobson and official support from the NAE, the signers of the statement are described as a centrist group by Ron Sider, a signer of the petition and liberal evangelical. Further 2o NAE board members have signed the statement even though the NAE isn't officially endorsing the position. A survey sponsored by the Evangelical Environmental Network (EEN) found that 49% of politically conservative evangelicals agreed with the statement that "global warming is a long-term problem, we are causing the problem today, so we must begin addressing the issue immediately." If politcally conservative evangelicals encouraged the politicians they support to respond to global warming this could be a very strong boost to the environmental movement. It is unclear from the EEN survey, however, how important environmental issues are to these evangelicals compared to other issues.

The ECI statement encourages the government to pass legislation limiting carbon dioxide emissions. If the ECI can convince lawmakers that not supporting this sort of legislation might lose them evangelical votes than it is possible that it could be influential. However, if evangelicals continue to vote for candidates who do not support climate change legislation because they support other causes that are important to them, then it seems like the document would not cause much actual change.

Evangelicals Split on Global Warming
(The Christian Century, March 7, 2006)

Evangelicals will not take a stand on Global Warming
(The Washington Post, February 2, 2006)

Evangelical Leaders Join Global Warming Initiative
(The New York Times, February 8, 2006)

The New Climate Coalition
(Christianity Today, February 6, 2006)
*Christianity Today is an evangelical magazine and has an extensive list of articles and links related to this topic

Useful Sites for Religion and the Environment

Forum on Religion and Ecology
This site is really amazing. It is a project by the religion department at Harvard and has information on all world religions and their relationship to the environment. Within each tradition there is information on the sacred texts and an extensive bibliography.

Green Faith: Spirit, Stewardship, Justice
This group is an interfaith coalition located in New Brunswick, NJ. Their programs include religious-environmental education, placing solar panels on houses of worship, and mobilizing clergy and people of faith to advocate for environmental legislation.

Alliance of Religions and Conservation
This site based in the United Kingdom has a wealth of information. They provide overviews of each faiths views on the environment, many helpful links, news stories, and details on faith groups engaged in environmental action.

Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life

Interfaith Climate Change Network

National Council of Churches of Christ Eco-Justice Programs

Evangelical Climate Change Initiative

The National Religious Partnership for the Environment

Native Americans and the Environment

Catholic Conservation Center

Garrison Institute

There has been an exciting development in our project. Diane contacted the Garrison Institute, to help us with the section of our project on Buddhism. The Garrison Institute was founded to apply lessons from "the world's contemplative traditions" to saving the environment. The spiritual advisors for the Institute include a Tibetan lama, a Rabbi, and a Priest. The Institute is located in Garrison, NY (about a 75 minute train ride north of the city via MetroNorth). The Institute has very generously offered to cover our travel expenses for a visit, provide guidance for our research and design of the Buddhism pamphlet, and provide a location to distribute our pamphlets.

The Institute houses retreats and hosts programs on education, the environment, peace & reconciliation, and service in society. Their current environmental programs are centered around the Hudson River. One is called Caring for Creation, which focuses on the sacredness of the Hudson estuary, and the other is the Public Conversation Series, which hosts leaders from religion, environment, education and government. The Institute's projects are interfaith which makes me very excited about working with them.

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