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Ethics in the Protection of Environment

3 February 2012 No Comment

 

Dr Seyyed Mostafa Mohaghegh Damad

Beheshti University, Tehran, Iran

 

Abstract

 

Earth was bestowed upon mankind in a pure and pristine condition and sworn not to abuse and destroy this God given gift. Nonetheless, today we observe a savage abuse of its natural resources, total destruction of spaces of certain inhabitants in different parts of the world, extermination of certain species, and ultimately ruining the earth, water and the space altogether to un irreplaceable degree.

Fortunately today, the environmentalists and experts are not the only one recognizing the enormity of the problem. There is a kind of rising public awareness and worldwide outrage in many parts of the world, against irresponsible behavior of certain countries and international establishments being the major cause of these destructions.

The reality is that the root cause of the crisis in the modern time should be sought in man’s view and interpretation of his natural environment. In another word, the main problem is in man’s epistemology and worldview.

In our opinion, the true alternative and the solution lie in return to the perception of religions towards nature and environment.

Keywords: Environment, destruction of species, inhabitants, and natural resources, religious guidance(teachings), nature, spiritual conception of nature, scientific approach, culture of protection of nature.

Introduction

Enjoining the soundness and protection of the natural environment constituted one of the most principle teachings in the history of divine religions. Faithful’s believed that on the eve of creation the Lord had pledged man not to bring corruption and ruin to the earth for which he had forsaken the Heaven. Man was sworn not to betray this trust, i.e. this pristine and pure earth. He was forewarned sufficiently against the dire repercussions of not upholding this trust. Yet, the fact is that humanity attention to this matter and the insidious calamity that has befallen it, seems to an entirely modern issue. Natural environment crisis is the main issue that preoccupies modern humanity. Ferocious and cruel approach towards nature in recent centuries which stemmed from expansionist motives [and has led to] relentless exploitation of raw materials, sea pollution because of the bitter phenomena of oil spills, slash and burn of jungles, global warming and thinning of the ozone layer, has finally roused man from the stupor of dereliction. The innocent ululation of the birds because of sumptuous hunting, the extinction of forests, and the stillness of the flying birds, the death of beautiful and colourful fish and whales, has opened the eyes and ears of the human beings so much that they are dedicating themselves to this task [ environmental protection].  It has moved his hard heart and made him to consider and find solutions the repercussions of this untenable style of living and consequence of this dominating and monopolistic way of life which seemingly considers any other life-form on the face of the earth as being insignificant.

Religious leaders fell

 

Many centuries came to pass in human life. The call of divine messengers and religious leaders fell on the deaf ears of aggressor and domineering human being. They failed turn his squandering eyes, nor tamed his cruel heart, while he continued to satiate his instincts like animals, seeking pleasures, joys and exploitations. Just as the holy Quran draws the picture of humanity at the time of Its Revelation:

“…They have hearts wherewith they understand not, eyes wherewith they see not, and ears wherewith they hear not. They are like cattle,….”[1]

Man finally was caught in the painful infliction resulting from his own misdeeds; the horrible perversion that he fomented himself, had made his life miserable.

Corruption has appeared in the land and the sea on account of that which man’s hands have wrought…[2]

Now it seems as if humanity is going through the first moments of wakefulness at the dawn of alertness, rubbing his drowsy eyes. The very eyes that had been closed in the deep slumber of heedlessness in the darkness of centuries.

Fortunately today, the environment scientists and experts are not the only one recognizing the enormity of the situation. There is a kind of rising public reaction and popular protest in all inhabited parts of the planet earth. This is a promising tiding; for I believe that as long as this important issue is understood by all, and the jeopardy threatening humanity is not publicly discernible; the cries of a handful of people in form of “Green parties” would not reach anywhere and will not result in the ultimate solution, i.e. a popular mobilization of humanity; otherwise the issue shall remain buried within the conference proceedings and academic papers. In solving the problem, what is of paramount importance on which everything else depend, is to have the masses of humanity understand the problem. Then all that remains is to find the root causes and to point out on the furtive secret that conforms and complies with he sound, natural and pure disposition of human being; so that a proper solution and a logical strategy could be devised.

Our time is replete with cautionary saviours in form of individuals or groups. Green parties have significant presence everywhere. Thousands of articles and books are being written and numerous screenplays and films are being made. Yet the sheer enormity and gravity of the situation is such as if all these efforts are of no efficacy, and serve only as placebo for such an illness. What is the mystery behind this?

It seems that the riddle of the failure lies in ignoring the causes and pursuing the results. Should we not confront the issue in a fundamental way, and reach its roots, every efforts made is like giving placebo to a patient suffering from festering infectious cyst within himself. His condition is best illustrated by an Iranian poet:

Alaji Nama Kaz Delam Khoon Nayayad, Sereshk az rokham pak kardan Che Hasel?

Find me a cure for no blood comes forth from my heart, What is the use of cleaning tears from my face?

A major portion of the efforts exerted by the environmental activists is merely in form of environmental engineering. As if instead of solving the problem, they are wiping the statement of the problem. One group claims that if we could completely transform our means of transportation and eliminate fossil fuel as a source of energy, the problem would be totally solved. Another group also states that there are parts of the earth that are still untouched and man must abandon the polluted areas and move into virgin and sound areas to be free of corruption and pollution.

While appreciating all the efforts exerted towards better care from the inhabited earth using more rational means of production, transportation and similar matters, and acknowledging fact that there should be a constant drive, effort and thought given towards achieving more useful and appropriate alternate forms of technologies and lauding the works done in this respect, we believe that in spite of their scientific and scientific prominence these accomplishments alone do not hold the key to the final solution to the problem and release from the crisis. The question still remains that why the living habitat of humanity has become so unsightly and unpleasant? Why the situation has reached a point that a group of men, now that they have polluted a part of planet earth, wish to leave that place and go somewhere else so that once again they afflict that place with the same adversity? What is the primary solution? Could an alternative be conceived that could reconcile man with his natural environment, so that he would refrain from merciless exploitation and infringement, and live peacefully embracing nature, clean and pure air and listen to the refreshing murmurs of doves, birds and fish?

The root cause of the crisis in the modern time

The reality is that the root cause of the crisis in the modern time should be sought in man’s view and interpretation of his natural environment. In another word, the main problem is in man’s epistemology and worldview.

We hold the view that fanatical scientism, or in another words, rigid and inflexible scientific view lacking any spiritual support and interpretation and description of the world through the narrow portal of empirical science which itself is  the major gift and achievement of industrial development in recent centuries, is the main factor of destruction, pollution and ruin of humanity’s natural environment. In the modern lexicon, Science has replaced “Faith” and worship of earlier human beings.

It was French scientist, August Conte who first stated that the course of human knowledge has three stages: 1) Divine or Godly, 2) Philosophical or Dialectic, and 3) Scientific. At the divine stage, human being attributed all the affairs to will of God and supernatural. At the philosophical stage, human mind became capable of experimentation and abstraction and thus attributed the natural affairs to the powers that were unseen but their effects were visible. At this stage man sought actual cause or final cause for natural events. In the third stage or the scientific or investigative stage, imagination and rationality become function of observation and experience: something is valid when it could be sensed and observed. Conte believed that humanity has passed through the first two stages and has now reached the third stage. No longer would man fruitlessly clamor for things that are of no use for him, and would only deal with matters that would benefit life and would be of use. In the later days of his life, August Conte tasted the yen for tenderness, and upon the basis of his philosophical convictions established a creed called Religion de l’Humanite[3], and built a house of worship and established a series of rites of worship. He maintained that nowadays no creed would be acceptable and followed unless the scientists of the age accept it; and that  the scientists have passed through the divine and metaphysical stage, and any creed that they could accept on the basis of conviction and faith inevitably must conform with empirical science. In another words, science is the future religion of human being. Conte then added that modern science could only accept and worship a unified being, and that being is humanity which is above all things and persons, in which all individuals, both past and future, are a member and have strove towards progress and prosperity of the human kind. This entity must be worshiped. August Conte called it le Grand Etre[4]  and appointed himself as Le Grande Pretre[5] of this creed. Of course under religion of humanity, supplication does not mean worship, rather it means nurturing and nursing.[6]

At any rate, he stated decisively that the future religion of human being should adapt itself to science. His prediction was not so off mark, for in recent centuries, science has become the great icon and the absolute object of veneration for human beings. No, not even an object of veneration, but an exclusionist god that was intolerant of any rival and partner. A lifeless, soulless icon who cut down without hearing any conceptions of meaning, spirituality and soul who did not bow before it in utter submission. Spirituality, ethics, philosophy whether natural or metaphysical, would have had no place unless they were given the seal of approval by science.

 

The modern science is not a peculiar method of knowledge about nature

 

The modern science is not a peculiar method of knowledge about nature, but rather a thorough and encompassing philosophy that reduces all realities to the material level of functions and phenomena, and under no condition it is willing to acknowledge

The existence of so-called unscientific viewpoints. Whereas other views derived from seasoned doctrines, while not denying the legitimacy of science as a limited matter confined and encompassed by the material dimension of realities, maintain constantly the existence of a web of inner relationships, that links the material nature to the realm of the divine, and the outward appearances of the objects visible to an inner reality. Exclusive confinement of the realities of the universe  to their material scope by modern science caused scholars, especially in the West, to ignore paying attention to the more inner causes and means of environmental crisis most of the time.

Humanity sought refuge in science in order to escape from hardships in order to attain a better and more comfortable life; but the very science that came to interpret the  world surrounding man devoid of form of life, spirit and meaning, made man to make his world more constrictive and painful under the shadow of ignorance and neglect of inner and spiritual concepts of the natural world. According to Quran: And Whoever turns away from my reminder, for him is surely a straitened life…”[7].  Science that was supposed to be man’s companion and sympathizer, became his nemesis and according to Saadi, a poet from Shiraz:

Shod Gholami ke Ab-e Jouy Arad; Ab-e Jouy Amad o Gholam Bebord

A servant went to fetch water from the stream; The water of the stream took the servant away

For the urbanite man,  modern science has made the realm of nature into an object devoid of meaning. It has secularized the cosmos and made it asunder from the Divine splendor. It is not a mirror whose beauties reflect the beauty of righteousness. Moreover, the natural cosmos, lacks any kind of unity and oneness with human being, man considers himself apart from nature and is estranged to it, a stranger that lacks any kind of sanctity. If there is any sanctity, the modern man maintains it solely for himself. Thus modern man does not look compassionately to nature, he simply has a material, exploitative and applied view. [Nature] is not his beloved nor he loves it, it is not seen as his life companion to whom he feels responsible while enjoying its company. Rather to the modern man, [nature] has become like a lady of the night being there merely to be taken sexual advantage of, to whom he does not feel any responsibility or duty. The outcome of such notion was that like a woman of the night, the nature has gradually fallen into decay, as if spending its final days. It has become so old and impaired that it had fallen from man’s grace and could no longer be of a service in his dominion.

It should be noted here, that in fact through its interpretation of nature, modern science has helped to unlock the secret and the mystery buried within the nature and character of man. By nature, human being is  an entity set to dominate and control all that is outside him. Accordingly, he wants to dominate and transgress upon nature. Many western philosophers, and even few Islamic philosophers, are of the opinion that man is unlike what the ancient Greeks said Human is civilized by nature, but rather he is an aggressor by nature and exploiter by nature.

A seventeenth century, English Philosopher named Hobbes[8] was convinced that man is by nature always at war and that he maintains the right of preservation only for his own[9].

He said: “By nature man is selfish and egotistical. He is motivated by selfish desires that need to be satiated and fulfilled. In its natural state, man’s life is an arena, ugly, horrid, cruel, savage and short.”

Allameh Tabatabaei believes

Among present day Islamic philosophers, Allameh Seyyed Muhammad Hussein Tabatabaie believes: ´Man has a relationship with his own faculties and parts. This relationship was brought into existence and is real. Hands, feet, eye and other parts of his body are undeniably controlled and used by him. Man has the very same relationship with nature outside his being; essentially considering all external objects and even other human beings for his own, i.e. he considers them as his tools. He looks at all external matters, whether inanimate, animals and even plants with a view towards their employment [or application].”  [Allameh] believes that  man is by nature, created as an aggressor and exploiter, and that ethics is a secondary tenet for him. In another words, man is not civilized by nature, rather he is civilized by consequence and exhibition, and that Aristotle quotation that man is by nature is civilized, really meant that it is secondary nature and not primary nature.

Desanctifying the nature

 

Briefly, human bring is naturally disposed to engage nature and overcome it as much as it is within his power and to employ it towards his goals and enjoyments. Modern science has totally theorized this concept for him by desanctifying the nature. There remains no longer any meaning within the high mountain ranges, boundless oceans and the heavens for man to obtain. It seems rather that their majesty and grandeur annoys his dominating and arrogant disposition. By scaling and conquering them, he wanted to deprive them of their natural majesty and make them lay prostrate at his feet. No longer the spiritual experience of flight towards the kingdom of heavens as illustrated in Dante’s “Divine Comedy” for Christianity and nightly flights to heaven as in the Ascent of the Holy Prophet of Islam, is the aspiration of modern man. Conquest of the mountain peaks, flying in spacecraft and travelling to the planets in the solar system, has made him proud. He sang the hymn of victory over nature and celebrated over the destroyed ruins. So successful was modern science in its attempt at desanctifying nature, that regrettably even the religious persons too lost their divine and sublime feeling towards nature and its importance.

Eliade wrote: ” The cosmic praise and the mystery of nature’s participation as in Christian Drama, has become unattainable for the Christians living in a modern city. Religious experience is no longer available to the existence. In the final analysis, this experience is totally private and personal. Salvation is an issue concerning only man and his god. At most, man might recognize that he is responsible not only in relation to God, but also before history. However, in this (Man-God-History) associations there remains no place for the universe and the creatures within. From this perspective, even to a true Christian, it appears that the world is no longer felt as the work of God.”[10]

The confess

We must confess the fact that there is a striking neglect observed about this among custodians of religions in general, including Christian philosophers especially Protestants. For the majority of the important trends in philosophy of religion in recent centuries had dealt with the subject of man and history and had focussed on the issue of salvation and emancipation of man as a separate and single entity. For instance what is seen in the works of the famous contemporary theosopher, P. Tilich, is merely apprehension about human being as an individual separate and disconnected from the world, before god.  Works by Barth and Bruner suggest as if an Iron Curtain has been laid around the natural world. They believe that nature cannot teach man anything about God, and therefore is of no theosophical or spiritual gain. R. Bultman’s works have generally ignored the importance of the spiritual and divine dimension of nature, and had brought it to the level of a synthesized construct introduced for sustained life of progressive man.

Unfortunately the western churches, religious institutes, and the Islamic seminaries in Muslim countries, did not show much reaction before recent decades. In spite of the existing resources  originating from the depth of Christianity and Islam, they did not embark on compiling separate books entitled Environmental Divinity [or theology] so that to direct  man towards the spiritual aspect of the natural world around him.

Silence of religious centers and lack of serious scholarly works had developed the situation to the point that in the recent twentieth century writings, the learning and teachings of divine religions, instead of demanding have taken the debtor status, and are being reprimanded as an accused party. For some of the scholars who are preoccupied with the environmental crisis have produced works in which it seems as if they wish to have the Unitarian religions shoulder a major portion of the culpability for the ruin of nature and environmental pollution instead of pinning it on the internal developments within the western civilization that had started from medieval ages, Renaissance and seventeenth century.

For instance Arnold Toynbee, the great English historian and philosopher of twentieth century, has expressed unique and controversial hypotheses about Philosophy of history, and periodic rise and fall of civilizations. He believes that the Unitarian religions have unwarrantedly came to spoil man more than he deserves. Just because they have taught him  that God has created the world for him, that everything belongs to you, that all the mountains, seas and plains have been created for man’s better life and his use, and that he can do whatever he desires. This way of thought had led him to unbridled exploitation.[11]

Such thinkers ignore the fact that the unitary religion of Islam, which belongs to the very same succession of the unitary and Abrahamic religions of Christianity and Judaism, has never lost its mindfulness towards the sacred character of nature. Later on, we would point out that how Quranic quotations express the sanctity of nature. We shall also see how the Christianity and Judaism in East, unlike what we see later in West, had never taught [nor promulgated] the attitude and view point for dominating nature and laying it to waste. This is pure allegation. The teachings of unitary religions are not the cause of this crisis, but rather they are the only way out and solution for the crisis and dilemma that have come to grip man in modern times.

The later decades of twentieth century

At any rate in the later decades of twentieth century, amid the joy and rapture of conquering and commanding the nature, Man has awakened from the intoxication from the feeling of pride and victory of nature, and has recognized that what has been devastated here had been the value of victor, i.e. humanity. Fortunately at least the unanimous majority of thinkers in today world believe that the very essence of the existence of man is threatened and instead of man deciding the merit of science and technology, man’s own constructs have been transformed into the criteria for establishing his value and authority; it is now time for him to revise the [his] general view of the world. According to Schoen: “ It is no longer human reason that determines what is man? What is reason? What is Truth. Rather it is the machine that determines these subjects using physics, chemistry and biology. Under these conditions, man’s mind and thoughts is more than ever dependent upon the ‘space’ that has been created and established by his knowledge, and then after it is the very science and machines that in turn create man”[12].

Yet, in spite of the mindfulness and alertness of world scientific centers which is fortunate, regrettably the note of protest does not go beyond the limited confines of environmental supporters and authorities who have understood the depth of tragedy, and the general conscience of human community is not alerted. Whereas the ultimate solution, requires unanimous efforts and dedication of humanity. The environmental crisis would not subside as long as the feeling of kindness and compassion towards the outer world has not replaced the sense of domination and arrogance in the depth and every corner of the hearts of all humanity living on planet earth.

Our opinion

 

In our opinion, the true alternative and the solution at this junction, is return towards the perception of religions. More than past, today man has much readiness to accept teachings of religions. That is to say, inasmuch as his understanding and intelligence has grown, he would better understand and accept the religious concepts; this is especially so given the fact that the modern man has experienced the ineffectualness of atheistic perceptions and removal of spirituality from his natural environment, and he had tasted their bitter outcomes. Contemporary man, is repentant of his sin and penitent before Lord and has recoursed to God and seeks forgiveness for past transgressions. This is a critical and invaluable opportunity for religious institutions and clerics to have the religion recounted and presented in a way appropriate with the march of time, so as to embrace with kindness the modern man who has confessed to his sin. To bring back sanctity to nature by citing original religious sources and scriptures. Certainly should man look at the world around him through religious beliefs, no such ravage would ever take place.

What we mean by religion, in its widest and universal sense, includes all the beliefs and worldviews that have been studied and investigated under this subject. Thus our view here is not solely confined to religion as defined as “Submission of man before a superior force” that would inevitably lead to the Lord and the unitary religions [ the great formal religions of the world]. Official religion is a collection of principle precepts and deeds that is undertaken with an aim of linking man to a sublime power particular to a society or a community. Our intent in the present discussion, however, is linked to all tenets, words and deeds that are directly or indirectly effective with respect to preservation and safeguarding of environment. In another words, religion in this contexts applies to any system of beliefs that imparts meaning to the world, transforms man’s view, and calls for application of conscience and ethics, i.e. an inner strength and a manner of physical way of life based on enjoining good and abstaining from evil. A worldview coupled with spirituality and uprightness, is the original core of all beliefs that we mean by religion in the widest sense of the word.

The proof is the fact that all religions play this role in this general sense, and this is not something particular only to the Abrahamic religions. When we look up the Hindu tradition, we would meet a nature metaphysical belief about nature.  It is thus that  we see the growth and blossoming of many sciences within the embrace of Hinduism, some of which have come to influence the west, through Islam. In the Hindu tradition, our attention is drawn to Vedantic belief of Atman or Maya. A belief where in the existence, is considered not as an absolute reality, but rather as a veil that has covered the transcendental self[13]. This view is very similar to the theory of Names and Attributes in the Islamic Gnosticism. In Islamic Gnosticism, the world and whatever it holds, are manifestation of the Names and Attributes of the Righteous which we would deal with later on.

Eastern Religions

 

In Eastern Religions, especially in Taoism and in the Confucian doctrine, we observe a form of devotion towards nature and understanding its metaphysical significance, which is of utmost importance. The same respectful attitude towards nature, coupled with a strong sense of symbolism and a form of awareness about the clarity and focus of universe and its transparency from the standpoint of metaphysical truths, can also be found in Japan. Shintoism strongly reinforces this perception. Thus in Far Eastern art, most notably in Taoist and Zen traditions, drawings of natural landscapes are true portraits [of nature]. They do not cause a sensual delight in the spectator, but rather convey the benefaction, compassion and beauty and serve as means of union and oneness with transcendental truth[14]. This is the very essence that a Muslim gnostic, Saadi Shirazi expresses:

Tang Cheshman Nazar be miveh konnand; Ma Tamashagar Bostanim

Narrow-sighted Niggards look at the fruit, [while] we behold the orchard

Within divine religions, should we examine the history of Christianity in the light of eastern metaphysical and cosmological principle, we could succeed in discovering a tradition for studying nature that could serve as a record for evaluating Christianity’s new theosophy towards nature.

In Old Testament, there are certain references made to nature’s participation within the religious view of life.  In the Book of Joshua, there is mention of Lord  vow to maintain peace with animals and plants. Or when Noah is commanded to preserve all animals, whether hallowed or not, regardless of their gain to human being[15]. In the same manner, the untouched nature or desert is visualized as a place of trial and punishment, as well as a refuge for contemplation, or even a reflection of paradise. This very tradition of contemplative view of nature, lives later on in Judaism in the “Kabala” and “Hasidim” schools of thought.

In the New Testament, the death and assignation of Jesus ( ع ) is accompanied with the wiltering and blossoming of nature that bespeak of Jesus cosmic quality. Saint Paul , too, believes that all creations partake in the redemption of sin.

In West, due to the concern about polytheism and idolatory, and in reaction to them, the original church gradually distanced itself from the surrounding world and was completely severed from it. Even words such as paradise and desert, in their positive sense, were recognized solely with Church and later monastries as separate and distinct institutions[16]. Whereas, in the Eastern Church, reflection in nature was still approved and become more pivotal. Nature was included as a support for spiritual life and the belief was formed that all nature partake in deliverence and salvation, and that the world would be revived and restored on the second coming of Jesus.

For the author, Origen[17] and Irnaus, the early fathers of the Greek Orthodox Church who created “Divinity of Nature”, are of high importance. They did not restricted the term Logos, or the Word or Expression of Allah, to man and religion only, but also have used it for the whole nature and all creatures.

In his book, Hexaemeron[18], Saint Basil[19] who was a follower of Origen, has written:  “ When you think about grass or a herb yielding seed…that seed is the word that would come to occupy your whole mind.”[20].

This view is in complete compliance with the Islamic perception. In the Majestic Quran, the whole universe and its every components, are Kalimatullah [Word of Allah], just as Jesus and [the Holy] Quran that was revealed to Prophet are word of Allah.

And if all the trees in the earth were pen, and the sea which seven more seas added to it (were inks), the word of Allah would not be exhausted. Surely Allah is Mighty, Wise.[21]

When the angels said: O Mary, surely Allah gives good news with a word from Him (of one) whose name is Messiah, Jesus, son of Mary…[22]

Gradually as Christianity expanded into eastern europe, new groups embraced it who had a deep insight about the spiritual value of nature devoid of any signs of Mediterranean polytheism. A perfect example, were the Celts, who had a strong cognizance and awareness about balance and harmony of man and nature. The Celtic monks were always seeking Divine epiphany, and went on quests hoping to discover the harmony of Lord’s Creation[23]. They sought Lord in the mysterious cosmos. Pilgrimage, quest and visiting creation and nature have been repeatedly mentioned in Quranic monotheism. Please take note the following verses:

Say [O Messenger]: Travel in the earth and see how He makes the first creation…[24]

And We made between them and the towns which we had blessed, (other) towns easy to be seen, and We apportioned the journey therein; Travel through them nights and days, secure.[25]

In any case in the ninth century, an Irish thinker named Johannes Scotus Erigena[26] wrote a commentary on the Holy Bible in which he tried to establish a intimate link among Lord, Cosmos and human being. In this respect, he strongly defied some of the theologians and philosophers who due to lack of precise understanding of metaphysical and cosmological concepts of nature were inclined to accuse any such speculation as pantheism, naturalism and polytheism. Erigena thus stated “The Cosmos has a transcendental origin, and all creatures are from the Lord, but created through Jesus”.[27]

Finally in the person of  [Saint] Francis of Assisi[28] we behold the most fantastic, respective attitude towards nature within the framework of a Christian saintly life. His life among the birds and animals he addressed is a firm example of this Christian conviction that human being cannot relate to nature through consecration. In his Canticle of the Sun and his many other canticles, he displays a deep penetrating insight free of any human gainfulness. In his conversation with animals. He displays the inner connection and sincerity that a saint attains by connecting with the divine essence that has breathed into the nature[29].  Dante’s Divine Comedy teaches the fact that human being must really trek throughout the universe so that he would recognize that the force that surrounds all beings is:” Love and kindness that moves the sun and stars”[30]. While this way of thinking, that observing nature based on post-medieval teachings, was confronted with fluctuations and challenges, yet it continued until the end of nineteenth century. People like John Ray still searched the nature for signs and indications of the Lord. In his work, Our Farbenlehre, Goethes[31] dealt with the existing symmetry in nature and calls people to seek out recovering a perception of this pure and eternal nature.

Quran viewpoint

 

Following Christianity and Judaism, it is time to take a view at Islamic learnings. The Majestic Quran has a very interesting and penetrating view of Nature. It does not allow man lay prostrate before Nature as his lord because of its greatness and magnificence, nor does it consider nature as an entity without any sanctity, meaning or essence. Quran presents the natural manifestations as Lord’s creations, and directs man that instead of worshiping [these manifestations] to worship their Creator:

And of His signs are the night and the day and the sun and the moon. Adore nor the sun nor the moon, but adore Allah who created them,…[32]

Although the living beings in nature, in Quran view, are created by the Lord, but [nature] itself is not a soul-less and lifeless entity; it is living. Human being could become intimate with nature, talk with it and express love for it. Due to their manner of relationship to the Lord, Quran views the beings in nature as sacred. Their sanctity and essence is inseparable.

From Quran viewpoint, all parts of nature always are glorifying the Truth. They all pray before god and conduct supplication:

Whatever is in the heavens and whatever is in the earth glorifies  Allah, the Ruler, the Holy, the Mighty, The Wise.[33]

It is interesting to note that according to Quran, Glorification [of Lord] by creatures, could be understood, perceived and recognized by the human being. In a verse revealed to Messenger of Allah (   ), it announces:

Seest thou nor that Allah is He, Whom do glorify all those who are in the heavens and the earth and the birds with wings outspread? Each one knows its prayer and its glorification. And Allah is Knower of what they do.[34]

As you notice, the above verse expects human beings to discern the glorification and invocations made by all the beings of the world, even the birds in the sky.

In the lives of Muslim sages, it is a simple feat to hear the sound of invocations of nature. Saadi says:

Last night a bird was singing a dirge, that robbed me of reason, patience, stamina and conscious;

Unless hearing my chant, one of [my] true friends said:

I could not believe that the sound of a bird could make one so senseless,

I answered: I would have not been human to remain silent while the bird glorified [The Lord].

According to Sadrul-Motu’alehin Shirazi, every being is understanding to the extent of its essence, thus all beings in nature have understanding and awareness inasmuch as they are entitled to:

All beings, even the solids, while seemingly inanimate, are in reality alive, aware and glorify the Truth. They gaze upon the majesty and magnificence of Truth; having total awareness about their Creator and Maker. The Magnificent Quran points out to the very same thing when it says that …And there is not a single thing but glorifies Him with His praise, but you do not understand their glorification.[35]

Sadra has not interpreted the passage [you do not understand] in an active form, rather he considered it passive, thus suggesting that the beings themselves are not aware of their glorification although they are consciously glorifying. As providing further reasoning, he adds:

Meaning that because this manner of knowldege, that is knowledge about knowledge [which the Islamic philosophy calls compound knowledge] is particular to beings that are purely abstract who transcend physical.[36]

According to Quran, all parts of nature share salvation and deliverence with human beings, and therefore, just like him, entities in nature, whether animate or inanimate,  would  gather in the Day of Gathering, or Day of Ressurection.  About animal Quran Says:

And when the wild animals are gathered together.[37] The earthly beings gather along with humans, and every thing is eloquent and articulate.

When the earth is shaken with her shaking, and the earth brings forth her burdens, and man says: What has befallen her? On that day she will tell her news, as if thy Lord had revealed to her.[38]

In Islamic learnings, the link between man and nature in deliverance and salvation, [as well as] corruption and annihilation is so intertwined that human beings devotion or negligence towards God, observance or disobedience and violation of divine precepts, directly affect nature. That is to say, that, as a part of the manifestation of Truth, nature is kind and compassionate towards upright and devout human beings, but would be contemptuous and uncompromising against wrongdoing and cruel human beings. The Glorious Quran mentions that:

And if people of the town had believed and kept their duty, we would certainly have opened for them blessings from the heavens and the earth.[39]

In another verse, it quotes Noah appealing to those who sin:

…Ask forgiveness of your Lord; surely He is ever forgiving; He will send down upon you rain, pouring in abundance.[40]

In the Hadith or accounts dealing with religious leaders, the wrath of nature has been recognized as the very wrath of the Lord against the deeds and actions of human beings.

When the rulers tell lies to people, no rain shall fall.[41]

The Glorious Quran presents account of past group of people who because of committing sin and transgressing from divine precepts, were subjected to Divine punishment through wrath of nature. The people of Noah (Aad) and people of Lot (Thumud)[42], each had been annihilated through natural punishments.

In Islamic learnings, all beings in the world are sign and indications of the Lord, or within an Islamic Mysticism, the are all the names and attributes of the Lord. What is meant here by Names and Attributes, is that the Lord manifests in natural entities and all nature is a demonstration if Truth. Wherever human being looks, he would see the Lord. The Holy Quran says:

And Allah’s is the east and the West, so whither you turn thither is Allah’s purpose.[43]

A portent-based view of Nature, would bestow it such sanctity that would make it totally immune against any transgression committed in course of scientific explorations.

Along with this perception, there is the conception of Divine Vice-gerency that has been quoted in Quran that is explicit in presenting human being as the Vice-Gerent of the Lord:

And when thy Lord said to angels, I am going to place a ruler in the earth…[44]

In the conversation between Lord and the Angel in the beginning of the genesis, the angels were worried about the annihilation and defilement of earth, and discussed this with the Lord. But Lord indicated to Ilm or Knowledge when responding to them.

They [angels] said: Wilt Thou place in it such as make mischief in it… ?[45]

In reply to them, Lord says:

Surely I know What you know not.[46]

That is  you shall discover the secret of this later. The Lord announces:

And He taught Adam all the names, then presented them to the angels; He said: Tell Me the names of those if you are right. They said: Glory be to Thee! We have no knowledge but that which thou has taught us. Surely Thou are Knowing, the Wise. He said: O Adam, inform them of their names. So when he informed them of their names, He said: Did I not say to you that I know what is unseen in the heavens and the earth? And I know what you manifest and what you hide.[47]

From this conversation it appears that upon seeing the knowledge and science of Adam, the angels were convinced and attested that such a being merits divine vice-gerency and as a sign of humbleness they bowed to him. What kind of  a science is this knowledge and science? Could the very science that has in recent centuries devastated the environment and ruined earth, be the demonstration of the knowledge taught by the Lord? Indeed not. The science taught by the Lord, is a sacred knowledge that sees the world as a revelation of the Lord and the reflection of the Essence of Truth. The best rendition of this that of Quran where it mentions that He had taught man the His Names and Attributes, i.e. the world. To know world, is to know the Lord, and to transgress upon world, is to transgress and violate the Truth. Attar [a Persian poet] says:

When we sent out Adam

We bequeathed Our Splendor on the Desert

A devout human being will use the gifts of nature towards evolvement and development, for the Lord has announced:

The Lord created you from the earth and called for you to prosper on it

A devout person would not take any step other than thriving the earth, otherwise who would be known as a profligate. According to the Holy Quran squandering and profligacy, are suggested by Satan, and those who execute such deeds, are Satan’s brethrens:

Surely the squanderers are the devil’s brethren. And the devil is ever ungrateful to his Lord.[48]

Conclusion and recommendation

Briefly in the past centuries, by distancing itself from the spiritual perception of nature, modern science had given man an insight, that caused his dominating and transgressing ego to bring  about such a intimidating ruin and crisis while he confronted nature to satiate his inner desires. Unfortunately, the theologians and philosophers are most often responsible, and even contributed, to the issue of secularization of nature. Since by not focussing and making efforts towards writing works in the field of environmental theology and presenting it to the literary scene of their time, the left the field open for the total secularization of nature by Industrial Revolution and endless application of modern science. Many theologian and religious thinkers completely laid aside the issue of nature and pursued man’s salvation with utter disregard to the rest of  Lord’s creation. Under the present circumstances, due to this hard-hearted indifference to the right of nature and other living beings, the continued existence of Homo sapients on planet earth has become a hazardous issue.

The time has now come for all those who are truly concerned with the human condition and seek an alternative solution to this crisis, to once again recourse to the long and historical traditions of religions; to teach the study and exploring of nature using religious texts and sources within metaphysical teachings; to attest that it is only through the revival of a spiritual and divine conception and cognition about nature that [humanity] can neutralize the ruination of nature caused by application of modern science. It is through such revival that we could be assured that the future humanity would embark on making earth prosperous and flourishing instead of unbridled and merciless exploitation of nature’s blessings and defilement of earth.

Moreover, not only the religious values, but also the cultural beliefs of people living in a region could be generally used as a rules and guidelines grown from within people in course of centuries following careful study, modification, reform and extension. Such rules could be better accepted and taken up.  They could lead to practical answers in environmental preservation and achieving a sustainable development  not only in one region or in a country, but also throughout the world given necessary promotion and extension.

In other words, as one of the practical and tangible strategies in dialogue of civilizations, the universalization of religious values and teaching and expansion of cultural beliefs, could encompass practical blueprints towards protection and development of environment throughout this diverse and vast world.

The existing practical methods in religious convictions and cultural beliefs include the knowledge that one could contemplate the beliefs  expanded and proven in course of history, towards preservation of environment and finally the sustainable development.  It is thus possible to draft solutions and act on them so that along with other methodologies, these could really, and without being imposed by an outside agency or any governing body, reach their destined goals. By their nature, these solutions would become the hallmark of existing practical methods, especially in developing societies that have an ancient culture and history that are more dependent on religious culture and principles.

Thus the author wishes to make the following suggestions to the present scholars:

Now that human thinkers are concerned about the depth of the catastrophe and  disaster that has befallen the human environment, and worried about the future life of humanity and confess to the role of public beliefs and convictions in resolving this crisis,  the cultural figures and religious clergy now shoulder a heavy responsibility. It is now time for this group of people to seriously and sincerely endeavor on this issue, and  make reintroduction of genuine cultures, and teachings and traditions of religions towards educating the public in dealing with nature, as their main preoccupation in the present era. Resolving of environmental crisis demands general mobilization of humanity. The only way to achieve this sacred goal, is the guidelines offered by men of culture and religious authorities.

I propose that an association having scholars and authorities of various religions of the world as its member, be formed for protecting the environment. Its secretariat should constantly work for coordination and convening of scientific conferences and meetings.

The manner of introducing the traditions of religions to the present generation for a immaculate and spiritually better life, calls for a relatively deep study, since using the old methods, could not answer the present era and would be ineffective. There should be an exchange of experience among religious figures, in order to update the methods and use tools suitable for the new situation. The proposed association could attain this goal through bilateral talks and discussions.



[1] Al A’raf, Verse 179 (Translator’s note: Al A’raf in Arabic means the elevated places. It is the Seventh Chapter in the Bounteous Quran.

[2] Al-Rum, verse 41 (Translator’s note: Al-Rum means the Romans. It is the thirtieth chapter in the holy Quran.

[3] Religion of Humanity

[4] The great Entity

[5] The Great Preacher

[6] See Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Paul Edward | See Also Sair-e Hekmat dar Europa (Course of Philosophy in Europe), Mohammad Ali Forooghi, page 113, Tehran, Safi Alishah Publications 1927.

 

[7] Ta Ha, Verse 124 (Ta Ha is the twentieth surah or chapter in the holy Quran)

[8] Thomas Hobbes, (1588-1679)

[9] M. McDonald, Natural Rights, Theories on Rights, Oxford, Ed. J., Waldron, pp21-40

[10] M. Eliade, The Sacred and the Profane, The Nature of Religion, Harvest/HBJ, New York 1959, p.179

[11] M Mohaghegh Damad, A discourse on Nature and Environment from an Islamic Perspective, Dept. of Environment, Tehran, Iran 2000

 

[12] Understanding Islam, Trans. By, D.M. Matheon, London, 1963, pp 32-33

[13] Guenon, Introduction to the study of Hindu Beliefs,  trans. by M Pallis, London 1954; also see his other book,  Man and his becoming to Vedanta, trans. by Reynolds Nicholson, London, 1945

[14] Matgioni, La Voie Metaphysic, Paris, 1956

[15] Williams, George Huntston,  Wilderness and paradise in Christian thought; the Biblical experience of the desert in the history of Christianity & the paradise theme in the theological idea of he university. [1st ed.] New York, Harper [1962]. Prologue, Page 10.

[16] Ibid

[17] Translator’s Note:  Oregenes Adamantius ,  or Origen the most important theologian and biblical scholar of the early Greek church. His greatest work is the Hexapla, which is a synopsis of six versions of the Old Testament. born c. 185, , probably Alexandria, Egypt died c. 254, , Tyre, Phoenicia [now Sur, Lebanon]

[18] Hexaemeron or Hexaëmeron (“Six Days”), nine Lenten sermons on the days of creation, signifies a term of six days, or, technically, the history of the six days’ work of creation, as contained in the first chapter of Genesis

[19] Born AD 329, Caesarea Mazaca, Cappadocia; died January 1, 379, Caesarea; Latin Basilius early Church Father who defended the orthodox faith against the heretical Arians. As bishop of Caesarea, he wrote several works on monasticism, theology, and canon law.

[20] Raven, Charles E. Natural religion and Christian theology.

Cambridge [Eng.] University Press, 1953.

2 v. 23 cm.

[21] Luqman, verse 27 [Translator’s note: Luqman is the 31st chapter of the Holy Quran. The title of the chapter is taken from that of a sage to whose story it refers].

[22] Al-Amran, verse 44 [Translator’s note: Al-Imran  or Family of Amran is the 3rd chapter of Holy Quran].

[23] Williams, George Huntston,  Wilderness and paradise in Christian thought; the Biblical experience of the desert in the history of Christianity & the paradise theme in the theological idea of he university. [1st ed.] New York, Harper [1962], page 46.

[24] Ankabut, verse 20. [Translator’s note: Ankabut or Spider is the 29th Chapter of Holy Quran].

[25] Saba, verse 18. [Translator’s note: Al-Saba or Saba is the 34th Chapter of Holy Quran. The title of this chapter is taken from that of the city of the same name, i.e. Saba or Shaba, which was situated in Yaman and was destroyed by flood.

[26] John Scotus Eriugena; An Irish teacher, theologian, philosopher, and poet, who lived in the ninth century.

[27] Bett. Henry , Johannes Scotus Erigena. A study in mediaeval philosophy. pp. 204. University Press: Cambridge, 1925. 8o

[28] Founder of the Franciscan Order, born at Assisi in Umbria, in 1181 or 1182 — the exact year is uncertain; died there, 3 October, 1226.

[29] Williams, George Huntston,  Wilderness and paradise in Christian thought; the Biblical experience of the desert in the history of Christianity & the paradise theme in the theological idea of he university. [1st ed.] New York, Harper [1962], page 42.

[30] The New Encyclopedia Britannica, V.16, pp971-976, 15th Edition

[31] German poet, novelist, playwright, and natural philospoher, the greatest figure of the German Romantic period and of German literature as a whole. The New Encyclopedia Britannica, V.20, pp133-140, 15th Edition

[32] Fussilat, verse 37. [Translator’s note: Fussilat means a thing made plain. It is the 41st  Chapter of the Holy Quran.

[33] Jummu’ah, verse 1. [Translator’s note: Jummu’ah receives its name from the exhortation to gather toghether on the day of Congregation , or Friday. It is the 62nd Chapter of the Holy Quran].

[34] Al-Nur, verse 41. [Translator’s note: Al-Nur means The Light. It is the 24th Chapter of Holy Quran].

[35] Bani Isra’il, verse 44. [Translator’s note: Bani Isra’il or The Israelites is the 17th Chapter in the Holy Quran.

[36] Sadr-e-din Muhammad Shirazi (Mollah Sadra), Al Asfar Al Arba’a, fel Hekmatul Mote’aliya [The Four Unveiling on Transcendental  Philosophy], Vol.6, Chapter12, Tehran

[37] Al Takwir, verse 5. [Translator’s note: Al Takwir or folding up derives its name from the mention of the folding up of the sun in the first verse. It is the 81st Chapter in the Holy Quran].

[38] Al Zilzal, verses 1-4 [Translator’s note: Al-Zilzal means the shaking. It is the 99th Chapter in the Holy Quran].

[39] Al Araf, verse 96

[40] Nuh, verses 10-11. [Translator’s note: Nuh or Noah is the 71st Chapter in the Holy Quran].

[41] Bahar, V.73, p.373 ; see also V.96 p.14

[42] Translator’s note: Refers also to the people of Sodom

[43] Al Baqarah, verse 115 [Translator’s note: Al-Baqarah means the Cow and is the second Chapter in Holy Quran].

[44] Al Baqarah, verse 30

[45] Ibid

[46] Ibid

[47] Al baqarah verses 31-33

[48] Bani Isra’il, verse 27

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