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 Under Construction

Moral and Spiritual Approaches to Sustainable Scale

Sustainable Scale Compatible with Spiritual Traditions
The concept of sustainable scale is not explicitly addressed in any of the world’s major spiritual traditions. However, concern for the issues addressed by sustainable scale are shared by the world’s spiritual communities. Issues addressed by optimal scale (see Sustainable Scale) are very directly addressed by the world''s major religions, reinforcing the importance of sustainable scale from a moral and spiritual perspective.

A Common Theme
A common element of the world’s religious and spiritual traditions is a concern for the relationship of humankind to the cosmos. An important theme in these considerations is the relationship between humankind and nature. Different traditions have approached this relationship in very different ways. Ancient Jewish and early Christian teachings placed nature in a subordinate position to humankind. Humans were considered to be above nature in the divine order, and nature was thought to exist for the benefit and exploitation of humans. Genesis, chapter 1 reads:

   "…fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the seas and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth…"

In Genesis 2, the terms are expanded:

          "…as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything…into your hands are they delivered."

Dominant Worldview Spreads Globally
This Judeo-Christian perspective was the predominant worldview in Europe for centuries. The advent of the scientific method and the rise of technology in European culture reinforced this worldview, providing practical means to use nature in unprecedented ways. As European colonialism spread, so did this worldview. The development of technology and the rise of capitalism reinforced this worldview, which has now become dominant across the globe.
A Minority But Consistent Perspective
However, within the Judeo-Christian tradition there has been a consistent minority perspective that contrasts with the notion of nature existing for the purpose of human exploitation. The 10th century Jewish philosopher and theologian Maimonides wrote:
   "It should not be believed that all beings exist for the sake of the existence of man. On the contrary, all other beings, too, have been intended for their own sakes, and not for the sake of something else."
Saint Francis of Assisi taught that all creatures were equal parts of creation, and not created simply for the pleasure of humankind.

Islamic Traditions
Islam, the third monotheistic tradition along with Judaism and Christianity, also focused on the relationship between humankind and the deity rather than humankind’s relationship to nature. But within Islam, as well, there is a tradition of viewing the natural world as not owned by humans, but as given to them as a trust, which they have a responsibility to preserve.
Eastern Religous Traditions
In South Asia, the Hindu and Buddhist traditions both encompass the notion of obligations to preserve and protect nature. And the Confucian and Taoist traditions of East Asia provide even more dramatic examples of a unity among humankind, nature and all living things.

Indigenous Traditions
Indigenous peoples from all continents have traditionally had the most intimate connections to nature in their belief systems and worldviews. Respecting and protecting nature played an integral part of the everyday lives of these groups who relied so directly on nature for their survival.
A Growing Interest in Nature
In 2002, a joint declaration by Pope John Paul II and the Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew emphasized that humankind is entrusted to guard and protect all creation. Similar statements have recently been made by leaders in the Hindu, Buddhist and Jewish faiths, as well as by Muslim, Baha’i and indigenous leaders, all emphasizing the interdependence of humankind and the natural world. Several interfaith groups have made similar declarations.

A Resurgence of Stewardship
The current resurgence of the stewardship concept among the world’s major spiritual traditions is in direct contrast to the notion that humankind has a duty to subdue and exploit nature – the worldview now dominant. The stewardship concept recognizes the dependence of humankind on nature, and makes explicit our obligations to preserve and protect all creation. Any activities that have the potential to trigger an irrevocable collapse of the ecosystem services that support all life, are clear violations of this obligation. The increasing attention devoted by the world’s major spiritual traditions to environmental preservation is a hopeful sign. Values consistent with living within the finite scale provided by ecosystem support services, appears to be reemerging.
Selected References

Brown, Peter. The Commonwealth of Life. Montreal: Black Rose Books, 2001.

Gardner, G.  Invoking the Spirit: Religion and Spirituality in the Quest for a Sustainable World,  WorldWatch Paper, 164, State of the World Library, 2002.

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