Guarding Nature

Mending the earth requires changing our ways. Religious leaders and Eastern traditions show us how.

BY: Elizabeth Kadetsky

Copyright 2002 Elizabeth Kadetsky. Reprinted with permission from Science & Spirit: Your guide to connecting science, religion, and life.

At the Congregation Shir Hadash in Los Gatos, California, solar panels fuel the ner tamid, the eternal light that symbolizes the divine in the Jewish tradition. The panels were installed with a little prodding from the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life.

"On Hanukkah, we celebrate the miracle that a small amount of [oil] burned for eight days. We should take this as an example," says Sharon Bloome, the New York-based coalition's leader. The organization recently mounted a campaign to encourage synagogues to use solar panels, compact fluorescent light bulbs, and other energy-saving technologies.

Bloome's group is not alone in enlisting light to link the divine with an imperative to address our environmental crisis. Light-and how to fuel it-also resides at the heart of our energy crisis. When most of California endured rolling blackouts in the summer of 2001, the San Francisco-based Episcopal Power and Light kept churches illuminated by linking congregations in a power-buying aggregate. The alliance bypasses monopoly energy providers, seeks out clean sources of energy, and provides jobs to local workers.

Such campaigns are examples of recent efforts by religious groups to bring an environmental sensibility to their spiritual worldviews. A profusion of faith communities dedicated to spiritual approaches to environmental activism are becoming so visible a sector of the movement that mainstream environmentalism itself has become increasingly affected by religious and spiritual messages. The National Religious Partnership for the Environment, for instance, has enlisted the participation of five thousand clergy and lay members of Catholic, Jewish, Eastern Orthodox, and Evangelical and other Protestant communities as environmental leaders.

This stunning mobilization has sprung in part from a challenge from the scientific community, whose representatives sent out an urgent plea for the cooperation of religious leaders at the Moscow Global Forum meeting in 1990: "As scientists, many of us have had profound experiences of awe and reverence before the universe," wrote the participants, including astrophysicist Carl Sagan. They went on to "urgently appeal to the world religious community ... to preserve the environment of the earth." Religious groups have come to heed this resounding call with increasing boldness.

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