Thoughts on environmentalism: Hindu “ahimsa”, Greek goddess “Gaia”, and the Good News of Christianity

I

Environmentalism at a glance appears only a movement for the care of our environment, as a care for the earth on which we live in.  There is nothing wrong with this.  But I have a feeling that the movement is slowly being steered underneath by the following principle:  plants, animals, and man have equal dignity.  This sounds like the Hindu concept of “ahimsa,” meaning to “do no harm”.  For example,

Ahimsa in Jainism emphasizes vegetarianism and bans hunting and ritual sacrifice. Jains go out of their way so as not to hurt even small insects and other minuscule animals and make considerable efforts not to injure plants in everyday life as far as possible. In accordance to this policy, eating of some foods, whose cultivation harms small insects and worms as well as agriculture itself, is to be abstained from. (Wikipedia)

This equality of all life also appears to be rooted in the Hindu concept of reincarnation: if a man can be reincarnated to an animal or to a plant or to earth, then all animate and inanimate objects have equal dignity.  If we follow this line of reasoning, it is natural to regard our very Earth as an incarnation of another spirit–caring and sustaining all life like a mother to a child.    The Greeks call her Gaia or the Great Mother Earth: mother without a husband (appealing to feminists), mother of the sea (Pontus) and sky (Uranus), and through incest became the mother of all that is (c.f. Wikipedia).

In 1979, the name Gaia was resurrected by James Lovelock in his book, “Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth“.  In this book, Lovelock proposed the Gaia hypothesis:

Living organisms and inorganic material are part of a dynamic system that shapes the Earth’s biosphere, and maintains the Earth as a fit environment for life. In some Gaia theory approaches the Earth itself is viewed as an organism with self-regulatory functions. Further books by Lovelock and others popularized the Gaia Hypothesis, which was widely embraced and passed into common usage as part of the heightened awareness of environmental concerns of the 1990s.

Thus, we now see clearly the connection of the worship of the Greek Goddess Gaia with our present marches, concerts, and parties for Mother Earth this Earth Day.

II

What should we Catholic Christians do?  Let us read the Bible and proclaim the Good News of our Catholic Faith.  In the Book of Genesis, God, not Gaia, created the world and man.  But of all His creatures, it is only man that he made in his image and likeness:

God created man in the image of himself, in the image of God he created him, male and female he created them. (Gen 1:27)

This gives man a dignity above that of any other creature: more than the animals, more than the plants, more than our very earth—the thing that we refer to as Mother.

And God blessed man (male and female), saying to them:

Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth and conquer it.  Be masters of the fish of the sea, the birds of heaven and all living animals on the earth…. See I give you all the seed-bearing fruit; this shall be your food.  (Gen 1:28-30)

After the Great Flood, God gave a new blessing to Noah and his sons:

Be fruitful, multiply and fill the earth.  Be the terror and the dread of all the wild beasts and all the birds of heaven, of everything that crawls on the ground all the fish of the sea; they are handed over to you.  Every living and crawling thing shall provide food for you, no less than the foliage of plants.  I give you everything, with theis exception: you must not eat flesh with life, that is to say blood, in it.  I will demand and account of your life-blood.  I will demand an account from every beast and from man.  I will demand an account of every man’s life from his fellow men.  He who sheds man’s blood, shall have his blood shed by man, for in the image of God man was made.  As for you, be fruitful, multiply, teem over the earth and be lord over it.

So why should we be afraid of human population growth?  God willed that the marriage of a man and woman would be fruitful.  Why should we use condoms, pills, and other contraceptives?  Why should we dread pregnancy and treat it like a disease?  Why abort the child in our wombs?

In the Book of Exodus, God listed the animals that are clean and unclean.  Clean animals may be eaten; unclean  animals may not be eaten (Lv 11:1-47).  But in the New Testament, God allowed all things to be eaten.  As Christ said to his disciples:

Do you not realize that everything that enters the mouth passes into the stomach and is expelled into the latrine?  But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile.  For from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, unchastity, theft, false witness, blasphemy. (Mt 15:11)

And as God explained to Peter in a vision, in reference to the acceptance of the Gentiles into Christianity:

[Peter] felt hungry and was looking foward to his meal, but before it was ready he fell into a trance and saw heaven thrown open and something like a big sheet being let down to earth by its four corners; it contained every possible sort of animal and bird, walking, crawling or flying ones.  A voice then said to him, ‘Now, Peter; kill and eat!’  But Peter answered, ‘Certainly not, Lord; I have never yet eaten anything profane or unclean’–Again.  a second time, the voice spoike to him, ‘What God has made clean, you have no right to call profane. ‘  This was repeated three times, and then suddenly the container was drawn up to heaven again.

This is the Good News.  Christianity is the Good News.

About Quirino M. Sugon Jr
Theoretical Physicist in Manila Observatory

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