The Sanctified Life
ink, gesso on text, 2000
Today I listened to a really interesting podcast with Gary Snyder: poet, environmental activist, and Zen Buddhist. Over all the Snyder interview was a good overview of the last 50 years of American Environmentalism punctuated by Snyder's lyrical, free verse poems. I did take issue with one pint Snyder makes which is a small one within his interview but it is a theme that comes up again and again in the Deep Ecology writings.
Snyder talks about how his Buddhist world-view informs his practice as an earth keeper. He states that the first ethical precept of Buddhism is to "cause the least possible harm." He then equates that to the Judeo-Christian Ten Commandments: "Thou shall not kill." He then states, "but in the Abrahamic tradition, ie, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, thou shall not kill applies only to human beings and there is absolutely no concern for the rest of life." He strongly implies that these traditions have a deep responsibility for our current environmental problems.
I am mindful of the scholarship of Dr. Ellen Davis, Hebrew scholar and Old Testament professor from Yale, now at Duke Divinity School. She has been writing on this issue for years and more recently she has been collaborating with Wendell Berry on issues of environmental stewardship and earth keeping grounded within faith traditions. She states, "According to the Judeo-Christian scriptures we are part of an intricate web of physical relations that are at the same time moral relations." "We are placed creatures, we are placed within an order." She speaks of the first book of the Hebrew bible, the Tanoak, the book of Genesis. According to Davis the narrative account of the fifth day of creation God offered a blessing to the creatures of the sky and the creatures of the sea. It was the very same blessing God offered the created man of the sixth day: the same. She states, "So we are living amongst creatures that are blessed before we even come into existence." According to the Genesis account, Davis says, "Humans occupy a special place of power, privilege and responsibility in the created world...a condition of "skilled mastery" (the Hebrew interpretation of Gen. 1:26) It is set by the precondition of the blessings of the creatures of the sea and the sky. The human can not undo the prior blessing of the creatures by God." "How we see the world is how we value it", Davis says, "and according to the Hebrew Scriptures, "God saw the world and said it was good." In the Christian New Testament John 3:16 states, "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son...God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him." The world. All of it.
Let us not so easily place blame based on an impoverished understanding of the Hebrew Scriptures where the care of the land is considered a sacred task. Let us admit more quickly that we have more then likely arrived at our current dilemmas from a post-enlightenment, materialistic form of consumerism then by our religious traditions. If I am honest with myself it is my own selfish appetite that brings me to this place of environmental mourning not some ancient religious narrative. Perhaps it is in these narratives we can find some applicable wisdom for a more sustainable way of living.