In this week's blog Sister Isabel Smyth reflects on 'Mother Earth' and how the inherent rights of nature are being recognised in the law.
According to an article on the BBC website, a court in India has declared the river Ganges a legal "person" in an effort to save it from pollution. Nor is the Ganges the only natural phenomenon to receive this designation. Among others are glaciers, jungles, grasslands, even the air itself - all declared as legal “persons”.
This is an attempt to look upon nature as an entity with fundamental rights rather than as a resource to be used and abused. The article says “environmental laws only focus on regulating exploitation. But this is now changing, with calls for the inherent rights of nature to be recognised, both in India and around the world”. Similar legislation is being introduced in Ecuador and New Zealand.
There are, as you would suspect, complications in applying these rights but it does focus on strategies we can employ to care for this earth on which we depend for life.
So many of us are now divorced from nature and see the earth’s resources as ours to use for our own benefit and comfort, despite the endless list of the devastating effects of our behaviour – including climate change, extinction of species, environmental disasters, overuse of fossil fuels, pollution, and deforestation.
And we are all implicated in these disasters and contribute to them – industry and business in big ways, but all of us in little ways. I heard someone call this the Great Unravelling.
We are in fact destroying ourselves.
Perhaps one day there will be a move to declare the earth itself a legal person, and we do have to recover a sense of the sacredness of the earth. This sense is a gift that indigenous and pagan religions can offer us all – even the major religions. Aloysius Pieris, a Catholic theologian from Sri Lanka, suggests that the major world religions succeeded because they incorporated into themselves aspects of the indigenous, so-called pagan religions. Many of the world faiths have their sacred places, including sacred mountains, sacred wells and sacred rivers. These traditions remind us of our connectedness to the earth, of our responsibility for it, of our gratitude to it for our very livelihood, of its inherent sacredness, of our responsibility to care for it and bring it healing. Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh has said that we think it’s a miracle to walk on water, but the real miracle is to walk on this earth and we should do this with reverence and respect.
Hinduism and Buddhism have much to teach us about our attitude to our planet. Buddhism realises the interconnectedness of all things and the need for compassion for all sentient beings. Hinduism’s personification of the sacred can lead to a sense of respect and reverence.
I like the idea of thinking of the earth as a living organism, as an expression of the Sacred, as our Mother who provides for us and is the source of our life. If we could adopt this attitude perhaps we could embrace her suffering, look upon her with new eyes and work for her healing and well-being.
This is shortened version of this article first published on 7/4/14 at http://www.interfaithjourneys.net/