Tag Archives: environmentalism

Environmentalism and the Qur’an

Throughout the Qur’an, it is repeatedly stressed that God created the heavens and the earth. The impression I got from reading the text is that God expects the believers to show the same honor and respect to the earth, which God created, just as God expects the believers to respect and honor the words he has passed to humankind through the various prophets. There is also an emphasis on the Garden where the faithful will be taken following the Day of Judgement. The Garden is described as a place of beauty with clear streams and abundant fruits and vegetables, clearly an indication of the joy, comfort, and blessings that a healthy environment provides.

There is a strong passage in the text where God points out the interconnection between things in the natural world, and warns of the destruction that will come if humans thought their arrogance come to believe that they have power and dominion over God’s creation.

The life of this world is like this: rain that We send down from the sky is absorbed by the plants of the earth, from which humans and animals eat. But when the earth has taken on its finest appearance, and adorns itself, and its people think they have power over it, then the fate We commanded comes to it, by night or by day, and We reduce it to stubble, as if it had not flourished just the day before.

(p. 130)

The Qur’an emphasizes the importance of heeding the signs and warnings that are made clear.

Ever closer to people draws their reckoning, while they turn away, heedless: whenever a fresh revelation comes to them from their Lord, they listen to it playfully with frivolous hearts.

(p. 203)

As I read this, I immediately thought of the climate change deniers, who scoff at the prophetic warnings of the scientific community and forge ahead heedlessly, impelled by greed and short-sightedness. We bring destruction upon ourselves when we fail to heed the warning signs that present themselves to us. In my opinion, God (however you interpret God), science, nature, are all presenting us with a prophetic warning: we do not have power over the earth and we need to act respectfully and nurture this planet. The choices we make right now will determine whether we inherit the Garden, or a place of desolation and suffering.

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“Tao Teh Ching: Chapter 29” by Lao Tzu

Image Source: Wikipedia

Does anyone want to take the world and do what he wants with it?
I do not see how he can succeed.

The world is a sacred vessel, which must not be tampered with or grabbed after.
To tamper with it is to spoil it, and to grasp it is to lose it.

In fact, for all things there is a time for going ahead, and a time for following behind;
A time for slow-breathing and a time for fast-breathing;
A time to grow in strength and a time to decay;
A time to be up and a time to be down.

Therefore, the Sage avoids all extremes, excesses and extravagances.

I feel that this is a passage that every politician, every corporate CEO, and every Wall Street banker should read. It is essentially the same idea as expressed in the sayings “Live simply so that others may simply live,” or “The Earth does not belong to us; we belong to the Earth.” As I look around at the mania associated with the frantic quest after more and more, I cannot help but acknowledge that this mindset is totally unsustainable. If we continue to tamper with our world and strip it of its resources, we will ultimately initiate our own demise. Lao Tzu, who lived in the 6th century BC, already understood this. Why is it so difficult for people to grasp today?

The other thing that struck me as interesting about this passage is its similarity to Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, which was put to music in the song “Turn, Turn, Turn.” I am not sure whether there was a sharing of ideas between the east and west in antiquity, or whether the authors had both tapped in to the same source of divine inspiration, but the parallel is something worth pondering.

Today, I will avoid all “extremes, excesses and extravagances.” If we all made a conscious effort to do this, what a change it would make in the world.

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“Beyond the Wall” by Edward Abbey

BeyondWall

I picked this book up while visiting The Last Bookstore in Los Angeles. I was introduced to the writings of Edward Abbey in college when I took a class on environmental literature. We covered Desert Solitaire in the class, and I also read The Monkey Wrench Gang for my independent project. Both books made a lasting impression on me.

This book is a compilation of ten essays that Abbey wrote about his experiences in the wild, the area he considers to be beyond the wall of controlled civilization. This is the area that Abbey considers to be the real world, where you can discover who you truly are.

Beyond the wall of the unreal city, beyond the security fences topped with barbed wire and razor wire, beyond the asphalt belting of the superhighways, beyond the cemented banksides of our temporarily stopped and mutilated rivers, beyond the rage of lies that poisons the air, there is another world waiting for you. It is the old true world of the deserts, the mountains, the forests, the islands, the shores, the open plains. Go there. Be there. Walk gently and quietly deep within it. And then—

(p. xvi)

Like Abbey, I love to hike, and he points out what it is about hiking which is so amazing: it is an authentic and spiritual experience.

Why do I do this? (My feet hurt.)Why? Well, it’s the need, I guess, for some sort of authentic experience. (My hip joint hurts.) As opposed to the merely synthetic experience of books, movies, TV, regular urban living. (My neck hurts.) To meet my God, my Maker once again, face to face, beneath my feet, beyond my arms, above my head.

(p. 14)

I firmly believe that the root of our environmental problems is human overpopulation, and Abbey shares this sentiment in very strong terms.

To aid and abet in the destruction of a single species or in the extermination of a single tribe is to commit a crime against God, a mortal sin against Mother Nature. Better by far to sacrifice in some degree the interests in mechanical civilization, curtail our gluttonous appetite for things, ever more things, learn to moderate our needs, and most important, and not difficult, learn to control, limit and gradually reduce our human numbers. We humans swarm over the planet like a plague of locusts, multiplying and devouring. There is no justice, sense of decency in this mindless global breeding spree, this obscene anthropoid fecundity, this industrialized mass production of babies and bodies, ever more bodies and babies. The man-centered view of the world is anti-Christian, anti-Buddhist, antinature, antilife and—antihuman.

(p. 40)

In Desert Solitaire, Abbey criticizes the development of access roads in wilderness areas so that anyone can visit these remote “natural” settings. He reiterates these thoughts in Beyond the Wall, asserting that once an area is made accessible, it is no longer the same and loses its magical essence.

Today the old North Wash trail road is partly submerged by the reservoir, the rest obliterated. The state has ripped and blasted and laid asphalt highway through and around the area to link the new tin bridges with the outside world. The river is gone, the ferry is gone, Dandy Crossing is gone. Most of the formerly primitive road from Blanding west has been improved beyond recognition. All of this, the engineers and politicians and bankers will tell you, makes the region easily accessible for everybody, no matter how fat, feeble or flaccid. That is a lie.

It is a lie. For those who go there now, smooth, comfortable, quick and easy, sliding through as slick as grease, will never see what we saw. They will never feel what we felt. They will never know what we knew, or understand what we cannot forget.

(p. 67)

I feel that as a global society, we are getting more and more distracted by the trappings of modern technology, and we are losing our connection to the wonders, beauty, and mystery which is our world. There is so much still out there, waiting to inspire us. With that, I want to close this post with one more quote about the ability of our amazing planet to stretch the boundaries of our consciousness and our imagination.

What can I say except confess that I have seen but little of the real North, and of that little understood less. The planet is bigger than we ever imagined. The world is colder, more ancient, more strange and more mysterious than we had dreamed. And we puny human creatures with our many tools and toys and fears and hopes make only one small leaf on the great efflorescing tree of life.

Too much. No equation however organic, no prose however royally purple, can bracket our world within the boundaries of mind.

(p. 203)

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The Last Bookstore

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So I just got back from a trip out to Los Angeles. While I was there, I was compelled to check out some bookstores. My daughter recommended The Last Bookstore. I have to say, one of the coolest bookstores I’ve visited.

The store is two floors, and the second floor contains works of art created out of books.

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In addition, the second floor is also home to a labyrinth of books.

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As you meander through the maze of bookshelves, you encounter things like a portal made from books.

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There is also an archway made out of books. Walking through it made my literary heart flutter.

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So I know the question on everyone’s mind: What books did you buy? I bought a couple gift books for family, and for myself, I picked up Once (a collection of poems by Alice Walker) and Beyond The Wall by Edward Abbey. Considering the sheer volume of books available, I think I showed admirable restraint.

Cheers!

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Analysis of “Lines Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey” by William Wordsworth: The transcendent power of Nature

Image Source: Wikipedia

Image Source: Wikipedia

This is one of my favorite poems, and it’s been a while since I read it last. But today was a beautiful and warm day, so after spending a few hours working in the yard, I got my copy of English Romantic Writers, opened to the section on Wordsworth, and read “Tintern Abbey” while sitting outside, basking in sunshine.

I first read this poem in college. As part of my English Lit class, we had to read all of the Lyrical Ballads. I was so moved the first time I read this poem. It expressed in words how I felt being in Nature, the transcendent feeling, the resonance deep within my soul. And that is what I want to focus this post on—how Wordsworth addresses the transcendent power of Nature in this poem.

The poem is fairly long, so I will not include the entire text, but here is a link to an online version should you want to read it in its entirety.

Poetry Foundation

In the second stanza, Wordsworth expresses how he had spent a long time away from Nature, living in the city. He describes how he visualized scenes in Nature as a way of maintaining his spiritual connection. He then goes on to describe how, being in Nature and focusing on the harmony of the natural world, one becomes open to the transcendent experience, experiencing enlightenment through the transformative power of Nature.

These beauteous forms,
Through a long absence, have not been to me
As is a landscape to a blind man’s eye:
But oft, in lonely rooms, and ‘mid the din
Of towns and cities, I have owed to them,
In hours of weariness, sensations sweet,
Felt in the blood, and felt along the heart;
And passing even into my purer mind
With tranquil restoration:—feelings too
Of unremembered pleasure: such, perhaps,
As have no slight or trivial influence
On that best portion of a good man’s life,
His little, nameless, unremembered, acts
Of kindness and of love. Nor less, I trust,
To them I may have owed another gift,
Of aspect more sublime; that blessed mood,
In which the burthen of the mystery,
In which the heavy and the weary weight
Of all this unintelligible world,
Is lightened:—that serene and blessed mood,
In which the affections gently lead us on,—
Until, the breath of this corporeal frame
And even the motion of our human blood
Almost suspended, we are laid asleep
In body, and become a living soul:
While with an eye made quiet by the power
Of harmony, and the deep power of joy,
We see into the life of things.

As a kid, I love being in the woods. I would go camping, hiking, and fishing. It was a place of escape and adventure. But as I got older, I developed a different sense of Nature. I would go off and sit beside a stream, gazing at the water and listening to the gentle sounds that surrounded me, and then easily slip into a deep meditative state. Wordsworth expresses this feeling beautifully at the end of the fourth stanza.

For I have learned
To look on nature, not as in the hour
Of thoughtless youth; but hearing oftentimes
The still sad music of humanity,
Nor harsh nor grating, though of ample power
To chasten and subdue.—And I have felt
A presence that disturbs me with the joy
Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime
Of something far more deeply interfused,
Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,
And the round ocean and the living air,
And the blue sky, and in the mind of man:

But it is the fifth stanza that in my opinion best conveys the reverence Wordsworth feels toward Nature. Not only is Nature a means for transcendence, it is also healing and nurturing. Like so many of us, there have been times in my life where I have gotten caught up in work, stress, and the monotonous grind of daily life. But all it takes is an hour or two in the woods, walking along a mountain trail or sitting beside a stream, and I feel restored, reconnected to my true self. This rejuvenation of spirit is what Wordsworth is describing in the following stanza.

A motion and a spirit, that impels
All thinking things, all objects of all thought,
And rolls through all things. Therefore am I still
A lover of the meadows and the woods
And mountains; and of all that we behold
From this green earth; of all the mighty world
Of eye, and ear,—both what they half create,
And what perceive; well pleased to recognise
In nature and the language of the sense
The anchor of my purest thoughts, the nurse,
The guide, the guardian of my heart, and soul
Of all my moral being.

I know that most people envision Thoreau when they think about transcendent writers extolling the spiritual aspects of Nature, but Wordsworth wrote about Nature’s transcendent power fifty years before Thoreau penned Walden. If you have never done so before, I encourage you to sit outside on a warm sunny day and read “Tintern Abbey,” surrounded by Nature, as it was meant to be read. I suspect that doing so will have a profound impact on you.

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“Odyssey” by Homer: Book II – A Hero’s Son Awakens

Source: artic.edu

Source: artic.edu

In this book, Telemachus attends the assembly, representing his father. He entreats the suitors to abandon his family’s estate, but they mock him. Afterwards, he enlists the aid of Athena to assist him in securing a ship to sail to Pylos and Sparta. When all is prepared, he sneaks away in the night and only the old nurse Eurykleia is made aware of his departure.

There are two passages in this section that stood out for me. The first one takes place during Telemachus’ response to Antinoos during the assembly.

But if your hearts are capable of shame,
leave my great hall, and take your dinner elsewhere,
consume your own stores. Turn and turn about,
use one another’s houses. If you choose
to slaughter one man’s livestock and pay nothing,
this is rapine; and by the eternal gods
I beg Zeus you shall get what you deserve:
a slaughter here, and nothing paid for it!

(Fitzgerald Translation: p. 23)

What I found interesting about this passage is that the act of being ungracious and abusing a host is seen as a horrific act worthy of death. One gets the impression that the suitors are raping the household, that there is violent violation in their actions. And I personally see an environmental message here. We as a species are but guests and visitors on this earth. As such, we should be respectful of what the earth has to offer. To use and consume all that the earth has to offer without regard is equivalent to what the suitors are doing in Odysseus’ home.

The next section I want to explore takes place when Mentor is addressing the assembly.

“Hear me, Ithakans! Hear what I have to say.
Let no man holding scepter as a king
be thoughtful, mild, kindly, or virtuous;
let him be cruel, and practice evil ways;
it is so clear that no one here remembers
how like a gentle father Odysseus ruled you.
I find it less revolting that the suitors
carry their malice into violent acts;
at least they stake their lives
when they go pillaging the house of Odysseus—
their lives upon it, he will not come again.
What sickens me is to see the whole community
sitting still, and never a voice or a hand raised
against them—a mere handful compared with you.”

(ibid: pp 25 – 26)

This may have been my favorite passage in this book. Mentor condemns, not the suitors, but those citizens who stand by in complacency and do nothing while these atrocities occur. I was reminded of the holocaust. The citizens of Ithaca who refuse to condemn the actions of the suitors are no different than the people who stood by and silently watched as millions of Jews were massacred. Who is worse—the Nazi soldier who is carrying out his orders, or the person who stands by silently and refuses to do anything? It is a challenging question and one that is worth contemplating. Would you stand by if you saw someone being abused, or would you speak out? It is something we should all ask ourselves.

If you are reading along, I would love to hear your thoughts on these or other passages in this book. Please feel free to comment below. Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to read my thoughts. Cheers!

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“Enlightenment and Common Sense” by Umberto Eco

UmbertoEco2

This is a short essay included in Turning Back the Clock that addresses the question: What is an enlightened thinker? While he lists several traits that are found in the modern enlightened thinker, he asserts that two essential qualities are common sense and skepticism.

While I am in complete agreement regarding Eco’s assertion about common sense, I am somewhat more skeptical when it comes to his claim on skepticism (a pun is intended here). While it is true that healthy skepticism promotes inquiry and testing of claims that are posited as fact, in the information age where a quick Google search can turn up supporting “data” for any claim, regardless of how ridiculous it may be, skepticism has opened the door to the denial of proven information that is crucial to society and humanity. The perfect example is climate change. The theory of biological imperialism asserts that a species will alter its environment to make it more conducive to its survival and comfort. It’s a hard theory to refute. If you accept this premise, then it stands to reason that humans, in modifying their surroundings, have changed the environment. When you consider this fact in conjunction with scientific evidence of changes in the climate and their connection with human activity, then our impact on climate change should be evident and not disputed. In spite of this, there is no shortage of “skeptics” who reject scientific findings and bolster their views with supporting data from “experts” in the field (often hired by corporations). And there is the problem with associating skepticism with enlightened thinking.

While I agree with 99% of what Eco asserts, I feel he is off in this area. There is a real danger in skepticism and I feel that common sense is much more important than skepticism. Hence to quote the old adage: Common sense is not all that common.

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