Environmentalism and Religion: How our faith shapes our world

Essay by jessmw03College, Undergraduate February 2007

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Throughout our history, Americans have regarded the environment as a resource to be used, not a living entity that must be taken care of. Our cultural beliefs and everyday practices show this disregard with startling clarity. For example, the three top-selling vehicles in the United States during 2004 were all trucks: the Ford F-series, Chevrolet Silverado, and the Dodge Ram Pickup (Best-selling Vehicles of 2004). All of these vehicles use gas and oil at alarming rates, and are not as fuel efficient as most vehicles today should be. Americans like big cars, big houses, big roads, and big cities, all of which create strain on the environment. In contrast, many Eastern countries focus on small: small roads, small cars, and small living areas. When Toyota Motors drove foreign engineers around the parking lot at a Dallas Cowboys football game in order to study the vehicular preferences of average Americans, the Japanese were stunned at how large the pickups in the lot were, and how many of them they saw.

They could not believe that such large vehicles were intended for private use. Many other cultures, including the Chinese and the various Middle Eastern cultures, have also been shocked at the material excess of mainstream Americans. Does our consumer-driven, materialistic culture lead us to think differently about our environment? Will this attitude bring about the demise of our civilization?

The Aborigines of Australia have a very complex cosmology which ties directly into their surroundings. They believe that their ancestors formed the very land, and that they must perform numerous rituals in order to preserve this heritage. From a very young age, aborigines are taught the stories of their people, which provide knowledge about the environment, trade routes, and how to survive. Many of their creation stories involve animals as well, creating...