Thursday, September 25, 2008

I Am Not an Imposition, Part 4 (The Jewish View, Part 3)

Are cities “bad”? Is Nature “good”? Should we curtail our actions in order to protect endangered species? The Jewish view of the creation mandate provides an interesting perspective on these questions, as shown in this excerpt from Environmental Stewardship in the Judeo-Christian Tradition:

The general hostility toward industrial development that is often evidenced by environmental activists is frequently rooted in a pantheistic opposition to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and is as old as the Tower of Babel. Judaism takes note of how industrial development tends toward the spiritual and away from the merely material. In our own times, this is quite clear as we see development lead societies past the manufacture of steel and large machinery to the creation of data and knowledge. . . . Judaism views this as a movement toward human recognition of the primacy of the spiritual over the material. It is no coincidence that this tendency for society to move toward the spiritual also brings along with it less disruption of nature. Instead of imposing barriers to industrialization upon the developing world, we could be better served to assist developing nations in moving through this early phase of growth. In this fashion, each part of the world can make its own decisions and judgments about how it will balance its own needs . . . . Those of us in the developed world may not want a rubber-tire factory next door. However, if we lived near Cairo and presently were neighbors to the world’s biggest garbage dump, which is populated by ghostly skeletons rummaging through the filth to find food for another day’s existence, we may welcome the arrival of a tire plant to displace the garbage dump. Judaism has great faith in the ability of ordinary human beings to make their own decisions and to find ways to overcome tragic circumstances.

This faith comes from another religious conviction not shared by many environmentalists. Again, if we are nothing but sophisticated animals, it is only right that important decisions should be made of us by an elite group of people playing the roles of zookeeper or farmer. In this view of reality, we are not capable of determining for ourselves just how much prosperity we are willing to sacrifice to halt development. Since nature is the ultimate good, our zookeepers will determine that no burden is too heavy for us to shoulder in service to our god of nature. . . .

The basic Jewish principle of balance and middle path also conflicts with the contemporary environmental doctrine that preserving each spotted owl and each kangaroo rat is more important than any costs borne by humans and any sacrifices made by people. Judaism would never countenance loggers suffering the indignity of joblessness in order not to disturb the nesting habitat of the owl. . . . People need not justify their needs or desires to nature. They are warned only against destroying things for no good purpose. . . .

Our task is, in essence, to subdue nature and redirect it for holy purposes. . . . Your labor is welcome, and its results are pleasing to me, says the Lord. For this reason, Judaism is prouder of man’s skyscrapers than of God’s swamps, and prouder of man’s factories than of God’s forests.

- pp. 24-26

See the previous post on this subject by clicking here.

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