What religion contributes to environmental ethics

Environmental Ethics 29 (2):193-208 (2007)
Abstract
Religion and ethics overlap and are in many respects related; yet, they differ in their primary focus of concern. Ethics projects are anthropocentric in that they are constructed in the context of self-other relationships, which includes human beings in relation to the “other” of the natural world, and even religious ethics reflect this relational structure. Religion, however, is focused on the human relation to ultimacy and presents a distinctive consciousness of the self and its relations, including relation to the natural world. As religion decenters the self and reframes how the self is related to the other of the natural world—Thomas Merton and Thich Nhat Hanh articulate this distinctively religious consciousness in relation to the environment—religious consciousness can provide positive support for actions of care and regard toward the natural world. But religion need not go this direction. Focused as it is on ultimacy, which is a power concept that can be dangerous, religion can also sponsor destructive environmental action. Although religion can, indeed, yield in distinctive ways actions and attitudes that amount to support for an ethic of positive regard for the natural world, religiously inspired actions must always be subject to moral critique
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