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Ecology drives believers to earth-friendly actions.

Hindus gather to clean the Ganges River. Thai monks ordain trees to help save them from loggers. Even U.S. evangelicals are climbing onto the earth-friendly bandwagon. You can read all about it on the web page of the Forum on Religion and Ecology at www.environment .harvard.edu/religion.

"The ecological crisis challenges us to cooperate across religious boundaries," said Mary Evelyn Tucker, who along with her husband, John Grim, directs the Forum on Religion and Ecology, based at Harvard Divinity School.

Their Web site lists over 100 grassroots projects around the world involving religious traditions from Christianity to Taoism to Buddhism, all attempting to solve in creative, spiritual ways their own local environmental problems.

For example, in Iran, the government has included a platform in its program that draws on principles from the Quran for environmental justice. The environmental minister of China said recently that Chinese need to draw on the wisdom of Confucianism and Taoism to protect the environment. The forum's Web site details many ecology projects within Judaism, including the Eco Kosher Network, which seeks to connect the Jewish idea of tikkun olam (repair of the world) with consumer practices.

All of this is good news to Drs. Tucker and Grim, founders of the Forum on Religion and Ecology. The forum arose out of a series of conferences on the world's religions and ecology held at Harvard's Center for the Study of World Religions beginning in 1995 to 1996, when Drs. Tuckers and Grim, professors of religion at Bucknell University in Pennsylvania, were at Harvard on sabbatical. The conferences explored the diverse ways in which religious traditions view nature and construct symbol systems and ritual practices relating humans to nature.

"The forum is a continuation of the work of Fr. Thomas Berry," Dr. Grim said. He called Fr. Berry a pioneer, the first person to deeply investigate the way religious traditions deal with the relation between human communities and local ecosystems.

Fr. Berry emphasized that "when we investigate religion together with ecology, deep, fundamental attitudes toward nature are revealed," Dr. Grim said. "Those attitudes in turn affect the ways we behave toward and interact with the natural world."

Former students of Fr. Berry, Drs. Grim and Tucker said he prompted them to consider the contributions of world religions to the ecology debate.

"Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam and Judaism have all reflected on our interactions with the natural world in coherent, often symbolic and ordered ways," Dr. Tucker said.

Indeed, the "Green Patriarch" Bartholomew, spiritual leader of the world's 300 million Orthodox Christians, has taken bold steps to make conservation an integral part of faith. He has declared that "crime against the natural world is a sin." Together with Pope John Paul II, he signed a document calling for an end to the destruction of the environment.

Within Islam, Drs. Tucker and Grim point to the work of scholars like Ibrahim Ozdemir, a Turkish expert on environmental ethics within the Islamic tradition.

Within the Catholic and Protestant traditions in the United States, there has been an explosion of books, programs, conferences and other activities in the last 10 or 15 years. New organizations have sprung up such as the National Religious Partnership for the Environment, the North American Coalition for Christianity and Ecology, the National Council of Churches' "Climate Change Campaign" and more.

Dr. Tucker calls Catholic church pronouncements on preserving the Columbia River watershed, and other pastoral letters from the U.S. Catholic bishops "helpful and forward-thinking."

Even evangelical Protestants like Ted Haggard, pastor of New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Colo., and president of the National Association of Evangelicals, has an environmental message, focusing on creation care. Tim LaHaye, coauthor of the Left Behind series, often blamed for fostering a disdain for the created world, recently said on "Larry King Live" that Christians should work for clean air and water.

An aim of the forum is to help scholars draw out the environmental implications from within different religious traditions, to foster the retrieval of age-old wisdom and information about the relationships between individuals and the bioregion. It's an attempt to deepen the conversation about religion and nature, according to Dr. Grim, and this conversation bears fruit in activism described on the forum's Web site:

* In Malaysia, last year 3,000 volunteers planted 30,000 trees in a nature reserve on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur.

* Monks in Thailand are ordaining trees to protect them from exploitation and placing stupas (religious shrines) on mountaintops.

* In northeastern Thailand, a quarry company won a government concession to blast a mountain apart for its limestone. Monks from the local temple joined farmers, lawyers, environmental activists and two senators from Bangkok in wrapping a strip of saffron more than three kilometers (1.8 miles) around the base of the mountain. The mountain was thereby made sacred.

* In India, Professor Veer Bhadra Mishra, retired from Banaras Hindu University, spearheads an effort to clean the Ganges River watershed. His efforts are deeply rooted in the Hindu religious tradition.

* In Africa, in Zimbabwe and South Africa, the Dutch Reformed Church works closely with the Shona people in restoration work. They plant a million trees a year.

[Rich Heffern is editor of Celebration's E-series publications. His e-mail is rheffern@ncronline.org.]
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Title Annotation:EARTH & SPIRIT
Author:Heffern, Rich
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 14, 2005
Words:877
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