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Believing in the Mediterranean.

"Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it." This phrase from the Old Testament is a clear precept. A precept that has been followed to the letter. In fact, many basic patterns of human behavior as regards relationships with the natural environment were foreshadowed, if not explicitly stated, in the moral codes associated with religious beliefs. This is the case of Jehovah's command to the Israelites, so inappropriate on the eve of the twenty-first century, a time characterized by a demographic explosion and excessive human pressure on the planet. On closer inspection, many of the environmental problems faced by the Earth today have their roots in cosmological (and ecological) concepts contained within the religious beliefs that have developed over the centuries in the Mediterranean area.

We do not know how many pupils Plato had in his Academy in Athens. The symbolist painter J. Delville painted twelve pupils in the painting reproduced above, thus committing an undeniable iconographic error. Choosing twelve disciples implies adopting the old Mesopotamian tradition based on the sexagesimal system and shows broadly Mediterranean origins. A large part of humanity professes one of the religions of Mediterranean origin, specifically Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

In fact, all three religions, and all their different forms, such as the Roman Catholic church, the Anglican and other Protestant churches, the Orthodox churches, etc., within Christianity, the Shia and Sunni divisions of Islam, and Pharisaism, cabbalism, and Hasidism in the case of Ju-daism, are variants on the fundamental concepts established by Ju-daism. This must be why the members of these religions are so in-tolerant of each other: they are too similar to forgive each other their differences. To sum up, Judaic or Judaeo-Christian principles have dominated the soul of Mediterranean civilizations, including their environmental attitudes, for more than 2,000 years--the soul of the Mediterranean civilizations, the entire Christian western world, and the many Islamic societies in Africa and Asia, and practically every corner of the planet that these civil sectors have reached, in fact everywhere. Even Marxism, with its messianic and salvationist attitude cannot escape being a distant derivative of Judaism. All this has undoubtedly had very important ecological consequences.

Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are monotheistic religions based on revelation (doctrines disclosed directly by a single god, not the result of human reflection or reason), that believe in the existence of an immortal soul (to such an extent that all the actions and responsibilities of the human beings alive today are subordinated to achieving their trasnscendence to the immortality of the soul), and generate communities of believers and churches devoted to communitarian practices (these public rites are considered essential for the wellbeing or the survival of the entire group). This revelation and the human believers' direct and privileged relationship with the divinity stimulate the development of anthropocentric attitudes, a fact with great environmental consequences.

In fact, Mediterranean religions are anthropocentric. Even more, they proclaim humans should rule the world. Humans are considered to be the masters of the universe, and all its resources are at their command. No moral limits are placed on the exploitation of the environment, thus precluding all ethical considerations about people's relationship to nature. This is the reason why the environmental movement has had to base its arguments on the unsuitability in practice of certain human activities, rather than their possible moral inappropriateness. On the other hand, Christian religious art and Jewish and Islamic terminology have also implanted the unquestionable image of a white, male God, a fact with equally important anthropological and environmental consequences (the non-white ethnic groups, and indirectly the area they lived in, necessarily belonged to inferior classes, and could thus be appropriated by the whites).

On the more benign level of the use of symbols, the Mediterranean character is clearly developed, especially in the Judaeo-Christian religions. Some clear examples of this are the paschal lamb, the mystic vesica piscis (an almond-shaped aureole surrounding pictures of Christ, the Virgin, etc.), the soul-saving values attributed to the oils used in extreme unction. Bread made from wheat and wine made from grapes both play a very important role in the Christian eucharist, but these Mediterranean products are of doubtful evocative value for Christians beyond the seas. They are benign symbols that should not distract attention from a basic, much less agreeable fact: modern humanity's thoughtless, aggressive attitude toward the rest of the biosphere is closely associated with the Jewish and Mediterranean roots of the dominant cultural values in the countries of the so-called developed world.
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Publication:Encyclopedia of the Biosphere
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 1, 2000
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