Social Responsibility and Environmental Protection

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The topic for the panel discussion is a comparison between the approaches of theistic and nontheistic religions toward teaching their followers ethics as the foundation for taking social responsibility for the common good in general and, specifically for environmental protection.


Buddhism

  • The emphasis is on understanding reality and, based on that, compassion for all living beings.
  • The reality is that the environment and the beings who live in it do not exist independently of each other. They are interdependent.
  • Our very survival depends on the survival of the environment.
  • The state of the environment affects everyone on the planet, since all the eco-systems of the planet interact with each other to form one global eco-system.
  • Just as we want a healthy, sustainable life for ourselves and our families, so does everyone else on the planet.
  • Just as we wish to be free of environmental disaster, so does everyone else. In this we are all equal.
  • Such thoughts and understanding are the basis for developing universal compassion and for taking responsibility to care for the environment in our own personal behavior.
  • The steps each of us take to protect the environment contribute to improving the state of the environment in general.

Old Testament

  • God created the environment and all the beings in it.
  • According to Exodus chapter 23, verses 10 to 12, God permits mankind to sow the land and gather its produce for six years in a row. But then every seventh year God commands people to leave the fields alone, so that the poor may gather what grows wildly and eat it for themselves, and what is left over may be eaten by the wildlife of the fields. This indicates not abusing the land by greed and overproduction, as well as caring for the wildlife.
  • God also allows men to work six days, but on the seventh day they must rest so that their oxen and donkeys may also rest. This indicates showing kindness and consideration to all animals, giving them the same rights for a healthy life as humans have.

Quran

  • God created everything on the earth and in the heavens, including all the animals, as a gift for mankind to use. He created mankind so that they might worship him through rendering excellent service to all God’s creations.
  • According to Quran 50:7-8, when regarding God’s creations, one should remember God who created them in his kindness, greatness and mercy.
  • Protecting the environment, then, and working for the common good, are ways of rendering service to God’s creations and thus are forms of worship of God.

Mengzi (Mencius)

  • In a discussion with King Hui of Liang (梁惠王), Mengzi advises him that if the proper times for ploughing are not disregarded, the people will have more than enough to eat. If close mesh nets are not used in lakes and ponds, the people will have more than enough fish and turtles to eat. If axes and machetes are used in mountain forests only at the proper times, the people will have more than enough wood to use. If all these measures are taken, then you will be a proper king.
  • Mengzi also warned the king about his disastrous policies, “Your dogs and swine are eating the food that men could eat while you make no restrictions, yet people are starving to death on the streets while you do not issue grain for them.” We can extend this warning to the unbridled use of land to grow feed for animals, whose meat will be consumed by affluent people, while many people in the world are starving to death.

From this brief outline, we can see that both theistic and non-theistic religions provide a common ethical basis for taking social responsibility for environmental protection. Although the theological and philosophical beliefs behind this basis differ, the aim and result are the same.