The catastrophic oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is a widening environmental, economic and political crisis. Is it also a moral crisis? How does religion influence our use and abuse of the natural world? Does religion help or harm the environment?
Sally Quinn and Jon Meacham on June 1, 2010 10:20 AM
About 200 people took part in a unique fusion of political rally, multireligious prayer, and Tisha b'Av observance at noon July 20 on the grounds of the US Capitol. Videotape from the event will be available by Thursday morning on The Shalom Center's YouTube channel at
The major slogans of the rally were "Get dirty fuels out of our air and water/ Get dirty money out of our politics."
As one who employs prayer as a means of healing disease and disaster of all descriptions, I maintain, as the basis of my prayer, that God, who is the source of all love, does not send environmental or any catastrophe. Prayer may be the most underutilized and unrecognized tool for bettering our environment.
The Gulf oil disaster is only the most recent and obvious consequence of our disregard for nature, while our destruction of animals and other aspects of our natural world and its inhabitants continues unabated.
All our religious and spiritual traditions warn us against this kind of insatiable hunger for material goods -- often called greed -- and urge us to integrate community, calm, and restfulness into our lives along with striving.
The more "developed" and complex the world has become, the more fragile the works of our hands and minds. It is as though earth were fighting back against "the world" for our worshiping and serving "the things God created instead of the Creator himself, who is worthy of eternal praise.
Posted by Willis E. Elliott, on June 2, 2010 12:13 AM
There is no question, from a biblical point of view, that these human actions in deep-sea drilling without adequate safety measures are profoundly sinful and wrong, and the consequences are there for all to see--more alienation between human beings and the planet.
Posted by Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite, on June 1, 2010 5:21 PM
We may not work for BP, but we are all participants in an American society fueled by oil. And as the moral compass for so many millions of Americans, Christian tradition has much to answer for concerning the hubris that led to this so-far-unstoppable poisoning of an ocean.
Religion properly understood is filled with exhortations to care for this world. It is God's gift. We are the world's stewards. Trampling our inheritance, befouling it, destroying it, contradicts everything faith promises and promotes.
The only religious issue here is for those who placed too much faith in human technology. Quite often it turns out we're not nearly as smart as we think we are, and our mistakes are far more destructive than we think they'll be. This phenomenon is not confined to oil wells.
We "sow the seeds of violence" by our consumptive behavior and lifestyle. It is easy to point the finger at others, but if we didn't have such a desire for "the goodies," companies such as BP wouldn't be engaging in risky behavior.