30 Passionate Arguments for Faith-Based Environmental Protection: the Sierra Club’s “Holy Ground”

cover of sierra club book holy ground

“From the time the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky and all that God made. They can clearly see his invisible qualities — his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse whatsoever for not knowing God.” (Romans I: 20)

“Have you not seen how God sets forth a parable? A good word is like a good tree whose roots are firm and whose branches reach heaven. It gives its fruit during every season, by leaves of its Lord. And God sets forth parables to people that they may remember.” (Al-Qur’an I4: 24-25)

As you likely know, people of faith and environmentalists don’t always see eye-to-eye. The narratives of faith and the green movement can seem to diverge pretty widely at points, and members of both sides have often viewed the other with suspicion and distrust. In recent years, though, we’ve seen efforts by both groups to “reach across the aisle,” and the development of concepts like “creation care,” which attempt to bridge religious beliefs with environmental concerns.

In November, the Sierra Club joined the conversation with its publication of Holy Ground: A Gathering of Voices on Caring for Creation. Bringing together clergy, lay people, and thinkers on the topics of religion/spirituality and the environment, Holy Ground is an anthology of meditations (essays just doesn’t seem to work) on the role of caring for the Earth while remaining faithful to the tenants of one’s faith.

The book presents a wide array of faith traditions. While the vast majority come from the Abrahamic tradition (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam), Hinduism, Buddhism, and a Native American faith (Chickasaw) are also represented. In each case, the writer addresses the teachings and texts of his/her belief system, and explores how “creation care” fits within the myths, commandments, and expectations of that system.

This isn’t a book for reading straight through — I’d suggest picking and choosing based on topical areas, or simply reading an essay or two at a time. Many thematic patterns emerge which would make for interesting approaches, such as:

  • Denominational approaches: Catholicism (Pope Benedict XVI, Kristin Shrader-Frechette), Evangelical Christianity (Matthew Sleeth, Joel C. Hunter), or even Islamic converts (Ingrid Mattson, Zaid Shakir).
  • Elemental themes: Fire (Nandini Iyer), Water (Larry Rasmussen), Earth (Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Janisse Ray)
  • Literary approaches: Gary Snyder, Wendell Berry, Linda Hogan, David James Duncan
  • Trees (a symbol used in many traditions): Shakir, Arthur Waskow

You don’t have to be religious yourself to enjoy these perspectives, and find meaning in them. In fact, the people who could probably benefit most from this book are environmentalists who don’t practice any faith, and religious people who see no elements of their belief system in environmental stewardship.

Holy Ground is a fascinating, thoughtful read, and editor Lyndsay Moseley and other contributors to the book’s publication deserve praise for bringing together a genuine community of voices to this debate.

Image source: Sierra Club Books

  1. Esmaa Self

    I have never understood how (some of) my fellow Christians fail to see environmental care as stewardship for something entrusted to us but clearly not our own.

    Sorry, raw nerve.

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