There are, as you would suspect, complications in applying these rights but it does call into question whether we human beings are capable of caring for this earth on which we depend for life. So many of us are now divorced from nature and see the earth’s resources as ours to use for our own benefit and comfort. We hear of global warming and even experience it in the changes of our weather patterns, we hear of species of animals likely to be extinct in the not too distant future because of wanton killing, we hear of environmental disasters, the overuse of fossil fuels, pollution, deforestation, household and industrial waste, the depletion of the ozone layer. The list seems endless. Yes we are now encouraged to recycle, monitor our carbon footprint, buy fair trade etc but sometimes it seems such a little in the face of the disasters we know are happening to our beautiful world. And we are all implicated in these disasters and contribute to them – some in big ways as in industry and business but all of us in little ways. I heard someone call this the Great Unravelling. Our beautiful planet is suffering but if the Gaia hypothesis is correct and it is a self-regulating organism, the ones who will suffer in the end will be human beings . We are in fact destroying ourselves. Perhaps one day there will be a move to declare the earth itself a legal person. I doubt if this would make much difference unless we recover a sense of the sacredness of the earth.
This sense of sacredness is a gift that indigenous and pagan religions have to offer us all – even the major religions. Aloysius Pieris, who is a Catholic theologian from Sri Lanka, speaks of cosmic religions and meta- cosmic religions. He suggests that the meta-cosmic religions, that is the major world religions, succeeded because they incorporated into themselves aspects of the indigenous, so called pagan religions, in the societies in which they flourished. It is true that many of the world faiths have their sacred places including sacred mountains, sacred wells and sacred rivers. But many of them, especially the monotheistic religions, have also traditionally rejected paganism as polytheistic and nature worshipping. Now- a- days modern paganism is part of interfaith dialogue and no-one, I think, would dismiss the indigenous religions of North America, Australia or New Zealand. These traditions remind us of our connectedness to the earth, of our responsibility for it, of our gratitude to it for our very livelihood, of its inherent sacredness, of our ability to care for it and bring it healing. As Thich Nhat Hanh has said – we think it’s a miracle to walk on water but the real miracle is to walk on this earth and we should do this with reverence and respect.
Perhaps more than the Abrahamic religions Hinduism and Buddhism have much to teach us about our attitude to our planet. Buddhism realises the interconnectedness of all things and the need for compassion, not just for our human brothers and sisters but for all sentient beings. Hinduism is still in touch with its indigenous roots, recognising the sacredness of certain animals and places and seeing them as manifestations of the divine, sometimes associating them with particular deities. This personification of the sacred can lead to a sense of respect and reverence though seeing the Ganges as a Divine Mother has not stopped the pollution that has led to the ‘legal person ruling’. But it has possibilities and I like the idea of thinking of the earth as a living organism, as an expression of the Sacred, as our Mother who provides for us and is the source of our life. If we could adopt this attitude perhaps we could embrace her suffering, look upon her with new eyes and work for her healing and well-being.