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Religious Ethics are not the best approach to environmental ethics'. Discuss.

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Introduction

'Religious Ethics are not the best approach to environmental ethics'. Discuss. In this essay, I will be taking religious ethics to mean the ethical principles of Christianity, i.e. Christian Ethics. This includes the moral decisions based on the teachings of Christianity from such sources as the Bible. The term 'environmental issues' covers a broad spectrum of concerns. As far as ethics is concerned, the issue is how far our moral concerns should extend to the environment and how we should live out our responsibility towards it. By environment, the earth and all its living entities are concerned. As our concern for the environment has increased and our general awareness heightened, debates about morality towards the environment have emerged. Issues such as climate change, pollution, global warming and the extinction of species can all be linked to the actions of humans (e.g. CFCs and the burning of fossil fuels). Therefore, as the damage to our environment becomes more problematic, the link between its deterioration and the actions of humans becomes more prominent. Anthropocenctrism, usually attributed to the teachings of Christianity, places humans at the centre of the world and therefore the environment. Aristotle taught that 'nature has made all things specifically for the sake of man'; he basically states that humans are the only beings on earth that have intrinsic value, and that everything else placed on this earth has instrumental value and is to be used for the benefit of humans. ...read more.

Middle

Biocentrism, proposed by Paul Taylor, extends the circle of moral worth to include all living things and thus declares that humanity is not the centre of existence. Taylor argues that all life forms have intrinsic value which human beings have a duty to respect. We therefore have a moral responsibility towards them which would entail engaging in practices and policies aimed at specific ways of preserving the ecosystems. Taylor holds non-living things such as mountains to only hold instrumental value and therefore they bare no ethical status. Taylor's argument is fairly balanced as it doesn't presume that human beings are the only beings with intrinsic value but he fails to introduce any sort of hierarchy and places humans on the same level as bacteria, which seems absurd. He also implies that we should all be vegans, but fails to address this, and doesn't consider whether a lion is acting immorally if it eats a zebra. Christianity therefore is more logical as it sets a clear hierarchy which allows mowing the lawn and eating meat. Ecocentrism is another approach to environmental issues. It recognises the importance of the ecosphere and the environment with out suggesting that any organism as more important than the other. Aldo Leopold proposed an ecocentric theory; 'The Land Ethic' which "simply enlarges the boundaries of the community to include soil, waters, plants and animals. Or collectively - the land". He argued that current conservation policies are based on economic motives. ...read more.

Conclusion

However, there are the passages of the Gadarene swine and the cursing of the fig tree that suggest a more inconsiderate attitude is permitted. In Hebrew tradition, Kings were answerable to God, not absolute monarchs in themselves, therefore according to Attfield "the biblical dominion of man is no despotism". However, White argues that in medieval times the embrace of Christianity and the rejection of paganism changed the relationship between man and nature. The pagan ideas of living beings having a soul or a spirit (animism) encouraged a positive attitude towards nature, which were corrupted by the growth of Christianity. Attfield however counter argues these claims and says the ecological crises can't be blamed on ancient traditions as they have happened in more recent times (post 1945). Japan, for example, which is not a Christian country, shares many of the environmental problems that the West has. It is not just paganism and Buddhism that impose a limit on humankind's use of nature. Attfield then concludes that we needn't have a new environmental position; we just need to revert to stewardship rather than dominion. Walter H O'Briant proposed a 'born again Christian' belief in the rapture; that Christ will return and the bodies and souls of the saved will go to heaven. The earth is, according to O'Briant, a temporary home therefore it doesn't matter what we do to the earth. After considering the theories discussed and evaluating their strengths and weaknesses I would argue that religious ethics are the best approach to environmental issues, provided we revert to a more 'stewardship' attitude, rather than the despotic interpretation. ?? ?? ?? ?? David Kenny 1 ...read more.

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