Tag Archives: religion

Tilling of the Earth

I’m currently taking a course on Religion and Ecology, specifically what roles religion can play in either encouraging environmental stewardship, or in encouraging the exploitation of nature. As part of the class, I’m required to write journal entries whenever the inspiration strikes. After our first class discussion, I already had some ideas that I wanted to float into my journal, which I’ve decided to stick on this blog for now. I mean, why not. These aren’t deeply personal or private thoughts, and if you’re not interested, I totally understand, and you can feel free to just skip to the links or past posts. Really, I’d just rather stick them here than on some lonely word document lost somewhere in my unorganized hard drive.

Much of our discussion today centered on an article by Lynn White, entitled The Historical Roots of Our Ecological Crisis, published in a 1967 volume of the journal Science. In the article, White accuses Christianity of gradually encouraging the exploitation of the world’s resources, for several different reasons that I won’t go into here. In discussing changes in human mindsets, White brings up the technology of the plow, that farmers use to ready their soil for planting.

Early plows merely scratched the soil, and required only two oxen to pull. Thus, families usually owned single plots that were capable of only supporting themselves, with perhaps a small surplus to sell on the market. But at some point, peasants in northern Europe developed a deeper cutting plow that required the force of eight oxen to pull, but was much more efficient in preparing the soil for crops. But because no single family owned eight oxen, neighborhood families then pooled together their oxen and collaborated in plowing very large plots to support the entire community.

White sees this as an important transition in the human farmer’s attitudes towards nature. Initially with the scratch plow, humans were friendly with the environment and only took what they needed to subsist and survive. The advent of the deepcut plow encouraged larger plots and more exploitation of the land and more greed, which led human society to the unfortunate state that we now find ourselves in.

Several classmates raised the point that here, then, is evidence that technology, and not religion, is largely at fault for our destruction of nature. Specifically, technologies that increase our efficiency at harvesting resources encourage this harvesting further.

This was a valid point, but I started to think about why these technologies were developed to begin with. If humans began in an idyllic life in relative harmony with nature, why was there a need for the deepcut plow in the first place? I don’t believe that it was invented on pure accident, I believe that someone felt the need to exploit the earth further, and therefore developed this new plow, which means that technology alone was not at fault. There needed to be some sort of impetus to raise the need for new technology, and the question we must ask is whether religion is that impetus.

For example, a classmate mentioned that the Incas of South America did not exploit their territory’s resources, largely because they did not have the necessary technology. But I feel that there was no technology because there was no drive to invent the necessary devices to begin with, and that the Incas truly were in tune with their surroundings. You need a reason to invent, which the Incas did not have, while the Europeans across the sea did see a need for more efficiency, possibly because of differences in religion.

But then, isn’t the single scratch plow harming the environment somewhat as well? It requires a small plot of land to be cleared of vegetation, which would clearly require some changes to the natural habitat. So the scratch plow itself is an increase in efficiency from some earlier techniques, which makes me think that technology is a slippery slope. Once the very first agricultural tool was developed, means of making it more efficient commenced, leading to the inventions of increasingly destructive tools. So when did this all begin? The Neolithic Revolution, when man settled down from their hunter gatherer ways? Why did this occur? There’s a lot of disagreement about the causes of the Neolithic Revolution, but I would think that it has something to do with human nature iself, as I don’t see how any other factor could affect populations on such a global scale to such a large degree.

But if it’s human nature that’s to blame, why did some civilizations hold respect for nature, while others clearly did not? This brings us back to White’s original case for Christianity as an anti-environmentalist religion. He believes that pagan animist cultures who saw spirits and gods in every aspect of nature would use their religion as a reason to respect the environment, a belief system which Christianity would come to destroy. I’m starting to feel that this argument is about to get incredibly circular, and obviously there’s no clear-cut resolution to the problem, otherwise there would be no reason to hold the class at all. I just felt that I needed to clear up my ideas regarding the role of technology specifically in the rise of environmental destruction.

In other news, I have an 8:30 am class on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and so last night I decided that since I’d be waking up early anyways, I should just wake up even earlier to see what fall migrants I could catch in the Crum. That thinking backfired somewhat when I found that the sun rises a lot later than I remembered, and that most of the Crum Woods hillsides aren’t struck by sunlight until even later, leading to a lot of stumbling around in the dark. But even in the darkness and relative silence, I was able to find some really great birds.

  • Northern Waterthrush – new bird for my Crum list! Having experience with Louisiana Waterthrushes, my favorite bird, I could immediately tell that this bird was slightly more streamlined, with a thinner bill, and most evidently, with dense streaks on its chest, and thinner streaks than the broad strokes on the Louisiana. Its tailwagging was also much quicker than the relatively languorous Louisiana. The lighting was too poor to see a difference in the overall color, and I didn’t get any definitive looks at the back of the supercilium. Found in one of the large puddles on the creekside trail below the ampitheater.
  • Black-throated Blue Warbler – two individuals upstream from the hemlock bluffs behind Danawell.
  • Black-and-white Warbler – one bird feeding at eye level in Upper Wister Draw.
  • Acadian Flycatcher – one bird calling at the same location as the Black-throated Blue.

Recent links:

  • This looks like a great road to drive.
  • An interesting invention for your car that lets you see the light change without having to scrunch or crane your neck, for relatively short or tall people.
  • Backpack with built-in basketball holder. Even though I don’t play basketball seriously anymore, I’d still like to carry one around like this, just because.
  • You’ve encountered those cheap sofa-beds in hotels, but how about this sofa that turns into a bunk bed.
  • It looks like there’s a MiG fighter parked in this normal parking lot, next to people’s cars.
  • Cedar Point has an insane new coaster under construction, featuring two launches, and some sick inversions. The press release is here, while the official website with a simulated ride video is here.
  • Help Google improve its Image Search by playing this surprisingly addictive game.

And finally, rest in peace Steve Irwin. You will be missed dearly by all of us.