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    Ecological idolatry – Ask the Rabbi

    Q. Am I wrong to feel that many politically correct causes – even the environment – are turning into a form of idolatry?

    A. An interesting point.

    Without attempting to address all the causes that you might regard as politically correct – we would probably have to make distinctions between one cause and another – let me say something about the cause of the environment.

    On the one hand there is a good case for arguing that it was Judaism that created environmental awareness in the Bible and Talmud, and Judaism that insisted that human beings act responsibly not only towards God and other people but towards the world as a whole.

    But on the other the Bible clearly places man at the summit of creation and regards human need as the top priority.

    There was a stimulating article called “The Case for Human Beings” in a US periodical, “Dialogue” in 1992. Written by the naturalist Thomas Palmer, it argues, “Maybe it’s time to give up the notion of humans as intruders, tramplers and destroyers”.

    Palmer agrees that we are all these things, “but they are not all we are”. He says there is an “essential Puritan outlook disguised as science” that regards human beings as sinners who ought to stay “as far out of the picture as possible, so as to avoid tainting still-intact landscapes with unnatural influences”.

    He suggests that the 19th-century conservation movement sought to preserve the environment for largely aesthetic reasons, whereas now we know that more is at stake and “we are near to exceeding the carrying capacity of our planet’s natural systems”.

    However, human beings should not be represented as strangers and invaders but as “the crown of creation” and the changes we have brought to the world are so often good, constructive and helpful to the environment.

    There are thus two sides to the story. Maybe you’re right that to overdo either side turns it into a form of idolatry.

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