In the first of a series, Faiths in Creation, Jonathan Gorsky argues that responsibility for our environment falls on us all, at both a personal and social level. How can the models of social transformation advocated in Jewish tradition help us to change our approach and become reliable stewards of the environment?
In the case of Judaism, the Hebrew Bible records the many vicissitudes of an attempt to construct a new form of political community that was to be an inspiration and a blessing for all the world. The concept of a model community that would serve as a light for the nations is one that might touch all of our faiths: it is not only a matter of persuading individuals among us to pay attention to their carbon footprints, rather it is imperative that our respective communities seek to nurture cultures in which people do not feel that they need to keep up with every high street fashion in order to be accepted by their friends and neighbours.
Consumerism is often inspired by a need for such acceptance in an environment where the bonds of community have become so attenuated that our superficial social connections demand rigorous material conformity as the sole guarantor of status and acceptability. If we become poor or lose our employment then social life rapidly disintegrates: consumerist culture carries unspoken assumptions that are unexpectedly demanding and highly disciplinary. Parents’ frantic endeavours to get their children into the right schools speak volumes about the social pressures that accompany relative prosperity. Pope John Paul II’s vision of a civilisation of love that would transcend individualism can be seen as an ultimate response to current perils – a new form of deep environmentalism that is beyond the reach of purely political endeavour.
The Hebrew Bible yields two other prominent models of social transformation; one is dependent on law as the instrument of its efficacy and the second is the prophetic tradition which draws on the language of inspiration and creativity.