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Archive for the ‘Environment’ Category



Jewish Beliefs About GMOs

Jun11

by: Robyn Purchia on June 11th, 2015 | 1 Comment »

A beautiful green field of wheat.
Credit: Flickr / Miran Rijave.

Like most environmental issues, the growing supply of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in food raises many concerns. Although GMO crops can feed more people, they also put people’s health at risk and degrade the environment. Small farmers can make more money growing and selling more crops, but buying GMO seeds gives corporations a lot of power over these small farmers. Along with these ethical concerns, religious groups must also wrestle with the theological issues GMOs raise.

When religion tries to apply ancient texts to modern technology there is rarely a clear answer. Application of Jewish laws and ethical traditions has burdened the GMO debate with numerous contradictions. In figuring out Jewish beliefs on GMOs we may be left with only one theological question: Can humans make God’s creation more perfect?

Jewish Law as it Applies to GMOs

Consistent with the principle that anything not expressly prohibited by God is permitted, Jewish law, or halacha, generally takes a permissive position on GMO food. But just because halacha doesn’t expressly prohibit GMO food, doesn’t mean it’s entirely silent on the issue.

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The Political Theology of Climate Denial

Jun9

by: on June 9th, 2015 | Comments Off

A picture of two signs: "Grow Food Not Emissions" and "Grow a Better Future: Act on Climate Change".

Credit: CreativeCommons / Oxfam International.

Not knowing is bad. Not wishing to know is worse.” Nigerian Proverb

We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them. Albert Einstein

As a university professor of pre-service and in-service teachers and administrators, I often discuss with students the qualities that make a great educator. For me, one of the major qualities a great educator must possess is an inexhaustible passion for learning, while never resting on their past knowledge and understandings of the universe. In addition, great educators hold a high capacity for critical thinking. I notify students in our course syllabus and on the very first day of classes that they are expected to think critically, reflectively, and creatively on the concepts, topics, and issues presented, and in class discussions, readings, videos, and on written assignments.

I require students to justify and backup their thoughts and “opinions.” Personal opinions or theological viewpoints without verifiable justification are just that – opinions and theological viewpoints. I expect students to think “outside the box” of their past experiences and learning. In this regard, I introduce Dr. Stephen Brookfield’s three-part process involved in critical thinking.

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The Ecological Encyclical: How Far Will Francis Go?

Jun7

by: on June 7th, 2015 | Comments Off

Credit: CreativeCommon / Benson Kua.

Word comes that June 18 is the unveiling date of Pope Francis’s widely anticipated encyclical letter on themes related to the environment. Media coverage will predictably dwell on the newness of such a papal pronouncement, which is to be expected from news. And there will be enough novelty in the occasion, starting with the fact that no pope has ever offered up an ecological encyclical. More interesting, though, is not what Francis will say about the new (about climate change and such), but what he will do with the old – with timeless notions of morality, justice, and the divine.

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Why Schools Should Include Hip-Hop in the Curriculum

Jun2

by: Brian Mooney on June 2nd, 2015 | Comments Off

Two students in a hip-hop cypher in a classroom.

A hip-hop cypher, where students each contribute a line of rhyme or poetry in a circle, is the pedagogical foundation of author Brian Mooney's curriculum.

Most classes start with a “Do Now” or “Warm-Up.” Mine often start with a hip-hop cypher. In a cypher, students stand in a circle, spread at equal distances, and one at a time, contribute a rhyme, line of poetry, thought, idea, or affirmation. This circle is the pedagogical foundation of the work I do in hip-hop education.

On a recent February afternoon, just outside of New York City, only miles from hip-hop’s birthplace in the South Bronx, I asked my high school students to answer this question in the opening cypher; why should schools include hip-hop in the curriculum?

Christian, now a junior, told us that, “hip-hop is a culture and it’s just like learning about the Aztecs or the Mayans. We learn the origin, customs, and traditions [of hip-hop].”Recalling a recent lesson on hip-hop’s fifth element, Christian went on to explain that hip-hop offers students an opportunity to learn, “”knowledge of self,” which is knowing who you are.”

Hip-hop was born in the South Bronx of the 1970s under oppressive conditions. In response to limited resources, poverty, and gang violence that riddled the New York City borough, black and Latino youth came together in an effort to improve the community, expressing themselves through rapping, breakdancing, graffiti art, and turntablism.

Over forty years later, hip-hop has become a worldwide phenomenon, reaching every corner of the globe and shaping the identities of a whole generation of young people. Kids today are just as invested in hip-hop culture as they were in the 80s, 90s, and early 2000s.

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Buddhists, Christians, and Godly Prosperity

Jun2

by: Philip Jenkins on June 2nd, 2015 | Comments Off

The Buddhist magazine Tricycle sometimes offers really fine writing, and the past Spring issue included an outstanding example that raises all sorts of questions and parallels for historians of Christianity.

The piece in question was “The Buddha’s Footprint,” by Johan Elverskog of SMU (subscription needed for full access). It’s a substantial article, and not surprisingly it will be the core of a forthcoming book. Elverskog looks at Buddhist attitudes to the environment, and he shows that by no means have they always involved the kind of militant environmentalism and tree-hugging that we might expect of American practitioners today. Contrary to myth, early Buddhists were not necessarily in tune with the natural world, dreamy lovers of untamed wilderness.

Instead, he shows that early Buddhism was very clearly an urban movement: “Of the 4,257 teaching locales found in the early Buddhist canon, for example, fully 96 percent are in urban settings. Similarly, of the nearly 1,400 people identified in these texts, 94 percent are described as residing in cities.” Not surprisingly, then, the faith’s earliest texts showed a definite preference for human domination over the environment. A landscape was good if it was controlled, fertile and working for the human good.

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Right or Wrong? Climate Change

Jun1

by: David Morgan on June 1st, 2015 | Comments Off

Some people claim, “Environmentalism is just another religion” to rebut people who link climate change to human activity. What about organizations such as Jesus People Against Pollution, which cite Scripture? Are their views grounded in the Bible?

I have no doubt organizations that support environmentalism can find strong scriptural foundations. Care for creation is embedded in the creation accounts of Genesis and in Christians’ responsibility to care for the marginalized in society. I have addressed this subject in earlier “Right or Wrong?” articles titled “Building ‘green’” and “Going green.”

Oil refineries and their smokestacks emitting greenhouse gases at twilight.

Credit: CreativeCommons / Kris Krüg.


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Channeling Our Passions Into Effective Action

May28

by: on May 28th, 2015 | 1 Comment »

I recently had the honor, with Rabbi Michael Lerner, of speaking with over 20 amazing leaders, activists, authors and others about how we can build a politics of love and justice and a world based on these values.

As the executive director of the Network of Spiritual Progressives (NSP), members often tell me they can imagine what a better world would look like – one that judges the efficacy and rationality of our institutions, not on how much profit they earn, but that they treat living creatures and the earth with the dignity and respect that we all deserve. Yet, many folks feel disheartened that this notion is not often discussed in popular media or that there isn’t a successful political party championing our shared values. These individuals have turned to the NSP because they want to be a part of a movement that holds that realizing this world is not simply naïve idealism, but, in fact, is realistic if we work towards making it so.

As with any movement, it’s important to glean wisdom and turn to those who are leaders in their own right for inspiration. The speakers in this series offered a profound sense of hope as well as real-world steps for action, which deeply resonated with the summit’s attendees. One of the participants told me that the calls had instilled in her a sense of inspiration and excitement she had not felt for years and did not expect to feel again.

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Markets of the Mind

May27

by: Tony Curzon Price on May 27th, 2015 | Comments Off

A graphic of a golden head silouhetted with currency signs.

"A sense of sin, of having to redeem yourself through deeds, is the banker in the head." Credit: http://www.indiainfoline.com.

Debt and guilt have much in common. It’s time we found better ways of organising both ourselves and the economy.

Feeling guilty and being over-indebted have much in common. You’ve done something wrong and now you’re paying for it. The feeling of guilt is a flow of pain due to you from past recklessness, maybe from your original sin. The flow might abate if only you could redeem yourself. You’re all set up to beg forgiveness. A payment is due, and if only you’d do your duty, you’d pay your dues, the pain might just abate. The language of guilt and debt seem inseparable: redeem, forgive, bondage, dues…

George Gilder, onetime business guru, evangelical Christian and speechwriter to Richard Nixon, was a prophet of the virtues of massive debt for companies. His logic would have appealed to the protestant theologian and autocrat John Calvin. When you pile a company high with debt — up to the maximum that its financial projections will allow — the chief executive will have just one purpose to his day: to fulfill his promises; to meet the monthly installment. And if he doesn’t (it usually is a ‘he’), he’ll have to confront a stern and wrathful investor. That investor is, in Goldamn Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein’s entirely non-ironic formulation, “Just doing God’s work.” To make the payment or else … that’s exactly the motivational structure of the guilty mind: there’ll be hell to pay if I don’t perform.

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Educated Hope and the Promise of Democracy

May26

by: Henry A. Giroux on May 26th, 2015 | Comments Off

The following is a commencement speech given by Professor Henry A. Giroux at Chapman University to the class of 2015 at Chapman University on May 24th, 2015.

I am very moved and humbled to accept an honorary degree on this important occasion today, and to be with all of you in sharing this wonderful achievement of graduating from Chapman University. As a father who struggled to put three boys through higher education, I think it is appropriate that I should begin by first acknowledging those parents and family members, whose support throughout the years helped to make it possible for you to achieve this tremendous milestone in your life. And as Stephen Colbert said to a graduating class at Northwestern University, “If you don’t thank them now, you’ll have plenty of time to thank them tomorrow when you move back in with them.” Just kidding, I hope.

I am especially honored to be in the presence of so many of you who have chosen education as a field of study. I can think of no generation for whom education is more important than it is for yours at this particular time in history. At a time when the public good is under attack and there seems to be a growing apathy toward the social contract, or any other civic minded investment in public values and the larger common good, education has to be seen as more than a credential or a pathway to a job. It has to be viewed as crucial to understanding and overcoming the current crisis of agency, politics, and democracy faced by many young people today. One of the challenges your generation faces is the need to reclaim the role that education has historically played in developing critical literacies and civic capacities. At the heart of such a challenge is the question of what education should accomplish in a democracy. What work does your generation have to do to create the economic, political, and ethical conditions necessary to endow young people with the capacities to think, question, doubt, imagine the unimaginable, and defend education as essential for inspiring and energizing the citizens necessary for the existence of a robust democracy?

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I Arrived At The White House… And Didn’t Go Inside.

May25

by: Katie Loncke on May 25th, 2015 | Comments Off

1. Black Excellence and Achievement

Mama’s antidote to being born a black boy on parole in Central Mississippi is not for us to seek freedom; it’s to insist on excellence at all times.

Kiese Laymon, How to Slowly Kill Yourself
and Others in America: A Remembrance

[Some people burdened by racism] achieve themselves to death trying to dodge the build up of erasure.

Claudia Rankine, Citizen: An American Lyric

Buddhist Peace Fellowship outside the White House.

One of three Buddhist Peace Fellowship banners outside the White House, above, following the closing of the U.S. Buddhist Leadership Conference, May 14, 2015.

When my father was a boy in the early 1950s, he was selected for a scholarship, plucking him out of the black projects of New Haven, Connecticut, and shipping him off to an elite prep school, where he became a proverbial fly in the buttermilk of white students, white teachers, and white ideas.

As he tried to settle in, my father was startled to learn that students’ academic rankings were posted publicly, following periodic exams, with the highest achiever’s name at the top of the list.

Determined to see his name rise, my father began to break school rules. Nighttimes, after lights-out, he would smuggle his coursework into his bunk, along with a flashlight. Clandestine study under the covers.

And sure enough, his name ascended. All the way to the top.

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