Monday, June 25, 2012

A professor in Boston writes...

Last week, I received the following email:

Dear Mr. Crook,

Hi. I’m a law professor at Boston University, and I’m working on a book about examples from around the world where religious practices happen to harm the environment. One of the examples I’m interested in investigating is the practice of burning paper and incense in China and countries with significant Chinese populations (other examples include idol immersion in India, depletion of palm tree populations from Palm Sunday celebrations, and Native American uses of bald eagles in the US). 

I came across a terrific article that you wrote about joss paper in Taiwan in Taiwan Today, and I was wondering if I could ask you a couple of questions about the issue that might help me in my research. At some point I’m hoping to make a trip to Taiwan and/or Singapore and/or Hong Kong to try and investigate the issue a little myself, but right now I’m at the very beginning of my research and just trying to figure out the basics...

Thanks so much in advance for whatever help you might be able to provide.

In my reply, I suggested "mercy release" as another angle he could look into. He responded:

I had not heard of the mercy release issue. It's exactly the kind of thing I want to talk about in the book. Thanks very much for pointing me to it. I might have some questions on that after I do some reading on it.

It's definitely true that many religions do a lot of good things for the environment. I'm going to be clear about that in the book, but that's not what the book is going to be about. Nor is it going to be about how some religious beliefs lead to bad environmental results (e.g., because some beliefs cause some people to devalue scientific findings on climate change, etc.). What I'm really interested in here are religious practices specifically that have environmental consequences and how society and government ought to deal with those collisions. That's why the mercy release issue is perfect...