Can spirituality lead to eco-consciousness? The Amish way of life is significantly different than many Americans’ lifestyle, and it is their spirituality that dictates how they live. Care for nature is deeply ingrained in their way of life. Therefore their spirituality has led them to have a strong eco-consciousness.
The Amish do not believe that Christianity is something to be practiced only on Sunday, at church, but a spiritual practice that shapes everything about their lifestyles. An article by Pat Stone, printed in Mother Earth News back in 1989, while far from current, still captures the motivation and intentions behind the Amish way of life. Stone discusses that the Amish practice a central principle called gelassenheit. The two practices of gelassenheit are self-surrender and building community. The self-surrender practice includes avoiding anything that could cause pride. For example, wearing plain, simple clothes instead of trying to follow the latest trend prohibits the pride of individuality. The community building also means working together help each family thrive, helping to build barns, or helping harvest crops.
Another practice of the Amish, based on Biblical scripture, is to live as set apart from the world and to not become yoked to unbelievers. These practices shape how the Amish live, work and farm. The Amish do not deny the use of any technology just for the sake of denying technology, but make decisions as a community as to which technology will continue to promote their practices of living as community and set apart from unbelievers. These decisions include not using large farm equipment so that farms stay a small and manageable, and using methods for energy that do not connect them to the power grid.
The choices that the Amish community makes naturally lend themselves to simplicity and treading lightly on the land. The article quotes Wendell Berry saying, “The Amish are the truest geniuses of technology, for they understand the necessity of limiting it, and they know how to limit it.” The crop rotation system often used reduces soil erosion and the amount of pesticides and herbicides needed to help their crops thrive. The use of animals to do the work in the fields also cuts down significantly on fossil fuels.
There are, however, some Amish practices that are currently under scrutiny because of the damage they are causing to the environment. An article from CFACT discussed that because there is a large concentration of Amish farms in Pennsylvania, there is a large concentration of animal manure, which is running off into the Chesapeake Bay. The EPA has begun cracking down agricultural runoff that includes nitrogen and phosphorus, but have particular difficulty with the Amish because their beliefs prevent them from taking money from the government to build the necessary barriers to prevent runoff.
In general, the Amish believe that it is their responsibility to care for the land because God created it. They feel one of the highest callings is farming because it cultivates a relationship with the land God crafted. Their spiritual beliefs shape the way they view the environment; as something to be cared for instead of exploited. And, their natural community practices lean toward simplicity and a reserved use of resources. While there may be a few practices that can be harmful for the environment, their lifestyle maintains a strong eco-consciousness.
Do you feel there are other spiritual practices that shape interaction with the environment? Do you connect spirituality with environmentalism in any way? Does spirituality ever have a negative effect on eco-consciousness?