The Religious Consultation on Population,
Reproductive Health & Ethics
Religious Consultation Report
News & Views from
The Religious Consultation on Population, Reproductive Health and
Page One: Population and Ecology
Issues Crucial for Survival in the 21st Century
Article 2: Religious Consultation News
Article 3: Scholars Analyze Sexuality in Teen
Article 4: Report Says Catholic Hospital Mergers
Threaten Family Planning, Abortion Services
Article 5: Guide to U.N. Treaties on Women's Rights
Article 6: A Perspective on the Growing
Force of "Engaged Buddhism"
Article 7: Looking at the Sun: Confronting the
Article 8: Movers and Shakers: Tracking the Activities
of Our Participating Scholars
Population and Ecology
Crucial for Survival in the 21st Century
As we approach the millennium, the vexing problems of
population growth, ecological degradation and sustainability are being
brought into sharp focus.
The United Nations Population Fund is calling on governments
and organizations worldwide to observe June 16, 1999 as "The Day of
Six Billion." It is the day when world population is expected to reach
six billion, twice the number of humans who existed in 1960.
Contrary to some media reports suggesting that population
growth is decreasing and posing less of a challenge to the earth's limited
resources, the UNFPA says that world population "will continue to grow
substantially for at least another 50 years." In the year 2050, world
population is expected to be at least 9.4 billion. This continued growth
is due to the large cohort of young people currently entering its prime
childbearing years. In addition, social and medical advances have contributed
to an unprecedented increase in the proportion of people over age 65.
Without immediate implementation of creative solutions, this increased
population will strain the social and economic resources of nations
and further impinge on the already shrinking natural environment.
The Worldwatch Institute reports that "Almost half of
the forests that once blanketed earth -- 3 billion hectares -- are gone."
Between 1980 and 1995 alone, almost 200 million hectares of forest were
destroyed, an area three times the size of the state of Texas. Since
mid-century, humans have tripled their use of water, and water tables
are falling on every continent. By 2025, shortages of freshwater supplies
are expected to severely impact almost 3 billion people in 48 countries.
Meanwhile, mammals, fish, birds, amphibians and reptiles are all suffering
high rates of decline due to the destruction of habitat, excessive hunting
and fishing and other human encroachments.
The human race is clearly at a crossroads: either we
reduce our rates of reproduction and consumption or destroy the natural
environment and ourselves in the process.
In 1994, the world community took an important step in
addressing the population crisis with the historic International Conference
on Population and Development in Cairo, sponsored by the United Nations.
The Program of Action that emerged from the conference called for a
comprehensive course of action aimed at achieving the universal availability
of family planning education and services by the year 2015.
The Program of Action was revolutionary in that it tied
the stabilization of population to expanded education and equality for
women, the elimination of poverty, sustainable patterns of development,
and environmental integrity. It eschewed top-down solutions, calling
instead for action from the grass roots and a partnership between governments
and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to attain the necessary ends.
Government agencies and NGOs dedicated to the goals of
the Program of Action have been engaged in a review process, formally
called "ICPD + 5," to determine what progress has been made since the
Cairo conference. A series of international roundtables has been been
held in the past year focusing on critical aspects of the Program. These
culminate in an International Forum in The Hague, February 8-12, 1999.
The results of the Hague Forum will be reviewed by the U. N. Commission
on Population and Development the following month. These deliberations
will, in turn, contribute to the Special Session of the U.N. General
Assembly next June.
The Religious Consultation on Population, Reproductive
Health and Ethics was established at the time of the Cairo conference
in 1994. Religious scholars and activists on the liberal wings of their
various traditions felt compelled to assert progressive religious viewpoints
on the many contentious issues related to population, knowing all too
well that the voices of religious fundamentalism have often been the
Almost five years later, the Religious Consultation has
attracted hundreds of scholars and activists committed to its mission.
They participated at Cairo and at subsequent U.N. conferences. They
have also helped launch innovative projects whose findings contribute
mightily to the ongoing debates. This newsletter includes updates on
each of the Consultation's projects and publications as well as information
on the important work of our scholars. We welcome your feedback.
Top (Table of Contents)
Religious Consultation News
SUNY Press Publishes "Ethics
for a Small Planet"
Ethics for a Small Planet: New Horizons on Population,
Consumption and Ecology by Daniel C. Maguire and Larry Rasmussen,
with an introduction by Rosemary Radford Ruether, was published earlier
this year by the State University of New York Press. Both men are deeply
involved with the Religious Consultation on Population, Reproductive
Health and Ethics.
The topic of Ethics is the suffering of this
planet and its people. The underlying theme is male power, specifically
white and Western male power. Men in those economies are once again
exercising their traditional and seemingly universal genius for monarchical
power, even in countries that are supposedly democratic. In his part
of the book, Maguire, who teaches at Marquette, notes that maleness
is wealth in a sexist world, unjust wealth. Until its counterfeit nature
is discovered, especially by those who have profited from it, a revolutionary
job waits to be done and the earth will continue to die.
Maguire states that Lynn White in his renowned article
"The Historic Roots of Our Ecologic Crisis," did not go far enough when
he indicted the Jewish and Christian bibles for their anthropocentric
mandate to "fill the earth and master it." The attitude this fosters,
White said, spawned Western society's "ruthlessness toward nature."
Maguire argues that White is not so much wrong as incomplete in his
indictment. The central dogmas of Christianity also need critical attention
as to their ecological impact, and Maguire undertakes that kind of critique.
He also looks at the real progress the human family made at the 1994
United Nations Conference on Population and Development, progress that
is imperiled by right-wing obstructionism and consumerist binging as
we approach the millennium.
Rasmussen, Reinhold Niebuhr Professor of Social Ethics
at Union Theological Seminary in New York City, takes a different but
complementary approach to the causes of social and environmental degradation.
He offers an historical account of the male-led and dominant European
and "neo-European" forces that have led to our present preoccupation
with issues of sustainability, population, and development.
Both Maguire and Rasmussen work in this volume toward
a moral framework that is infused with a sense of the sacred as the
nucleus of the good and is at the same time realistic about the play
of human power in the world. The book closes with a stipulation of moral
norms required for a sustainable earth community and examples of actions
in keeping with them.
"Good Sex" on Tap at Annual
The first public report of the Religious Consultation
project "Good Sex: Women's Religious Wisdom on Sexuality" will take
place Monday, November 23 at the American Academy of Religion's annual
conference in Orlando, Florida. The panel is scheduled from 1:00 to
3:30pm at the Walt Disney Dolphin Hotel.
In the "Good Sex" project, an interdisciplinary, interreligious
team of feminist scholars is exploring the positive dimensions of women's
sexuality, especially pleasure, as found in a variety of the world's
religions. The AAR panel will include conclusions reached by individual
scholars and focus on the process of engaging in scholarship that is
intentionally interactive and shaped by the group in an increasingly
globalized context. "Good Sex" as a matter of public policy is an important
application of this research. Panelists will speak about plans for using
their individual and the collective work in international forums like
the United Nations, as well as in grassroots programs.
Panelists for the AAR event include: Rebecca Alpert of
Temple University; Wanda Deifelt of Escola Superior de Teologia in Sao
Leopoldo, Brasil; Mary E. Hunt of the Women's Alliance for Theology,
Ethics and Ritual; Grace Jantzen of the University of Manchester in
England; and Suwanna Satha-Anand of Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok.
Patricia Beattie Jung of Loyola University-Chicago will preside. Radhika
Balakrishnan of Marymount Manhattan College will be the respondent.
Participants in the "Good Sex" project attended a final
meeting in Amsterdam in July and are currently preparing their essays
for publication in a scholarly volume.
Noted Scholar Ze'ev Falk Dies
The noted Jewish scholar Ze'ev W. Falk, who had been
working with colleagues at the Religious Consultation in the "Men's
Obligations to Women" project, passed away on September 19, 1998 one
month after being diagnosed with a brain tumor. Rabbi Falk was a resident
of Jerusalem. He recently served as Rector (Provost) of the Seminary
of Judaic Studies and was on the Faculty of Law at Hebrew University
"Ze'ev was a remarkable human being, a model of rectitude,
combining devout religious observance, profound spirituality, compassion
and tolerance with scrupulous scholarship," said his friend, Alice Shalvi
of the Israeli Women's Network. "We shall miss his wise counsel."
"If I feel such pain at the passing of Ze'ev after meeting
and working with him only over the past two years, I can imagine the
grief of his dear wife, Miriam, and his friends," Dan Maguire, president
of the Religious Consultation, commented. "Ze'ev combined in a single
person the particular and the universal. His Jewish faith was the centerpiece
of his gentle life but he was welcoming to the beauty and strengths
of all the world religions."
"We were all touched by his intellectual vitality, humility,
compassion and his readiness to embrace new ideas and perspectives,"
said Anantanand Rambachan, a Hindu scholar with the Consultation's men's
project. "We will miss him in any future deliberations."
Asghar Ali Engineer of the Institute for Islamic Studies
in New Delhi, who also worked with Rabbi Falk on the Consultation's
men's project, expressed shock at his colleague's death: "It is difficult
to believe that he is no more. I feel he is even now talking to me.
He was a great scholar and a pious man, and so humble. May his soul
rest in peace. It is a great loss indeed."
Participants in the "Men's Obligations to Women" project
are finishing the final drafts of their papers, preparing them for publication
in a scholarly and then a popular volume. The scholarly volume will
be dedicated to Ze'ev Falk. The men's group will remain together as
a Task Force of the Religious Consultation to present their views to
journalists and policymakers and to speak out in the ongoing debates
over women's rights.
"Visions of a New Earth" Soon
to be Published
The State University of New York Press is soon to publish
the results of the Religious Consultation's first project, which was
called "New Theology on Population, Consumption and Ecology." The volume,
Visions of a New Earth: Religious Perspectives on Population, Consumption
and Ecology, will include essays by distinguished scholars representing
a variety of faith traditions.
Among the essays in Visions of a New Earth are:
"The Religion of the Market" by David R. Loy, a Buddhist scholar at
Bunkyo University in Japan; "Sustainability and the Global Economy"
by David C. Korten of the People-Centered Development Forum; "Self as
Individual and Collective: Ethical Implications" by Harold Coward of
the University of Victoria in British Columbia; "New Theology on Population,
Ecology and Overconsumption from the Catholic Perspective" by Alberto
Múnera of the Fundacion Social in Bogota, Colombia; "The Lost
Fragrance: Protestantism and the Nature of What Matters" by Catherine
Keller of Drew University; and "The Promises of Exiles: A Jewish Theology
of Responsibility" by Laurie Zoloth-Dorfman of the San Francisco State
Also included are "'One Tree is Equal to Ten Sons': Some
Hindu Responses to the Problems of Ecology, Population and Consumerism"
by Vasudha Narayanan of the University of Florida - Gainesville; "An
Islamic Response to the Manifest Ecological Crisis: Issues of Justice"
by Nawal H. Ammar of Kent State University; "Toward a Buddhist Environmental
Ethic" by Rita M. Gross of the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire; "Chinese
Religions on Population, Consumption and Ecology" by Chun-fang Yu of
Rutgers University; and "African Religions and the Global Issue of Population,
Consumption and Ecology" by Jacob K. Olupona of the University of California-Davis.
The book's introduction is written by Daniel C. Maguire
of Marquette University, while the final chapter, called "An Interreligious
Common Front," is by Paul F. Knitter of Xavier University.
After publication of the scholarly volume, a single-authored
popular volume incorporating many of the scholars' ideas will be published
by Fortress Press. Plans also call for the Religious Consultation to
hold seminars for policymakers and journalists to further disseminate
the progressive religious views on population, consumption and ecology
contained in the books.
"Right to Family Planning"
The Religious Consultation is in the initial stage of
its newest project, "The Right to Family Planning, Contraception and
Abortion in Ten World Religions." The project is supported by the David
and Lucile Packard Foundation of Los Altos, California.
The unhelpful aspects of world religions in matters of
fertility and gender roles are well known and are often thought to be
the one and only orthodoxy. However, there are neglected but solid grounds
for defending on religious grounds the moral right to family planning,
contraception and abortion.
The project will bring together outstanding scholars
of ten of the world's major religions. These scholars will re-evaluate
their traditions and demonstrate that each provides justification for
family planning, contraception and abortion. The resulting scholarly
papers will be published in an academic volume and then in a popular
volume, which will be aimed at population workers, policy-makers and
a more general public. The project's scholars will continue to exist
as a Task Force to present briefings and offer their expertise in future
policy discussions on abortion, contraception and family planning issues
here and abroad.
The co-directors of the project are Daniel Maguire, president
of the Consultation, and Jacob Olupona of the Department of African
American and African Studies at the University of California-Davis.
Maguire and Olupona are reviewing the qualifications of religious scholars
who will participate in the project. The project is also welcoming several
social scientists to lend their scientific, medical and demographic
skills to the religious scholars' consultations. The full team should
be in place by the end of 1998. The first conference is set for Spring,
Chun-fang Yu Joins Consultation Board
Chun-fang Yu of the Department of Religion at Rutgers
University has been appointed to the Board of Directors of the Religious
Consultation. Professor Yu's area of expertise is Chinese religious
traditions, particularly Chinese Buddhism. She is the author of The
Renewal of Buddhism in China and co-editor of Pilgrims and
Sacred Sites in China.
Professor Yu has just completed a research project on
contemporary Taiwanese nuns. She stayed with a community of nuns in
Chi-yi, Taiwan for eight months and interviewed 40 nuns. The Hsiang-kuang
Bhikuni Sangha was established in 1980 and has about 100 members. All
of them are college graduates and engaged in teaching, social service,
and cultural activities. Typical of the "new" Buddhism brought about
by a revival movement since the 1970s, these young nuns are interested
in making Buddhism socially engaged. Yu will write a book about them
entitled, Nuns in Taiwan: The Case of Ksiang-kuang Bhikuni Sangha,
in both Chinese and English. Prior to her current project, she finished
a manuscript on Kuan-yin, the Chinese "Goddess of Mercy." It is entitled,
"Kuan-yin: The Chinese Transformation of Avalokiteshvara."
"Chun-fang was a participant in our first project on
population, consumption and ecology," said Consultation president Daniel
Maguire. "She is a brilliant scholar and a delightful person whose knowledge
and experience will be most welcome on our board."
The next Consultation Board meeting is scheduled for
December 12, 1998.
More Consultation News...
Daniel Maguire, president of the Religious Consultation,
has agreed to serve on the advisory board of the Forum on Religion and
Ecology, a group that will carry on the work of the recent Harvard conference
series on the "Religions of the World and Ecology." Maguire addressed
the "Christianity and Ecology" conference in April on the subject of
"Population, Consumption, and Ecology: The Triple Problematic."
The Forum on Religion and Ecology, based at the Harvard
Center for the Study of World Religions, will have three principal goals:
to ground the field of study in religion and ecology within academia;
to disseminate materials for classroom use as well as for religious
communities; and to foster the religious voice in policy issues on the
environment by encouraging the interplay of the religions with science,
education, economics, and public policy.
Consultation Board member Radhika Balakrishnan, Coordinator
of the International Studies program at Marymount Manhattan College,
recently returned from a 3-week sojourn to four south Asian countries:
Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Thailand and The Philippines. Her travels and research,
sponsored by the Asia Foundation, were related to a study she is directing
on subcontracted women workers in the context of the global economy.
Earlier this year, Balakrishnan attended the World Trade
Organization ministerial meeting in Geneva where thousands of people
outside the meeting hall protested the structure and various policies
of the international body. In the past year, Balakrishnan has also been
a frequent guest on Pacifica Radio, addressing the WTO, the Asian financial
crisis and other international issues.
Top (Table of Contents)
Scholars Analyze Sexuality
in Teen Magazines
The Summer, 1998 issue of the Journal of Communication
includes an article entitled "Narrative Analysis of Sexual Etiquette
in Teenage Magazines," by Ana Garner, Helen Sterk and Shawn Adams.
Here, Religious Consultation Participating Scholar Helen Sterk summarizes
Concerned about messages young American women receive
about sexual activity, we examined twenty years' worth of sexual advice
columns published by magazines aimed at teenaged women. The magazines
included YM, Teen, Seventeen, Glamour, and Mademoiselle.
We found little change in the form and dynamic of the story of sex told
to young women over the years.
Using a narrative analysis technique known as "symbolic
convergence" (E.G. Bormann, "Symbolic Convergence Theory: A Communication
Formulation," Journal of Communication 35, No. 4 1985: 128-138), we
located the action, setting and character themes that recur in the advice
columns. Each magazine takes sexual activity, varied and done with numerous
partners, to be a given. We found the magazines explaining to young
women that sex is defined by male desire and pleasure and that their
job is to accommodate men. The magazines rarely defined the setting
in detail, implying that teens will have to be creative in finding places
for sexual activity. A variety of related roles emerged for young women,
all having to do with their responsibility to teach young men how to
be good lovers and conversational partners.
What we did not find was any detailed or consistent set
of advice about the possibility of abstinence, the use of birth control,
the value of masturbation for sexual release, or any recognition of
non-heterosexual relationships. In other words, definitions of sexual
activity that would enhance young women's sense of themselves as valuable
and worth protecting and pleasing were absent.
In our conclusion, we compared this advice to advice
in marriage manuals and home economics manuals published earlier in
this century. We found a direct line of continuity in the arguments.
Women continue to be told to find out what a man wants and to please
him. A key difference is that now, women are warned not to push for
or to expect any commitment from men. Even the protection afforded
by legal marriage is removed in today's advice to young women. Essentially,
they are advised to put themselves at risk sexually without requiring
any responsibility from their male partners for the consequences of
sexual activity. Further comparison with men's magazines found these
magazines encourage men to engage in promiscuous sex, to demand physical
perfection and sexual compliance of female partners, and to leave the
women if men's needs were not met.
Our final evaluation of advice such as this, given under
the guise of sophistication and knowledge of how gender relations work,
is that it robs young women of positive representations of responsible
sexual relations, ones that may enhance their physical and emotional
Helen Sterk is the William Spoelhof Teacher Scholar Chair
and a member of the Department of Communication Studies at Calvin
College in Grand Rapids, Michigan. She researches women's popular
culture, with particular emphasis on romance novels, advertising,
and self-help books. Ana Garner is Assistant Professor of Journalism
at Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She researches women's
youthful reading habits, having conducted numerous interviews with
women about the books that mattered to them when they were girls and
teens. Shawn Adams is a graduate student at Marquette University.
She is completing her Master's thesis on communication practices in
Top (Table of Contents)
Report Says Catholic Hospital
Mergers Threaten Family Planning, Abortion Services
A new study conducted by Catholics for a Free Choice
(CFFC) warns that the growing number of Catholic and non-Catholic hospital
mergers in the United States is resulting in restricted access to reproductive
health services for American women, particularly low income women.
The research has been published in a booklet entitled
When Catholic and Non-Catholic Hospitals Merge: Reproductive Health
Compromised. The report describes how the very nature of Catholic
hospitals, along with the nationwide trend toward health care consolidation,
threatens access to contraceptive education and services, surgical procedures
like tubal ligations and abortions, and doctor-assisted reproductive
The report documents the increase in mergers and affiliations
involving Catholic hospitals in the past few years and explains that
Catholic-run institutions are required to follow the dictates of the
Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services,
issued by the US Catholic bishops. These Directives forbid
not just abortion, but a wide range of family planning services: contraceptive
devices, including condoms; vasectomies; tubal ligations; and artificial
insemination and in vitro fertilization. Provision of the "morning after"
pill to rape victims is forbidden, and preventive education about AIDS
CFFC found that in 1996 the growth rate of the fastest
expanding Catholic health care system was 47%, while the growth rate
for the largest secular provider was just 3%. The number of Catholic
sole provider hospitals (those in areas where no other health care institution
is easily accessible) increased 65% from 46 in 1994 to 76 in 1997. In
approximately one-third of the consolidations CFFC identified in 1996
and 1997, all reproductive health services were discontinued at the
[formerly] non-Catholic facility.
What follows is an excerpt drawn from the conclusions
of Reproductive Health Compromised.
"Studying consolidations involving Catholic health
care institutions is a bit like peeling an onion. The task can bring
tears to your eyes for, as this report demonstrates, about half of all
mergers between Catholic and non-Catholic hospitals cause significant
reductions in, or the outright elimination of, many reproductive health
"Abortion services are the least often affected, as few
hospitals provide them. Most frequently eliminated are sterilization
procedures, including postpartum sterilizations, and family planning
services and referrals. Most seriously affected are low-income women,
to whom few or no other health care providers may be available.
"As each layer of the merger onion is peeled away, there
is some transparency -- some questions are answered -- but underneath,
a deeper, denser set of questions, both quantitative and qualitative,
is exposed. It is difficult to evaluate and categorize mergers, even
more difficult to predict the outcomes of pending deals.
"Thus, it is necessary to conduct more research into
the effect of consolidations on the provision of health care. To date,
there are no data on the numbers of people actually affected by one
or all mergers. We have no qualitative research that follows hospital
patients who previously would have obtained reproductive health services
in a hospital where services are now unavailable. Even the investigative
reporting to describe clearly the day-to-day effect of a merger on services
remains to be done. We suspect that in a number of cases services that
have been "discontinued" are still quietly, although selectively, provided.
Conversely, some services retained on paper may actually be largely
"At the same time, some things are clear:
1. Consolidations involving Catholic
and non-Catholic institutions show little sign of slowing down. Without
strong advocacy for the preservation of reproductive health services,
more communities nationwide will see these services eliminated.
2. Reproductive health advocates must
focus greater attention on mergers between and among Catholic hospitals,
as well as on the trend towards the creation of Catholic health plans
linking together health maintenance organizations, physician groups,
pharmacies, and other ancillary services. These integrated networks,
which can constrain patients from every direction, may come to represent
the greatest threat to reproductive health services.
3. While Catholic partners in merger
negotiations seem to be increasingly insistent on public adherence to
the Directives, creative solutions or liberal interpretations
of the Directives, which permit some or most reproductive heath
services, have not declined. Community and physician insistence on continuing
such services has been and will remain critical.
4. Experience supports the fear that
informal agreements to continue to provide reproductive health services,
in spite of merger documents that demand adherence to the Directives,
might be rescinded over time. Advocates should scrutinize whether the
church will retain control over the operations of the combined system,
and how and when this control can be exercised.
5. Pending mergers are in the spotlight
more now than they were three or four years ago. This exposure works
to the benefit of advocates for reproductive choice, but it may also
lead to increased involvement of the Catholic hierarchy in health care
"For Catholics for a Free Choice, it has been disheartening
to observe how little attention is paid to larger questions of medical
and health care ethics during the merger process. That a community or
secular hospital would adopt religiously based Directives,
which define what is a moral or immoral service, is deeply troubling
in a pluralistic society. Is women's health well-served when bishops,
rather than doctors, decide which health services will be available
in a hospital?
In the end, the questions raised by mergers involving
Catholic hospitals are basic questions about religious freedom, bodily
integrity, and democracy. They deserve further attention."
Excerpted from "When Catholic and Non-Catholic Hospitals
Merge: Reproductive Health Compromised," researched and written by
Liz Bucar and published by Catholics for a Free Choice, 1436 U Street,
NW, Suite 301, Washington, DC 20009. The full report is available
from CFFC. Call 202/986-6093.
Top (Table of Contents)
Guide to U.N. Treaties on Women's
"Rights of Women: A Guide to the Most Important United
Nations' Treaties on Women's Human Rights" is an excellent new publication
that provides a comprehensive review of women's human rights protected
by international law.
Published by the International Women's Tribune Centre,
the manual provides a "right by right" guide to issues such as education,
marriage, employment, refugees, sexual exploitation and trafficking,
and torture by providing a global overview and then a description of
relevant UN conventions. Developing rights for women are also discussed.
A 'Taking Action' section offers effective strategies for using international
law to better women's human rights--from holding a tribunal to building
a human rights community via the Internet.
Written in simple, non-legal language, "Rights of Women"
is an extremely user-friendly manual that is liberally illustrated with
line drawings, diagrams and charts. It is designed to assist its readers,
particularly those working with grassroots or community groups, to develop
their own materials and undertake their own campaigns. Also included
are resources, charts showing which countries have signed on to the
conventions and the full text of key international human rights documents.
Orders and review copy requests should be sent to Women,
Ink., 777 United Nations Plaza, New York, NY 10017, USA. Tel: 212/687-8633;
Fax: 212/661-2704. Email: email@example.com.
Web site: http://www.womenink.org.
The cost is US$15.95 plus shipping and handling (free to women's groups
in the global South).
Top (Table of Contents)
A Perspective on the Growing
By David R. Loy
Bunkyo University, Japan
As a missionary religion, Buddhism has been quite adaptable.
In China a natural affinity with Taoism led to the development of Chan
(Zen); in Tibet tantric Buddhism from India merged with Bon animism
to become Tibetan Buddhism. So what is Buddhism adapting to in the West
today, as it becomes a religious presence in Europe and North America?
Some point tongue-in-cheek to Hollywood's apparent affinity with Tibetan
Buddhism; Buddhist-Christian dialogue has been lively and productive;
and many are emphasizing the deep relationship between Buddhism and
psychotherapy. But another fruitful affinity has developed: between
Buddhism's emphasis on personal transformation (based on the world's
richest tradition of meditative practices) and Western emphasis on social
transformation (originally deriving from the Judeo-Christian prophetic
concern for social justice). The result of this interaction has come
to be known as engaged Buddhism and it is a growing force within Buddhism
-- not only in the West, but reflexively in Asia as well. This year
the Buddhist Peace Fellowship (based in Berkeley) celebrates its twentieth
anniversary with an estimated 4,000 members, and next year the International
Network of Engaged Buddhists, based in Bangkok but with branches in
several countries, will celebrate its tenth anniversary. Both are finding
plenty of social issues to keep them busy.
There has been some debate about whether engaged Buddhism
is a natural development of Buddhism in the West, or more a result of
the political preoccupations of the '60s generation that later became
interested in Asian spirituality. Early Buddhism in India did not challenge
the socio-political order prevalent at that time. The Buddha's Dharma
and the Sangha order he established were generally accepted as an alternative
moral and spiritual authority, which occasionally offered advice to
rulers but did not threaten their power: Buddhist liberation was personal
and usually involved leaving the social world, not transforming it.
In China and Japan, however, Buddhism's missionary success became associated
with its political co-optation: emperors were viewed as Buddhas incarnate,
and in Japan the Mahayana vow to liberate all sentient beings became
distorted into "safeguarding the nation" -- as embodied in the imperial
family, of course. Zen became popular among the samurai because it taught
them how to die better and how to kill better, eventually resulting
in a militaristic Buddhism that supported modern imperialism and the
Pacific War -- in short, not very different from Christianity during
most of its history.
Our modern Western concern for democracy and human rights,
however imperfectly realized, has created new opportunities for relating
personal liberation with social liberation. And the social and economic
crises we are now beginning to experience make such connections necessary,
in the opinion of many engaged Buddhists. Given the catastrophic times
we live in, it is increasingly difficult not to understand the five
traditional Buddhist precepts in such broader terms:
1. No Killing has always applied to all
sentient beings. Today the collapse or near-collapse of so many ecosystems,
and the threatened extinction of so many plant and animal species, requires
a more socially-engaged attempt to embody this precept.
2. No Stealing was traditionally defined
as "not taking what is not given." Today we have an economic system
that is based upon stealing, because it commodifies the whole earth
and all its creatures into "natural resources" which it concentrates
into the hands of a global elite.
3. No Lying, but, again, today we have
systemic lying due to the fact that our increasingly-concentrated corporate
media use their power not to inform and educate, but to exploit us for
the sake of their true purpose, profits from advertising. So we are
diverted from what is really happening by "infotainment" and sports
spectacles. This perversion of what has become our international "nervous
system" must be challenged.
4. No Harmful Sexual Behavior, sometimes
defined as "sex that causes pain to others." Except for Japan, Buddhist
monks and nuns are traditionally celibate, but that is not prescribed
for laypeople: dating, marriage, divorce, etc. are secular matters unregulated
by Buddhist teachings. Today the traditional Buddhist emphasis on the
Buddhanature of all of us implies not only the liberation and empowerment
of women everywhere, but opposition to all gender-based oppression and
discrimination, and support for the development of healthy and responsible
human relationships of all types (including gay and lesbian rights).
5. No Harmful Intoxicants which "cloud
the mind," traditionally emphasizing alcohol. Today, however, what intoxicant
clouds our minds more than the "never-enough" consumerism manipulated
by an economic system that needs to keep manufacturing markets for the
goods it keeps overproducing? The Buddha emphasized that craving is
the source of our unhappiness (Dukkha). If so, we cannot solve the problem
of our lives by acquiring and consuming more -- but that is precisely
what our present economic and political systems encourage.
Buddhism and the Judeo-Christian traditions are both
axial in the sense described by Karl Jaspers: outgrowths of a spiritual
quickening that occurred simultaneously in many places about 600 - 400
BCE. This axial "turning" included the realization that both society
and individuals are constructions that could be and should be reconstructed.
In India and China, the emphasis has been on personal transformation;
in the modern West, on social transformation ("progress" in one form
or other). Their encounter today is an important one. The history of
political revolution in the West (and, arguably, its technological development
too, given its strong military connections) is a dismal one, for, without
spiritual transformation as well, revolutions simply replace one gang
of thugs with another. The history of religious transformation in Asia
has also been a dismal one in the sense that, without social transformation,
personal liberation becomes stifled into religious institutions that
help to maintain oppressive socio-political regimes. Today, those of
us who would change society confront the sociological paradox: humans
create society, but society creates humans. The solution, I suggest,
is the need to work on both sides at the same time. History suggests
that either without the other will not take us anywhere we want to go.
David R. Loy, a Participating Scholar of the Religious
Consultation on Population, Reproductive Health and Ethics, teaches
in the Faculty of International Studies at Bunkyo University, Chigasaki
253 in Japan. His Email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
He is a long-time Zen student and member of the Buddhist Peace fellowship
and the Buddhist ThinkSangha, whose work contributed to this article.
Top (Table of Contents)
Looking at the Sun: Confronting
the Glaring Eco-Crisis
By Daniel C. Maguire
Marquette University, Milwaukee
It is hard to focus on our eco-crisis. It's so horrible
we shy from it as we do from looking at the sun. But in order to get
people to take a peek at the painful data, it helps to have a short
primer of some of the basic problems our species faces. We as a species
are a threat to all of the foundational elements of life on earth: water,
topsoil, and air. Similarly, the fundamentals of our political economy
are being dangerously transformed. This is the sun we have to look at
for a moment.
This water planet lives on water or it dies. Less than
one percent of the earth's water is usable by humans, and this treasure
is unevenly distributed. Pure water is becoming scarcer than gold. The
two water dangers are threatened supply and pollution. The Middle East
illustrates the supply problem. Tony Allan, a water expert at the University
of London, says the Middle East "ran out of water" in 1972 when its
population stood at 122 million. At that point the region began to draw
more water out of its aquifers than the rains could replenish. Today
the population has doubled and the politics of water has grown intense.
Water wars could be in our near future. Jordan's King Hussein once said
that water was the only issue that could lead him to war with Israel.
Most of Africa, the Near East, northern Asia, and Australia suffer from
chronic water shortages. On the pollution side oysters and mussels,
nature's water-purifying kidneys are becoming dangerously depleted.
Meanwhile, farm and chemical wastes borne by land, sea, and air invade
our precious sources of usable water.
All life depends on crop land and on that thin but indispensable
treasure called topsoil. In 30 years, China, where one of five humans
lives, lost in crop land the equivalent of all the farms in France,
Germany, Denmark, and the Netherlands. In fact, 43 percent of the earth's
vegetated surface is to some degree degraded, and it takes from 3,000
to 12,000 years to develop sufficient soil to form productive land.
Our corruption reaches even to the skies. As Peter Barnes puts it: "At
the rate we are burning fossil fuels -- and moving carbon from beneath
the ground to the atmosphere--we'll double-glaze the planet by early
next century, with unknowable consequences."
Not surprisingly, people, in solidarity with the decedent
earth, are dying too. When it comes to impoverishment, the rule seems
to be women and children first! Four million babies die yearly from
diarrhea in the euphemistically entitled "developing world." Dr. Noeleen
Heyzer of the United Nations says: "Poverty has a female face." Women
constitute 70 percent of the world's 1.3 billion absolute poor, own
less than 1 percent of the world's property but work two-thirds of the
world's working hours. Microbes and viruses that found a life for themselves
in the forests, have accepted deforesting humans as their new hosts.
As Joel Cohen says: "The wild beasts of this century and the next are
microbial, not carnivorous." More than thirty new diseases have been
identified since 1973, many of them relating to our new and ecologically
The elitist illusion is that we can make nations or parts
of them into gated communities, veiling from our eyes the decay and
the huddled and hungry masses, but we can't. Poisons are as globalized
as capital. They come to us in the strawberries and the rain. Professor
David Orr gives us some of the scary data: male sperm counts worldwide
have fallen by 50 percent since 1938. Human breast milk often contains
more toxins than permissible in milk sold by dairies, signaling that
some toxins have to be permitted by the dairies. At death some human
bodies contain enough toxins and heavy metals to be classified as hazardous
waste. Jeremiah warned us that it is hard to escape the effects of moral
malignancy: "Do you think that you can be exempt? No, you cannot be
exempt." (Jer. 25:5,29)
Meanwhile, there are more of us and in many places far
too many of us. It took 10,000 generations to reach the first 2½
billion; it took one generation to double it. World population is like
a triangle, with the reproductive young at the wide base and the old
at the narrow top. Until the model comes closer to a rectangle, with
a more balanced distribution of young and old, the growth will not stop,
nor does anyone expect it to. Because the population of the industrialized
nations is expected to decline over the next 50 years and because the
world annual rate of increase has slowed in the last two years, we begin
to hear a gospel of consolation proclaiming the end of the population
problem. This is illusory. As Gennifer Mitchell says: "Over the next
25 years, some 3 billion people -- a number equal to the entire world
population in 1960 -- will enter their reproductive years, but only
about 1.8 billion will leave that phase of life. Assuming that the couples
in this reproductive bulge begin to have children at fairly early ages,
which is the global norm, the global population would still expand by
1.7 billion, even if all of those couples had only two children -- the
long term replacement rate." Since most of that increase will occur
in the overstressed poor world, the proclamation of the end of the population
crisis is strategic myopia. The United Nations projects that world population
will reach 9.4 billion by 2050 and nearly 11 billion eventually.
Note that I refer to the "poor world," not to "the third
world." It is no longer meaningful, I submit, to divide the world up
numerically into first, second, third, etc. If we insist on the numbers
we would have to admit that there are third world sections, often based
very much on color lines, in our first world. Also the propaganda terms
"developed" and "developing" pull a "tissue of lies" over the facts
of life, since the masses of the undernourished living in absolute poverty
live in the world that is not developing for them, and the "developed
nations" are overdeveloped ecological barbarians. Neither term, "developing"
or "developed" is descriptive of reality. Development language is not
on a mission of truth.
The big lie in development parlance -- we affluent folks
are developed; the others are on their way to being like us -- is that
there are enough resources for all peoples to go on gorge mode. As Gro
Harlem Brundtland, head of the World Health Organization, said, "If
7 billion people were to consume as much energy and resources as we
do in the West today, we would need 10 worlds, not one, to satisfy all
our needs." If China ate fish at the rate the Japanese do, it would
take the whole world's supply to feed them. There are clearly limits
to sustainability, and we have reached them.
Daniel C. Maguire teaches Ethics at Marquette University
in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He is President of the Religious Consultation
on Population, Reproductive Health and Ethics.
Top (Table of Contents)
Movers and Shakers:
Tracking the Activities of Our Participating Scholars
Grace M. Jantzen
of the Centre for Religion, Culture and Gender at the University of
Manchester in the United Kingdom is editing a series of books for Manchester
University Press called "Manchester Studies in Religion, Culture and
Gender." The first, Becoming Divine: Toward a Feminist Philosophy of
Religion, written by Jantzen, will be co-published in the U.S. by Indiana
University Press and should be available before the end of 1998. Jantzen
also recently edited a guest edition of the John Ryland Bulletin, entitled
"Representation, Experience and Gender," as well as a guest edition
of the Scottish Journal of Religious Studies, entitled "Beginning with
Birth?" She has essays in each periodical. In October, she was scheduled
to deliver a series of lectures in the Department of Theology at the
University of Helsinki in Finland on the topic of "Necrophilia and Natality:
What Does It Mean to Be Religious?" ...
John C. Raines
recently relinquished his position as chair of the Department of Religion
at Temple University in Philadelphia. He chaired the department from
1990-94 and from 1996-98. Raines is co-directing the Religious Consultation
project on "Men's Obligations to Women." He is also applying for a Fulbright
grant, which he hopes will enable him to spend time in Jakarta where
he will work with local religious scholars to help initiate the first
comparative religious studies program at the University of Indonesia.
A previous Fulbright Research award enabled him to study the Muslim
Youth Movement of Malaysia in 1994. The group has been active in the
agitation against Malaysian strongman Mohammad Mahathir. ...
of Manhattan College, current President of the American Academy of Religion,
will preside over the AAR's annual conference November 21-24 in Orlando,
Florida. Plaskow's article, "Sexual Orientation and Human Rights: A
Progressive Jewish Perspective," appears in a new book called Sexual
Orientation and Human Rights in American Religious Discourse, edited
by Saul Olyan and Martha Nussbaum (Oxford University Press, 1998). ...
of Bangor Theological Seminary is the newly elected chair of the Maine
Interfaith Council on Reproductive Choices, a statewide network of pro-choice
clergy and other religious leaders committed to promoting education
and public policy that guarantees reproductive self-determination. The
group is currently working to defeat a legislative proposal that would
ban late term abortions in the state of Maine. ...
of the Harvard Divinity School recently retired and has relinquished
his positions as a board member of the Population Council and co-director
of the Osher Center for Tolerance and Pluralism at the Shalom Hartman
Institute in Jerusalem. He continues to lecture occasionally and his
most recently published piece deals with the topic he has worked on
for some time: expressing a Christian theology that allows for a genuine
pluralism. "Qumran and Supersessionism -- and the Road Not Taken" can
be found in The Princeton Seminary Bulletin 19:2 (1998) 134-142. ...
is now the R.C. and E.Y. Lee Chair Professor at the University of Toronto.
Her latest book, The Butterfly Healing: A Life Between East and West,
was published by Orbis Press this year. It is a literary memoir with
reflections on religions and therapies, East and West. Cambridge University
Press published Ching's Mysticism and Kingship in China in 1997. She
is currently teaching a new course, "Ethical Responses to Global Issues,"
at the University of Toronto. ...
Rita M. Gross
of the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire will have her latest book,
Soaring and Settling: Buddhist Perspectives on Contemporary Social and
Religious Issues, published by Continuum late this year. This past summer,
she served as scholar-in-residence at the San Francisco Zen Center.
of Union Theological Seminary in New York has been named a Henry Luce
III Fellow in Theology for 1998-99. The fellowship is awarded by the
Association of Theological Schools in the U.S. and Canada. Rasmussen's
project is entitled "Moral Frame-works and Deep Divisions." Its goal
is to reread selected religious traditions and moral theory in such
a way that social and environmental issues are understood as integral
to one another and are addressed together. ...
of the Women's Programme of the World Council of Churches has been named
to head the WCC's work on Justice, Peace and Creation. One of the major
projects for this division in 1999 is reopening discussion of biotechnology,
including reproductive technology, among WCC member churches. Gnanadason
has also been deeply involved in helping to organize a gathering of
women from throughout the world in Harare, Zimbabwe this November. The
occasion is a celebration of the end of the World Council of Churches'
Ecumenical Decade of the Churches in Solidarity with Women. Up to 1,000
women are expected to attend. ...
has joined the Department of Religion at Dartmouth College. Her most
recent books are Abraham Geiger and the Jewish Jesus (University of
Chicago Press, 1998) and Insider/Outsider: American Jews and Multiculturalism,
edited with David Biale and Michael Galchinsky (University of California
Press, 1998). Articles published this year include "Church Protests
During the Third Reich: A Report on Two Cases," Kirckliche Zeitgeschichte
10. Jahrgang Heft 2 (1988), 377-388, and an essay in The Sunflower:
On the Possibilities and Limits of Forgiveness, edited by Simon Weisenthal,
published by Schocken Books. ...
Table of Contents
Subscribe to Newsletter
Back to Home
News and Views Main Menu