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A Zarathushtrian Perspective in Eco-Theology [i]


















Considerations of Eco-theology are concerned with the place of flora and fauna in the vision of creation of a theology.  There, we encounter a set of issues:  i) How do we take the World to be a creation of a supernatural creator?  ii) Are we the entities of creation to be viewed as having some special purpose or function? iii) What attitude are members of a tradition expected to adopt towards these entities?

Different kinds of theologies provide different perspectives on these issues.  Archaic polytheistic traditions provide different deities for different entities.  Monotheistic traditions naturally ascribe all creation to a single Divinity.

In the monotheistic Abrahamic religions, which accept the account of creation as given in the Book of Genesis in the Old Testament, a single Divinity created the World.  The World was created as a place where Humanity would live. The existence of flora and fauna could be comprehended by their being of utility to human life.  In polytheistic religions the function and status of specific entities in the world depended on the divinities that represented and protected them.  And the standing of the divinity depended on the social structure of the pantheon and the alliances and tensions among them.  The stories of their relationships were reflected in events on earth and frequently provided explanations of natural phenomena.

The world of vegetation consisted of grasses of pastureland, cereals and trees yielding fruits and firewood.  During the early pastoral period pastures were of major importance.  And there were divinities of stature to protect them.  During the agricultural period human existence depended on the adequate availability of cereals, with a looming threat of harvest failure.  The crucial events of growth and death of vegetation, a concern in every early civilization, called for explanation.  There is in Greek mythology an account of this situation – the Myth of Demester and Kore.

The story in brief I this: Demester, the goddess of Earth had a daughter, Kore, the goddess of Corn, who was abducted by Hades, the lord of the Underworld.  Demester, in a state of deep depression, lost interest in the World, especially the earth’s supportive function for vegetation. And Kore’s absence on earth resulted in the absence of cereals.  In this dire condition, Zeus was called upon to intervene.  Zeus and the gods worked out a compromise: Hades would hold Kore for a certain period each year, and return Kore to her mother for the rest of the year.  When Kore emerged from the Underworld vegetation flourished only die when she was taken back to the Underworld.  Thus the natural phenomenon of generation, growth and death were explained and the time of harvesting determined by the story.

This myth is particularly significant because not only does it account for the seasonal regeneration of vegetation; it also becomes the paradigm for resurrection myths.

There is another theological vision which may well have originated with Zarathushtra, and that is, the postulation of a Principle which underlies Existence, in accordance with which creation unfolds.  We encounter this notion of Orderliness in Chinese religious thought as coming from the Mandate of Heaven; or reconstituted in its dynamical from as the transforming balance between the complementary powers, Yin and Yang.  In the Buddhist account, what we call existence would be considered the ephemeral manifestation of causal laws generated by various needs and desires, but ultimately unreal.     

Focusing on Zarathushtra’s vision we come to see that the World was conceived to evolve according to a Divinity created Ideal Principle of Order, it is called Asha, the Ultimate Truth.  This Order is manifested in Nature as well as in Society.  However, the World we find ourselves in is not an ideal one.  That is to be understood by the fact that in the World there are two vectors, one to promote Asha, the other to oppose it.   And thus the extraordinary orderliness of Existence, as well as the appearance of chaos and disorderliness is accounted for.

One can look at the emergence of the flora and the fauna and the evolution of their earlier forms to more complex ones as part of an underlying Order.  And even though frustrated from time to time, here and there, evolution marches on hopefully to a scheme of harmony which would be perfection.  It is we, humans, who through conscious judgment must participate to bring about this ideal final state, termed the final renovation.  Thus every aspect of Nature is part of a Divine Scheme of Ideal Order, worthy of respect, to be treated by us with a will to enable it to perform its role in the progression of creation, so that all aspects of creation are made to cooperate toward the goal of perfection.

It is interesting to note that various mythologies of plant and animal life disappeared as archaic and non-functional modes of thought. However, the Biblical account of creation by divine command, i.e. pure creative acts of God is still considered by many today as literally true, thus leading to a rejection of the Theory of Evolution from Darwin to its contemporary formulations.  This is the main conflict between Science and Religion in contemporary discussions, especially Fundamentalist Christianity.

There is no such conflict in Zarathushtrian tradition.  The theory of Evolution of today offers scientific explanation of molecular complexity forming biological cells leading to higher biological organisms and through neurological complexity to conscious animals.  What must impress anyone is the enormous underlying movement toward increasing organization of complexity in the vast set of possibilities of disorganization.  For a believing Zarathustrian this is a vivid functioning of Asha.  But regardless of one’s belief, there is no doubt that there is not, nor can there be, a conflict between science and religion in the Enlightened Faith of Zarathushtra.   It is open to scientific understanding as the revelation of Asha inspiring us to respect this grand design on its path to eventual perfection.

[i] This article was featured in the Spring 2005 issue of the FEZANA journal, and was posted on vohuman.org on  July 4, 2005 courtesy of its author Professor Kaikhosrov D. Irani, and the guest editor of the FEZANA journal, Dr. Sam Kerr.