5. What is Our Relationship with the World?

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You cannot get through a single day without having an impact on the world around you. What you do makes a difference. And you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make”
— Jane Goodall

We like to think of ourselves as dominating the Earth. The factual evidence for this perspective is abundant. We are destroying forests, killing wild animals, birds and fishes with little to no opposition from them. We are raising and killing billions of domesticated animals as if they were mere widgets. We are poisoning the rivers and streams and installing treatment plants to produce potable fresh water for our own use, while condemning wild animals to drink poisoned water and fend for themselves.

Surely, we are dominating the planet, though we’re not being particularly nice to other species. This is the standard perspective that mainstream environmentalists have adopted.

However in the process of “dominating” the Earth, we seem to have developed and deployed technologies that can continuously monitor the health of the planet, with sensors spanning the globe measuring every imaginable aspect of its proper functioning. We have developed and deployed technologies that scan space to detect every single asteroid or comet that can cause damage to the Earth. We are busy working on technologies that can defend the Earth and all Life on it from any catastrophes that can possibly occur.

That sounds like the kind of tasks that a true “Khalifah” or caregiver species would be doing, which is precisely what the Holy Quran and some interpretations of the Holy Bible had prescribed. But we seem to have accomplished these tasks almost unconsciously, as if compelled by a higher power. Therefore, what if our relationship with the world is truly like that of puppets to a master?  

While such a relationship story is not very flattering for a proud species to contemplate, science is increasingly corroborating this scenario, just as it was envisioned in most religious scriptures. After all, would an omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent deity allow a mere mortal species the free will to destroy Creation?

In the Hindu tradition I grew up in, it was commonly accepted that the breath was the “string” that connected each puppet to the Master. As long as we can take the next breath, we can be sure that the Master still needed the puppet for some larger purpose.

Therefore, what if science and religion can now agree that humans don’t have free will? Imagine that we never had it and we never will. Wouldn’t that make a truly revolutionary change in our relationship with the world at large? We would then stop blaming each other for the environmental and socioeconomic mess that we have made. We would be truly motivated to preserve and nurture the precious biodiversity that remains.

For if free will does not exist, then it would make sense to be routinely humble, grateful, compassionate and forgiving of oneself and fellow beings on Earth.