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Hedonism Defines You by What You Have and Consume, Rather Than By What You Are

By Yoginder Sikand, New Age Islam

26 September 2015

Name of the Book: Religion, Culture and the Ecological Crisis

Edited by: Siddhartha

Published by: Meeting Rivers, Bangalore (

Year; 2015

Pp: 299

Price: Not mentioned


That human beings’ seemingly insatiable greed is rapidly destroying the earth’s delicate ecology, and even threatening to destroy the earth itself, is something that is now widely recognized, even though this realization is definitely not being accompanied by adequate practical measures to address what is literally a life-and-death question that now confronts all life-forms on earth.

Responses to the catastrophic global ecological crisis often take the form of proposing technological solutions—for instance, advocating solar energy instead of petrol, organizing tree-planting drives, recycling paper, and so on. While every such effort is valuable and necessary, clearly they are not adequate in the face of the magnitude of the crisis we are faced with.

At root, the global ecological crisis stems from a certain worldview that is now dominant, even hegemonic, globally—the worldview of Hedonism. According to Hedonism, the purpose of human life is to maximize sensual stimulation, encapsulated by the alluring slogan ‘Eat, drink and make merry!” Life, for hedonists, is—or, rather, ought to be—one long, non-stop party. Hedonism defines you by what you have and consume, rather than by what you are. The more ‘good’ things you own and ‘enjoy’ the more ‘successful’ you are considered to be.

Hedonism demands ever-increasing consumption of goods and services, and this means ever-increasing depredation of the environment. Since each little thing we consume—even a glass of water or a pencil—represents a depletion of the earth’s limited resources, Hedonism, now gone completely wild, is playing havoc with the global ecology, as this timely book cries out to us to recognize. The book reminds us that the ecological crisis is, at root, a spiritual one, rooted in a crisis of worldviews, and that; therefore, the solution to the crisis must be rooted in a transformation of our understanding of our place in the cosmos. Mere technical solutions cannot do much if our underlying worldview, based on Hedonism and endless consumption, remains unchanged.

The contributors to this volume represent a diverse range of religious and spiritual perspectives, including Hindu, Islamic, Christian, Buddhist, Sikh, and secular humanist. Despite their differing beliefs about the reality of the cosmos, their spiritual commitments lead them to argue for pretty much the same things, a remarkable testimony to the importance of interfaith dialogue and solidarity to work together for the common cause of protecting the global environment, an issue that intimately concerns us all, irrespective of our religious beliefs and other differences. Working for ecological sanity can, they show, also become a powerful means to bring people of different faith commitments to bond together—a desperate need today in a world that is being torn apart by bloody conflicts in the name of religion and ideology.

Religions can, of course, be diversely understood, often in very contradictory ways. As the contributors to this volume tell us, they have been—and continue to be—interpreted to seek to justify the pillage of the environment (reflected, for instance, in the notion that God has given man complete dominion over nature and all other beings and that these exist to serve him) and to minimize the importance of bothering about the environment (the suggestion, for instance, that this world is a mere illusion, or the argument that the only world we should be concerned about is not this one but, rather, the world after death). Such attitudes, the book brings out, are shared by a significant number of people who claim to follow a range of different religions. In this way, institutionalized religiosity, it suggests, has often not only ignored the harm that human beings do to the environment but has also actively sought to justify it.

At the same time, though, the book reminds us, there are alternate ways of interpreting the very same religions, ways that seek to sensitize us to our intimate inter-connectedness with the rest of the earth and our need to care for it. They provide valuable spiritual inspiration that can enable people of faith to challenge the hegemony of the hedonist worldview and the indifference of institutionalized religiosities to the environmental crisis and to inspire them to engage in practical action to address it.

Each religion has its own specificities that set it apart from other religions, and so it is to be expected that their understandings of the relationship between human beings and the rest of the cosmos would differ in some major respects. Yet, despite such different core beliefs, the major religions of the world, this book shows, can be interpreted in a manner to indicate that they share a common concern for the earth and its environment. Notwithstanding their differing premises and distinct fundamental beliefs, the different religions can thus, if understood suitably, be seen to uphold certain common goals, one of them being a passionate concern for protecting and promoting the earth’s environment and for caring of non-human forms of life. The Jain stress on non-violence, Hindu teachings about respect for nature, the Buddhist notion of the interdependence of all beings, Islam’s teaching that man has been appointed by God as a trustee on earth, Sikhism’s reminder that we humans are just a tiny speck in God’s enormous creation and so we should abandon our pretensions of being masters of the entire world, Jesus’ message of a simple lifestyle—all these and more are teachings that, if taken seriously and sought to be lived out personally by believers can make much of a difference to the state of the world’s environment.

Despite their theological differences, the different religions, as this book admirably brings out, stress certain common values and ethical principles that they exhort their followers to exemplify in their personal lives. Some of these have crucial ecological implications. If those who claim to be followers of these religions take them seriously, they can, by embodying them in their day-to-day lives, do their valuable bit as far as environmental protection is concerned—at the very least by leading a less ecologically-damaging lifestyle. These values include non-greed and non-acquisitiveness, simple living, self-restraint, compassion and care for others (including non-human beings), all of which sharply undermine the logic of Hedonism that insists that human beings be governed by the dictates of consumerism.

According to the ideology of Hedonism, we are on earth just to have a ‘good time’—to maximize the quantum of sensual stimulation that we can experience in our short stay here. In contrast, religions tell us that our presence on earth is for a very different purpose. They remind us that this life is a testing-ground. Life, they say, does not cease with the dissolution of the body. Rather, it continues into eternity, even after we have left our bodies behind on our inevitable physical death. They inform us that our future in the everlasting Hereafter is shaped by our actions in this world.

The theistic religions tell us that God is aware of every single action of ours—feeling, thought, word and deed. They inform us that our good deeds can help us gain a good fortune in the life after death, and that; conversely, our wrong deeds will work against us, in this world and/or in the next. They stress the need for constant awareness of God and His presence and for seeking to do His will—to do what He wants us to do and to refrain from what He wants us to refrain from.

These teachings have very vital ecological consequences. Consciousness of the fact that God is aware of our every action and that our every action will have consequences for us in this world and/or in the next can be a powerful means for us to transform our lifestyles and to become more ecologically-intelligent. If you know that God does not want you to be greedy and that rampant greed will work against you in the Hereafter, you may be led to refuse to buy that smart-looking, heavily-discounted pair of shoes even though you already have a pair too many. Knowing that helping animals in distress is something that is pleasing to God and also something you will be rewarded for, in this world and in the next, may enthuse you to join a campaign to resist the felling of a forest to make way for a dam. If you know that God does not want you to waste things, you may make it a point not to leave the lights on when going out of a room or to ignore a leaking tap, even if it is in someone else’s house. Awareness that God knows every action of yours and that you will have to account for it to Him in the Hereafter may deter you from buying a packet of half a dozen ballpoint pens when you actually need just one. In ways such as these, belief in God can work to make you lead a more ecologically-sensible life.

This book is a powerful reminder of the fact that the ecological crises that the globe is confronted with cannot be countered unless people—individuals and groups—transform their worldviews and learns to restrain their greed. This involves re-thinking our understandings of ‘development’ and ‘progress’ at a very fundamental level, and, beyond that, the very purpose of our life on earth. Ultimately, then, it is a spiritual issue.

It is one thing to decry the ecological crisis and stress the need to be eco-friendly, but quite another to actually do practical things to help protect and promote the environment. It would have added much value to the book if its contributors had described what practical efforts, if any, they have themselves made that have helped enhance the environment, even in a small way, or any lifestyle-changes they may have tried to experiment with, such as, perhaps, to buy and consume less. Sadly, the book has little of this.

That, plus the not-very-careful editing of some bits of the volume and certain chapters that are unnecessarily long and theoretical and that could easily have been summarized into half their present size or even avoided altogether (thereby making the book take up less paper and printing ink and, in that way, enabling it to have less of an impact on the environment) should not, however, detract from the book’s crucial message.


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  1. Mr/Mrs.Chintu,  Muslim spiritual and consciousness is like Two barrel gun because it has to come only from only Quran and Hadith, or some molvi, alim or Muslim scholar has to interpret for them, because Muslims have matka on the head so they cannot infer with base of science or observations. Well Mother Nature will not for this people interpretation it gives back you what you gives.
    I have heard Muslim scholar Tariq zameel words that in "animal only Aquire right knowledge you cannot feed wrong knowledge to animals but humans have potential to Aquire Allah( Allah word now reserved by Muslim they have done namkaran as Hindus do, so I have used it otherwise I called Bhagwan) right knowledge or satan evil knowledge."  But Mulana forget plants and other environment creatures also Aquire only right knowledge, so if you mess with Mother Nature you will get same back. Even No human mother will feed you if you crush her very feeding body part, she will give instead bottle and outside milk than after its kid luck if he/she gets healthy or unhealthy milk.
    So you do not have to go to Mother Nature and do experiment of hurting it you human mother herself is enough to learn lesson.
    By Aayina 28/09/2015 05:34:45
  2. Excellent book review! One cannot honestly discuss ecological crisis without discussing conspicuous consumption as well as the world population explosion.

    By Ghulam Mohiyuddin 26/09/2015 14:09:13
  3. I don't quite see how hedonism can be the reason for the ecological crisis. On the other hand, if all people were not so hard working and if they were fun/pleasure loving as hedonists are, there would have been far less exploitation of the ecology.


    As far as the ecological crisis is concerned, the elephant in the room is capitalism. Everything else is secondary and of marginal importance.


    Why is the world so concerned about slowing down of the Chinese economy and in general the slowing down of the world economy? Why would it be a disaster if the growth rates fell? Why are trillions of dollars being spent to revive consumption? The capitalist economy demands constant growth for a company to merely survive. It is not enough to be merely profitable. Sales revenue, Net profit, and margins must keep on growing to satisfy the expectations of the investors. Is this dictated by hedonism of the general population? There simply isn’t enough demand and consumption of goods for the economy to keep growing at the same rates as in the past which is the cause of concern and not over consumption. Is the growing gap between the rich and the poor on account of hedonism or the greed of the elite? 


    Plain and simple living may only make matters worse for the poor. Should you wash your own car or employ somebody to do the job? If you do it yourself, then you deprive somebody of his livelihood. The solution is not to do it yourself and spend what you save on salary as charity either. That promotes indolence. 


    The Quran emphasizes spending which is not necessarily charity alone. May God bless the spenders. They make the World go round by creating a market for the honest labour of their fellow men. May God also bless the creators of wealth because it is they who create both jobs and prosperity.


    The problem is neither hedonism nor consumption but the unequal distribution of wealth on account of the greed of those who are powerful. If wealth is distributed more evenly, there would neither be an ecological crisis nor suffering.


    Greed is what makes us want to increase the gap between us and the rest rather than maximize our well being alone.  Remove greed and ensure an even distribution of wealth and then if a healthy environment represents the wealth of the community, then that becomes an equal concern of all and the goal can be easily achieved.


    There was a time in the 60’s and the 70’s when pollution of the lakes in the US was the most widely discussed topic in that country. Today, it is no longer so. Since that was a concern of all the people in the US, the problem was resolved for the country but at the cost of India, China and other poor countries. All polluting industries such as dye manufacturing, textiles and in general polluting chemical industries simply do not exist in the US anymore and the US depends entirely on imports for these items. The forex that these poor countries earn from exports by ruining their own ecology is required by the elite of the country for importing luxury goods, aircraft, for their foreign jaunts and of course for the military hardware. The elite call the shots and not the poor people.


    The Chinese and the Indian economy with exchange rates that favour their exporters and penalize imports are on steroids. Imports that benefit the general populace such as lifesaving drugs and treatment are put beyond the reach of the poor by an exchange rate that makes imports thrice as costly as what they would otherwise be while the rich can still easily afford it. These economies appear to be healthy and growing fast and performing well (just as athletes on steroids do) but the long term effects can only be disastrous. In simple terms, on account of their exchange rates differing widely from the Purchasing Power Parity, their economy is being helped artificially by monetary expansion. (Against a dollar earned and retained as reserve, Rs 65 is paid to the exporter which is equivalent of $3 in terms of PPP). The ill effects of monetary expansion show up after  a lag, and in the near term, you appear to be doing well.  Japan has paid for it in the past and it is China’s turn now to be followed by India.

    The concern with hedonism is misplaced and diverts attention from the real problem which is the greed of a tiny elite.


    By Naseer Ahmed 26/09/2015 11:58:02
  4. Superb book review by yogi. He is a genius and reads each book very patiently and reviews them very honestly, giving a balanced approach of its positive and negative points. Muslims must read this book to understand how important it is to be kind to plants, animals and the environment around them and inculcate more sensitivity towards the environment.  Most often Muslims read only books related to their religion, but books like these have spiritual values and should be read. Yogi makes a beautiful point about helping animals in distress which is also a duty towards God, because all birds and animals are God's creations and we should help them.
    chanku yogi, chanku new age islam for publishing this book review. God bless you and all the samchoori animals and birds.
    chintu samchoori   
    By chintu samchoori 26/09/2015 03:24:38