One Earth, Many Faiths all Caring for Creation.
The sanctity and sustainability of the Earth, our common inheritance, depends on the interconnectedness of religious and environmental concerns and an appreciation for the fundamental importance of all sacred traditions of safeguarding the planet. (The spirit of the Assisi Declarations)
A growing awareness of the extent of our dependence on the Earth, with its abundance and diversity, is catching up with our realization that the natural environment is in crisis. Faith leaders have pointed out that the environmental crisis is as much a spiritual and moral crisis as an environmental one. Herein are both the problem and the solution. More science and technology when driven by the same exploitative mind sets and materialistic values that are damaging the environment is simply the application of more of what is causing the problem. We need to look more carefully at our place in creation and the cosmos and our role and responsibility toward the earth which is also home to a God given diversity of life. If we look at the core beliefs and values of the world’s religions, they hold the keys to a relationship of respect and appreciation for Nature. Could these faith communities, working individually in accordance with their sacred texts while collaborating with people of other faiths, help to usher in a culture of eco-ethics across the nations of the world? Many believe they must and they can.
Multi-faith dialogue based on cooperative interaction between people of different religious and or spiritual traditions is as ancient as religion itself. While history tells us that it has been used less often than it could have been, interfaith dialogue has provided an alternative to conflict. Faced with the double threats of an earth that is increasingly challenged to meet human demands and increasing violent conflicts over diminishing resources, interfaith dialogue based on mutual respect for the Earth, equity and justice is a sane strategy for a sustainable future for all. A multi-faith approach raises awareness about the diverse traditions that acknowledge the sacred in nature and help people to grow spiritually through a deeper connection with the creation.
Faith and Earth Keeping. There is common ground amongst many faiths regarding:
- Acknowledging that nature has an inherent value that goes beyond its services to humanity.
- An obligation by their faith traditions that people live in harmony with nature and practice gratitude and respect for the life supporting services of the natural world.
- Understanding that humans are part of a complex, interconnected web of life where the health of the natural system is directly linked to human health.
- The plants and animals are morally significant and have their own unique relationship with God and / or the cosmic order. As such, the moral norms (as appropriate) of compassion, justice and reciprocity should apply to all beings.
- There are moral and immoral uses of Nature.
- Greed, wastefulness and destruction are condemned, while restraint and protection are commended.
The research supporting these common values and ethics was written by K.P. Pedersen in Environmental Ethics in Interreligious Perspective. 1998
The good news is that the talks about the talks started many years ago. Today there are a number of platforms at local, regional and global level for interfaith dialogue and for co-operation for action to address environmental issues. In 1986, the World Wild Fund for Nature celebrated its 25th anniversary at Assisi by bringing together five major world religions to declare how their faith leads each of them to care for nature. Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jewish, Islamic, Baha’i, Jainism and Sikhism faiths all produced a Declaration of Assisi.
Also in 1986, the Interfaith Partnership for the Environment (IPE) was founded as a United Nations Environmental Partnership project to inform North American congregations about the serious environmental problems facing life on Earth. Now it is now a global network of faith traditions and organizations working to bring the threats to ecology and the environment under an interfaith spotlight.
Perhaps the area where multi-faith co-operation is the most significant at the moment is in attempts to address Climate Change. Collective interfaith action is exerting pressure on decision-makers at international Climate Change meetings and at economic forum meetings. They are calling for a future for nature and for us through the redistribution of investment from fossil fuel to alternative energy before we reach a climate tipping point. On September 21st, 2014, faith leaders and congregations will join the People’s Climate March, and help make it the largest mobilisation the world has ever seen on Climate Change. People will be marching to demand urgent action to safeguard our planet, our future and calling for a return to living in balance with Nature.
The messages below come from some of the major religious and faith communities and have lessons for all of humanity.
Islam reminds us that: And He (Allah) has raised the cosmos, and set up (for all things) the balance. So do not transgress the balance. Weigh, therefore,(your deeds) with justice. (in Surah al-Rahmam, chapter 55, vs 7-9)
Earth aware Quakers propose living in a “right relationship” with the Earth to preserve the integrity, resilience, & beauty of the commonwealth of life.
From Judaism. “The Eternal God took the man and placed him in the Garden of Eden, to keep it and to watch over it.” (Genesis 2:15)
There is no room in Buddhism for inaction as non-action is itself an action which will have consequences. Buddhism therefore invites us to be aware and to reflect upon the urgency of the environmental situation and to act.
Traditional African Religion holds that all things were created by the Supreme Being for a harmonious continuity, and as such there must be a relationship of mutual obligation between all created things. Nature spirits associated with specific animal and tree species, sacred forests, rivers, lakes, and mountains remind local communities of their need to respect the environment and to use it sustainably.
Speaking for the Catholic Church Pope Francis said: “Creation is not a property, which we can rule over at will; or, even less, is the property of only a few. Creation is a wonderful gift that God has given us, so that we care for it and we use it for the benefit of all, always with great respect and gratitude.”
Interfaith dialogue and action can play a critical role in promoting a new human ecological consciousness based on co-operation and not domination, either of people or of nature.
“Most people identify themselves as religious and/ or spiritual, and for many, their faiths call them to live in ways that respect and care for all life, present and future, and to focus on being more, not having more, after basic needs are met. In the context of the ongoing global dialogues on sustainable development and education for sustainable development, religious and spiritual communities can play a critical role in advancing a strong framework for sustainable development that includes the spiritual dimension of life, and that contributes examples of educating for sustainable living.” Rick Clugston*
- The Assisi Declarations: Messages on Humanity and Nature from Assisi Italy WWF 25TH ANNIVERSARY, 29 September 1986. http://www.arcworld.org/downloads/THE%20ASSISI%20DECLARATIONS.pdf
- A UNEP resource “Earth and Faith: A Book of Reflection for Action” highlights the critical environmental issues confronting humankind as it enters a new millennium. It also presents, through the use of primary texts of various faith traditions, the theme of human responsibility to protect the natural world and the urgency of increasing the ecological awareness of religious adherents and congregations. Scattered throughout the book are examples of how ordinary people, inspired by their beliefs, have made a difference to the environment in their part of the world.
- Interfaith Declaration on Climate Change. http://www.interfaithdeclaration.org/index.html
- Inspiring, educating and mobilizing people of diverse religious backgrounds for environmental leadership. http://greenfaith.org/
*Rick Clugston (United States) is Project Coordinator for the Earth Charter Scholarship Project at the Center for Environmental and Sustainability Education at Florida Gulf Coast University. Dr. Clugston serves on the Earth Charter International Council.