Values underpinning an ethical nation

  • Published:

The rights of mother earth and our obligations to the earth community

By Kate Davies

Fragile Earth Fragile Earth. Painting by the Sudanese artist Dr Taha Hassaballa Malasi

Where does our moral compass come from?  It comes from our deep spiritual core and traditions. The Golden rule: to do to others what you would have them do to you is a fundamental underpinning truth that is central to all the worlds’ major faith traditions.

Where are the stories of the heart that move us to believe in and trust ourselves and others? How do we treasure and use our gifts for the well-being of all and to value relationships over possessions?  Surely this does not come from the example set by our current political and business leadership? Nor is it hidden in the sweet allure of instant gratification from the temples of profit and consumerism.

The fruits of science and technology have helped us unravel the mysteries of the cosmos, transformed our lifestyles and brought enormous benefits. However, this dominant, instrumental discourse often disempowers our agency and sense of knowing and understanding how to relate to and live in the world.  Science and technology have not established a more peaceful and equitable world. Its offspring have sometimes returned to haunt the earth with unintended and devastating social and environmental consequences.

IMG_4227We live in a world of vast economic and social disparity. Many leaders claim to have the interests of the poor and disempowered at heart but who are the voiceless?  They include not only the human poor but the earth community upon which we depend for our survival. The soil, the water, the air and the living creatures they support are our lifeblood.

We have been so preoccupied with our own ‘progress’ and ‘development’  that we have overlooked and ignored the health and wellbeing of the earth community. We have come to consider Nature out there as “nice to have” but only once the ballooning human population is clothed, fed and comfortable.

For humans to restore their own dignity and well-being there must be a radical and fundamental shift in our thinking and the way we live in the world. Thomas Berry, theologian and cosmologist calls us to treat the earth community as a communion of subjects not collection of objects. Until we honour and restore an ‘I’ – ‘thou’ relationship between human and other-than-human communities with whom we share the earth, we are diminished.

Saint-Francis-of-Assisi-Hans-Stubenrauch Saint Francis preaching to the animals. Hans-Stubenrauch

At this time in our beloved country when we are rent asunder by mistrust and avarice we not only need to reclaim the universal values of the golden rule but to expand them to include the whole earth community. Claiming rights for human beings is insufficient. We must establish Earth rights and human responsibilities and obligations. The Earth is our voiceless mother who feeds and nourishes us.  Underpinning these human rights and responsibilities are the values of restraint, simplicity and sufficiency articulated by Saint Francis of Assissi eight hundred years ago. If we are serious about hearing the voice of the voiceless we must accept that ‘enough is enough’.

How do we flesh these ideals out in order to take action?  In the dying decade of the last millennium, a six year global consultation process took place, seeking consensus on the values and principles necessary for a sustainable future. Led by spiritual and ethical thought leaders, the Earth Charter outlines what the earth community needs in order to establish a just, sustainable and peaceful world. In more passionate, emotive and accessible language, The Universal Rights of Mother Earth, co-created by the Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature, was launched on Earth day in 2010.

Our country deserves better than what many of our political leaders are offering.  The Earth Charter espouses the following ethical foundations: respect and care for the community of life; ecological integrity; social and economic justice; and democracy, non-violence and peace, as a framework for an equitable, self-sustaining earth community.  The Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth articulates the inherent rights of Mother Earth and the obligations of humans to this Mother.

SAFCEI, the Southern African Faith Communities’ Environment Institute is a growing community of faithful people who believe that right relationships with the earth and each other will only be fully re-stored when our words and actions are underpinned by the core spiritual values of the Golden rule to do no harm to the whole earth community.

Our One Web of Life (OWL) programme centres their work on this 'Golden Rule' and aims to encourage people of faith to think consciously about their relationship with all the creatures with whom we share the Earth. All Earth Keepers are warmly invited to join this passionate group of volunteers. Contact if you are interested to find out more.

At the moment one of the campaigns they are part of is asking Earth Keepers to help put pressure on McDonalds South Africa to phase out the use of battery hens.