Spirituality and Conservation IUCN Forum 9th October 2008
I want to say that I believe it essential that Faith Communities and environmental organizations partner and work together.
I know that in the past there has been a lack of contact, and even suspicion: Environmentalists believing that Faith Communities were only interested in heavenly matters and so were no earthly good, and some religions thinking that environmentalists were leading us down the path of pantheism and new age philosophies.
There are a number of reasons why it is so important that environmentalists partner with us:
- The environmental crisis is a moral and spiritual matter. We know values have to change if we are to achieve a sustainable world. Religious and spiritual traditions are fundamental drivers of human behaviour. Religions can change people’s behaviour and offer hope, inspiration and action.
- Religion is a pervasive force in society. Let’s work with religions. Some say that it is only going to be the religions that will turn us from our present disastrous direction.
- Religions have a huge network base grounded in local communities – I want you, the IUCN partners, to link in with that.
For example, the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, has said: “For the Church of the 21st Century, good ecology is not an optional extra but a matter of justice. It is central to what it means to be a Christian”. It is core gospel business.
Following the call from the Ecumenical Patriarch of the Greek Orthodox Church and the World Council of Churches, we have set aside a period in the church’s calendar: a Season of Creation – a time to raise the profile of creation and to celebrate it.
We are rediscovering that there are two books of God – the Bible and nature.
Just as I believe it essential that conservation and religion work together, so must science and religion. I am married to a scientist, so I know how advantageous that is!
So you can help us to develop ecologically premised thinking, bringing environmental and scientific reality to Faith Communities.
Let me give some examples: In the Judeo-Christian world one of the most misused passages is Genesis 1:28: “Be fruitful…fill the earth…rule over every living creature”. Well, we have filled the earth and we have abused the command to ‘rule’ or ‘have dominion over’. The Biblical understanding is to care for, look after, protect. We need to put Genesis 2:15 alongside where we are told to till and “keep” the earth. We are to be “earthkeepers”.
South Africa under apartheid is an example of where we abused the mandate ‘to rule’ – we failed to rule with justice for all the people of the country.
Judaeo-Christian traditions recognise and worship a creator God. The creation story in Genesis is a profound theological story. It should not be seen as a scientific explanation.
I used to say that I did not mind if a person was a creationist or an evolutionist – my concern was that we are destroying life on this planet, whatever our beliefs.
I think it is imperative to recognise evolution so that we see that we are integrally part of creation – we are not ‘set apart’ from it.
The danger of creationism is that we think that somebody up there, out of nothing, brought Man into being, with a superior purpose and meaning in life, and that we are special and can consider ourselves superior and therefore treat the rest of creation with disdain and contempt.
All of us, people of faith or not, must overcome our anthropocentric assumptions that we humans are the centre of everything.
We have to recognise that we are part of life – we are part of all of creation and must treat it all with justice and respect. We must become eco-centric.
Faith Communities have a good record of seeking justice, leading the campaign for the abolition of slavery and standing against apartheid.
Religions also call for equity.
Because of our use of the stored fossil fuel capital of previous millennia, coal and oil, we have more wealth in the world than ever before –– yet we have greater poverty and economic injustice. We have a global apartheid situation with inequalities world wide that are far wider than they were in South Africa’s apartheid days.
We Christians say that God provides for our needs, but not our greed. It is an affront to God that a CEO can earn in a few days what someone else may earn in a lifetime, or even, dare I say, that we can stay in the wonderful luxury of these hotels, while there are children dying because they have no clean water. From here in Barcelona, that poverty may be on another continent. In Cape Town, it is alongside.
Most religions, I think, proclaim that we should live more simply so that others may live. Sacrificial love is at the heart of the Christian message. When confronted with the challenge of climate change and biodiversity loss I would hope that Christians would say ‘I am prepared to pull in my belt and forgo the luxury I now enjoy for the sake of my children and future generations.’ That means, for example, that if we have to pay more for renewable energy, we do so, rather than leaving an uninhabitable planet to future generations.
Religions call for peace, but we won’t find peace without justice and equity, and that now extends to all of creation.
We are calling for new economic principles that bring justice and equity to both the poor and the natural environment – as Achim Steiner suggested, ‘we must build environmental and social capital’.
We also hope we religions can help communicate the challenge. When people ask why biodiversity loss is so important, we can say in strong and emotive language that we are causing the extinction of God’s creation. And we need to be blunt, and say that is a sin! I can think of no greater sin than wiping out something that we believe God brought into being. .
We know the position is so serious that we hope we can promote unity against this common threat.
Southern African Faith Communities’ Environment Institute (SAFCEI)
I want to tell you what we are doing in South Africa: We have established a multi faith Environment Institute. We have members of all major religions represented on our management board, including African traditional religions. None of us feel threatened or our faith compromised – our own faith can be deepened in learning from others. Our purpose is to find common concerns and actions regarding the environment from our respective faith positions. We get on so well in SAFCEI we believe we are an example to the world!
We are committed to cherishing living earth, united in our diversity through our common commitment to earthkeeping.
Finally, we uphold as core values the principles of the Earth Charter.
- Respect and care for the community of life
II. Ecological integrity
III. Social and economic justice
IV. Democracy, non-violence and peace
This is a global ethic that supports local practices and action.
The Earth Charter is a document all faiths could endorse and embrace and we ask that all faiths disseminate and promote it. It upholds principles for nature and for people and we believe could be a unifying document which could underpin a mass movement for the greatest cause, that of life itself, as Julia Marton LeFeuvre said at our grand opening. So let’s work together. There is lots to be done.
Bishop Geoffrey F Davies 8th October 2008
P O Box 106,
KALK BAY 7990,