"The penalty good men pay for indifference to public affairs is to be ruled by evil men." attributed to Plato

"Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing." attributed to Edmund Burke

Let's between us make the world a better place.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Nature, Sustainability and Us

Over on my Wisdom of Tolerance blog I am currently exploring the way in which all the great world faiths view nature and our place within it. So often when discussing religious tolerance we are called to celebrate our differences. But here is one area where we can celebrate our common beliefs! Isn't that a better quality with which to cement relationship?

So back to nature and the environment and sustainability. Too often in the past we have been arrogant enough to believe that humanity is in some way in charge of the world’s ecosystems. We have either seen ourselves as the dominant stewards of God’s creation or believed that our superior intelligence and consciousness entitles us to manipulate the world’s resources solely for our own needs. That has certainly been a failing of Christian teaching in the past (happily no longer).
Anyway I believe that both views are wrong. I believe we need to become more sensitive to our humble place within this vast and complex web of life that God has created. I believe that our future depends on that understanding. I am not alone.
Lovelock has described our desire to use this Earth for our benefit alone, particularly in our wholesale burning of fossil fuels, as ‘breathtaking insolence’. (1) Cottrell calls it the ‘arrogance of the superiority of intellect’.(2)When we truly regain our sense of belonging to earth, he says, ‘this elemental awareness automatically brings with it a gentleness and humility towards all other expressions of life.’
We have indeed sinned in all our excessive use and abuse of nature, showing our greed and selfishness. In the past this often may have been due to ignorance, but we can no longer claim that as any sort of excuse for our behavior.
We need to come with humility and awe to apologize to our own higher spiritual power, whether that is God, Dao, Yahweh, Allah, or perhaps simply our own inner conscience. We need to beg forgiveness and resolve in our healed hearts and souls here and now to do all we can to amend what we have caused and prevent further ravaging of the natural and wonderful creation of which we are but a relatively small but so destructive part. ‘We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts,’ we lament in the beautiful prose and poetry of The Order for Evening Prayer in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer for the Church of England. Do we go out and live our faith?
It seems that too many of us follow the mechanics of our religion to the near exclusion of prayerful living and discipleship. I believe there is a need for much more spirituality in our Western religions, for more ministry directed to the healing of our own souls for the sake of the spiritual health of the world around us, and for underpinning our mission to the world, not just for our own personal redemption.
While controversy and debate continues over the facts surrounding climate change and our role in handling this, the ecologists have little doubt that we are part of a complex web of life and we are damaging this fragile global ecosystem. We have become aware that any of our actions must weave into that whole living system. Traditional indigenous cultures understand that and we need to work with them. They have wisdom that we have lost in our urbanization. As Lovelock reminds us, we need ‘to renew that love and empathy for nature that we lost when we began our love affair with city life.’(3)

1 and 3. James Lovelock, The Revenge of Gaia, London: Penguin Books Ltd, 2006, pp. 146 and 8 respectively.
2. Barry Cottrell, The Way Beyond the Shaman: Birthing a New Earth Consciousness Hampshire UK: O Books 2008, p107.

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