Category Archives: Religion & Science

World’s major religions present action plans on environment

BWNS Story

WINDSOR, United Kingdom — Leaders representing the world’s major religions, including the Baha’i Faith, gathered yesterday at historic Windsor Castle to formally launch a series of action plans involving their communities in a long-term effort to protect the environment.

They were joined by United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and HRH The Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, in a celebratory meeting that emphasized the role religion can play to inspire grassroots change and make “peace with the planet.”

“I have long believed that when governments and civil society work toward a common goal, transformational change is possible,” said Mr. Ban. “Faiths and religions are a central part of that equation.

“Indeed, the world’s faith communities occupy a unique position in discussions on the fate of our planet and the accelerating impacts of climate change,” he said. [Read more…]

Baha'i delegates Arthur Lyon Dahl and Tahirih Naylor receive certificates. They are pictured with Prince Philip, founder of ARC; Martin Palmer of ARC; and UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon.

Baha’i delegates Arthur Lyon Dahl and Tahirih Naylor receive certificates. They are pictured with Prince Philip, founder of ARC; Martin Palmer of ARC; and UN Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon

Related Story – Barney Leith’s observations on the Windsor Summit.

Conference: Religion joins with science to address environment issues

(Baha’i World News Service Story – September 17, 2009)

WASHINGTON — People’s spiritual beliefs affect their attitude toward climate change, with religious groups increasingly helping to frame humanity’s response to environmental issues.

That was one of the messages from a session at the 33rd annual conference of the Association for Baha’i Studies, held in mid-August in Washington, D.C. The gathering drew nearly 1,000 participants from some 20 countries.

The theme of the conference was “Environments,” and one of the plenary speakers was Peter G. Brown, a geography professor at McGill University in Montreal who has participated in the Moral Economy Project of the Quaker Institute for the Future.

(Read more…)

Greening the Flock: How Should Religious Institutions Foster Sustainability?

The August 2009 issue of Sustainability: the Journal of Record featured a roundtable discussion entitled, “Greening the Flock: How Should Religious Institutions Foster Sustainability?”PeterAdriance, NGO Liaison for the Baha’is of the U.S., moderated the discussion with nine other leaders in the field: William Aiken (Sokka Gakkai International-USA Buddhist Association); Peter G. Brown (Moral Economy Project – Quaker); Cassandra Carmichael (National Council of Churches); Nicola Coddington (NY Interfaith Power and Light); Rabbi Fred Dobb (Reform Judaism); Rachel Novick (Office of Sustainability, Notre Dame University); Fr. John Rausch (Catholic Committee of Appalachia); Rabbi Daniel Swartz (Reform Judaism); and John Wood (Au Sable Institute of Environmental Studies).

The discussion touched on the role of religion in fostering sustainability, the level of guidance provided by religious texts, the dynamic balance between practical and spiritual elements, the relationship between science and religion, and how religions can contribute to sustainability efforts on college campuses.

Click here for a PDF of the article

(Reproduced by permission from Sustainability:  The Journal of Record, August 2009, http://www.liebertpub.com/sus)

Arthur Dahl’s PowerPoint “Transforming Environments” now uploaded

Apologies for the delays due to technical problems in posting Arthur Dahl’s PowerPoint from his Thursday evening keynote address.  “Transforming Environments from the Inside Out” is now available in the Media section as well as with the sesssion abstract, both in PDF format. Click here for a shortcut directly to it.

It may also be downloaded as a PowerPoint directly from the IEF site by clicking here

Religion rejuvenates environmentalism – story on new “Powering a Nation” website

Religion rejuvenates environmentalism

Leaders of the secular environmental movement say that the participation of faith communities is critical. At the same time, these partnerships could change the demographic makeup of religious groups and grow membership. To learn more, watch the video and read the story, reported by writers and photo journalists at the University of North Carolina. It’s part of a new website called “Powering a Nation – the Quest for Energy in a Changing USA”.

Faith and Hope in Environmentalism in the Face of Climate Change

Coverage of the session “Faith and Hope in Environmentalism in the Face of Climate Change,” presented by Sam Benoit. Click here to access the presentation abstract.

By Sara Velde

A parallel can be drawn between the global changes made in response to CFC Products, causing a hole in ozone layer to form, to the challenges faced and changes that must be made in response to global warming.

But, global warming is much more complex. Smog is to global warming as gang violence is to nuclear war-fare.

Facing such a calamitous situation, what is the role of faith and hope in environmentalism in the face of climate change?

The Reality of Climate Change
Previous presentations have made a clear case and shown that debate over whether climate change is occurring is over. Where there is a lack of consensus in the scientific community, it is in what exactly will happen and what should be done. Just a few degrees of change will result in an effect on humanity from water shortages to increasing infectious disease.

There are a number of examples of civilizations that have collapsed as a result of their relationship with the environment. Easter Island is just one example.

But, what is the point of discussing these calamitous situations if they are inevitable? Is there room for faith and hope?

The Faculty of Reason
Reason has been described as “a gun for hire” – it is a facilitator rather than an initiator. It can provide us w/ facts and tools, but does not explain how to use them. Without more, reason has as much potential for good as evil (Minj Kamf is a good example).

Faith
Faith is a difficult concept to describe. St. Thomas Aquinas says faith “.. signifies the assent of intellect to that which is believed.” There are many ways to use the word faith, but in this context, we are using is as it relates to God.

Hope
Hope is more specific. It refers to the future- to expectation- something to look forward to. Remember the story of Pandora’s box. As well as all the evil in the world, Hope was in Pandora’s box. Why was it in there? Greeks understood hope as a double-edged sword. Nietzche says that hope is the most evil of evils b/c it prolongs man’s torment. It enables him to keep expecting improvement and being disappointed.

Faith and Hope in Religion
These are concepts that have been explored in Religions. “…faith the size of a mustard seed…” is one example from the Bible. In the Baha’i Faith, we see a discussion of faith as well.

How did the Faith and Hope Get there?
Faith and Hope are everywhere in society. They are found in popular movies, literature, dance and art. In religion, faith and hope are promoted through stories. Think of the Hanukkah story. The Baha’i story of Fort Tabarsi.

Hope Sells
Look at Obama! Politically, hope sells. Books use “hope” in the titles. These books are full of people doing good things. They provide an example of good, and therefore a reason to hopeful. At the end of “An Inconvenient Truth,” Gore gives a laundry list of things the American people have achieved to inspire hope in viewers.

Hope is powerful and organizations use hope as motivation and inspiration.

Conclusions
In the face of climate change, reason is not enough- it only inspires denial + despair which will result in inaction.
Hope and faith are not enough. Alone, they result in reliance on the supernatural and denial, and again, result in inaction.
But, in the face of the calamity that is climate change, reason + faith/hope = meaningful action. Reason, as a descendant of science, and Faith, as an ancestor of religion, exemplify the Baha’i analogy of science and religion as two wings of a bird – both must be strong and balanced for the bird of humanity to fly.
Both wings of science and religion are necessary.

The Ecological Gospel (With a Spiritual Tune)

By Jay Howden

Coverage of Arthur Lyon Dahl’s presentaton “Transforming Environments from the Inside Out.” Click here to listen to Dahl’s presentation, or here to access the abstract, transcript and accompanying PowerPoint.

The first plenary session of this year’s A.B.S. Conference reflected the joint participation of the International Environment Forum (this is the I.E.F.’s 13th gathering) in bringing forth the ideas behind the conference theme, “Environments”. Arthur Lyon Dahl, former executive member of the United Nations Environment Program and the founding President of the I.E.F., was actually giving his second talk of the Conference’s opening day. Earlier, he had outlined an exciting initiative, funded by the European Union and inspired in part by the Baha’i International Community’s 1998 statement Valuing Spirituality in Development.

That talk and discussion was called “Measuring the Intangible: Values-Based Indicators of Sustainable Development”, and outlined a two-year project in identifying the key ethical and spiritual factors that allow development to proceed in a positive way. Two Baha’i agencies are partners with academic, industrial and civil service agencies (including the Earth Charter Initiative) in determining the constellations of values that make for healthy community growth and, very importantly, how such values can be measured and tangibly encouraged. This first presentation by Dr. Dahl, focused as it was on a scientific approach to understanding and fostering spiritually based ethics, was a practical, microcosmic study. His plenary session later that evening, “Transforming Environments from the Inside Out”, was Big Picture, all the way.

Dr. Dahl began by assessing the state of the world, which has achieved a level of material wealth and invention such as earlier generations could never have imagined. And yet, he said, “we are clearly living beyond our means”: extremes of wealth and poverty grow ever more obscene, while the disparity between the ecological footprints of those in the highly developed Western economies and those in the largely impoverished southern hemisphere grows ever more problematic. (As he noted, if the entire world’s population were to consume at the level of American citizens, we would need several planets’ worth of resources.) Population “has tripled in my lifetime”, Dahl reported, in a world in which fundamental resources appear to have approached several critical limits. Our material advancement has been achieved at a frightening cost.

Many prominent scientists and experts are deeply pessimistic these days. The rise of carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere, so threatening to the stability of the planet’s climate, are proceeding at even faster levels than anticipated only a few years ago. Polar ice caps and glaciers are melting at alarming rates, and the consequent rise in sea levels threatens communities in every low-lying area of the world, including many of the world’s most vulnerable and impoverished peoples. (And Miami. And the Netherlands.) “We may soon be approaching a ‘tipping point’ where runaway climate change would be catastrophic…’Climate change represents the biggest market failure in human history,’” Dahl said, quoting a prominent European economist.

And so he laid out, with little drama but plenty of power, the challenges we face. Our fossil fuel-based civilization, in the face of the increasingly difficult search for ready sources of oil, gas and coal (not to mention the cost of the huge amount of carbon thus spilled into the atmosphere), “is almost by definition unsustainable”, and yet the world has made relatively tiny efforts to conserve energy or to find alternative sources. The implications for food production are also dramatic, since fossil fuels are also a prime source for the fertilizers and machinery necessary for large-scale agriculture. Fresh water? Threatened. Energy production? Problematic. Massive human migration? Almost guaranteed.

So what to do? Dr. Dahl quickly dismissed “business as usual”, or some fantasy retreat to old-world values of “I’ve got mine” exclusion, as options. Are we heading toward the collapse of global civilization? It is clear that our current economic paradigm of constant and unlimited material growth is no longer valid, if it ever was. Economists “don’t know where we’re going”, Dahl observed, because the complex planetary economic systems are so integrated, and based so obsessively on unrestrained growth – in a human body, such growth is called “cancer” – and what Shoghi Effendi called “unfettered national sovereignty”. Resources are depleting rapidly. Economic structures are overwhelmed. Natural wonders are being sullied or eliminated. “All that is left,” Dahl touchingly said, “is our brains and our hearts.”

What prevents us from solving these problems? Dr. Dahl highlighted several outstanding barriers: our compartmentalized world view; our view that the environment is “outside” of us, rather than a closely integrated and interdependent organism; short-term thinking, both on the political and the personal levels; and, a “self-centred materialism” which has become the “dominant world faith”, capturing all significant centres of power and information. Against such a materialistic roar, there are few competing voices. Billions have learned to long for the “car in every garage” American material ideal, but this rampant “consumer culture” cannot continue. Further, deep social divisions prevent united action in the common interest, and self-interest too often trumps solidarity. So how will we respond to these challenges?

Depressingly, some of the responses are hugely dysfunctional, and may worsen the problem. For example, there is a “global land grab” by wealthy nations, looking for third-world land to raise the food the “haves” will need in the future, with massive disregard for the state of the “have nots”. One of the real dangers, too, is of a temporary rebound of the world’s economy, which might convince the complacent that we can go back to “business as usual” instead of embracing the opportunities afforded by the most current economic crisis. It exposes the problems in the system, and if we don’t act on them now, the future will be worse. We can deny. We can get despondent. Or we can act. But how?

Dahl’s prescription is simple but profound: we need to transform civilization. Whew! And how? Scientific advance doesn’t change the ingrown behaviours and attitudes of governments and peoples. But, while frank about the chaos possible in the ongoing collapse of many of our cherished material foundations, Dr. Dahl is very clear about the necessary human response, particularly for the Baha’i community. “Sustainability” might be another term for the overriding goal: realizing the oneness of humankind. This will require a profound change in our ethical viewpoint, our spiritual orientation and our sense of human solidarity, which is exactly the kind of work the Baha’is have been trying to do. Now, it is possible for us to see that the core work of our small community is precisely what the world needs.

Transformation must occur from the inside out, and environmental issues cannot be separated from spiritual ideals. Many Aboriginal cultures have taught this, and our growing world culture needs to learn it. “The environmental crisis is the result of a spiritual crisis,” Dahl argued. “…thou wilt behold the signs of thy Lord’s mercy in every created thing,” wrote ‘Abdu’l-Baha. And we can express our inner spiritual transformation by avoiding “the temptation to sacrifice the well-being of the world’s peoples”, as the B.I.C wrote, in pursuit of furious acquisition. We must refuse to fall prey to “trivial and often misdirected pleasures”, as Shoghi Effendi called them.

Dahl spoke also of “the spiritual danger of intellectual pride” and its foundation in individualistic, rationalistic and ultimately self-centred approaches. It requires humility, quietly respecting the earth and willingly renouncing selfish desire. Science, too, must “cease to be the patrimony of advantaged segments of society…{but] permit people everywhere to participate” (B.I.C.). Being able to think in global terms must be expressed in community, the intimate and local expression of lifestyle needs versus unbounded wants.

The diversity and mixing of the world’s peoples will continue apace, especially with the looming possibility of massive dislocation of human populations caused by climate change. We must prepare our communities, local and national, to face the challenge of uniting this diverse and challenging mixture of peoples. We must convince the leaders of thought, Dahl argued, of the spiritual essence of human life, and the need to develop spiritual foundations together. However, though religion can galvanize human potential and inspire self-sacrifice, the reputation of religion has been tarnished and is in need of restoration. That’s our job, too.

Dahl argued forcefully that teaching the Baha’i Faith and trying to better human societies are coherent and mutually reinforcing activities. This is what we are learning to do. (It is what we’ve been learning to do for over a century.) The challenges of the outer environment, informed by the transformation of our inner environment, must be bravely addressed. The future consequences of all economic activities must be considered in an attitude of moderation, humility and a forward-looking vision. A new vision of economics must be developed: that development is genuinely “the cultivation of the limitless potentialities latent in human consciousness” (B.I.C). Governance needs to adopt a more global orientation, and civil societies must (and increasingly do, as his earlier presentation showed) adopt a more outward- and forward-looking orientation that will inspire masses of people to conscious and resolute action.

Spiritual transformation is the fundamental requirement, Dahl insisted. Ultimately, the world must come to adopt the admonitions of Baha’u’llah, overcoming our narrow, self-interested perspectives and our predominant materialism. Spirituality, balance, moderation and enriched consultation are required, as is the development of what ‘Abdu’l-Baha called the “learned”: people with massive and mutually connected knowledge of both spiritual realities and a wide range of scientific and artistic skills and knowledge. Super Generalists, if you will.

Dahl’s conclusion was clear: “transforming environments is only possible from the inside out.” The challenges are enormous, and he was unsparing in challenging the A.B.S./I.E.F. joint conferences to acknowledge and accept the responsibility for facing them.