Bill Knight column for Thurs., Fri., or Sat., May 7, 8 or 9
Now, however – about halfway between Earth Day and Pope Francis’ anticipated encyclical on the environment – we may be at a turning point about climate change. Faith leaders increasingly see common ground, connecting religion and science.
“Science and religion are two of the most potent forces on Earth,” says Pulitzer Prize-winning biologist E. O. Wilson, “and they should come together to save Creation.”
Tom Mueller, an ordained Catholic Deacon in downstate Illinois, says the connection is natural.
“Based on what we know about global warming through research and study, it is irresponsible for any government or any corporation to ignore this growing crisis,” Mueller says “For a politician to call this concern trivial or non-existent is totally wrong.”
The Rev. Michael Brown, minister at Peoria’s Universalist Unitarian Church, sees a role for clergy.
“All religious leaders can lift up this issue by emphasizing how each tradition teaches our responsibility to care for the Earth,” he says.
“Our Unitarian Universalist tradition emphasizes the importance of learning from science and taking its findings seriously as we try to build a viable future,” Brown continues. “We also lift up the goal of respecting the whole interdependent web of existence and honoring all of nature as having value, not just human desires. This path offers our best chance for survival and long-term viability on Earth.”
Faiths’ understanding of Creation and humanity’s place in the environment isn’t exactly new. Pope John Paul II decades ago stressed that the ecological crisis is a moral crisis. But worsening conditions are inspiring new voices.
Catholic University religious studies professor William Dinges has said we’re seeing “a historic moment in which there is a lot of interesting thinking going on at a theological level.”
Emory University bioethicist Cory Labrecque in the religion newsletter Sightings writes, “The growing trend among many religious groups in the U.S. is in recognizing climate change as a moral issue that is a pressing threat to the Common Good writ large. The National Religious Partnership for the Environment, the Catholic Climate Covenant, Creation Justice Ministries, the Evangelical Environmental Network, and Interfaith Power and Light are among the many organizations that have constructively engaged pastoral communities to make stewardship less about putting an end to the use of Styrofoam coffee cups and more about a constructive re-evaluation of how energy, food, materials, etc, are being used in congregations and in everyday living.”
There’s a foundation. The sense of stewardship is as common throughout faiths as the Golden Rule.
* “Religious leaders represent an under-tapped sector of society to promote change,” said Rabbi Yonatan Neril, director of the Interfaith Center for Sustainable Development, which pushes for sustainability based on religious teachings.
* Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk Thích Nhất Hạnh says that society suffers from an addiction to consumerism that stresses the planet, adding that people should refrain from considering ourselves and Earth as two separate entities. When we know how to protect all beings, we are protecting ourselves.”
Imam Kamil Mufti, resident scholar at an Islamic center in central Illinois, adds, “The most important role for religious leaders to play is to communicate the importance of safeguarding our natural environment. It is only natural that those who care for God's Creation take environmental issues seriously.”
Deacon Mueller addresses one challenge.
“We live in a Country where we talk a lot about individual freedom,” Mueller says. But “with individual freedom comes individual responsibility, and we have to come to terms with our responsibilities to each other. We are all here together and we have to take care of one another. There are many of us who believe that is what we are here for, to love one another. In a land that worships individualism, we can become pretty selfish. It is selfish not to think about protecting our environment.”
Former Harvard Business School professor David Korten, author of “The Great Turning: From Empire to Earth Community,” says, “Earth is a living organism – we all are essentially a part of this one big life form. Destroying the natural living systems on which our existence depends, in order to get a quick energy fix or a quick profit, is literally insane.
“It comes back to this,” Korten continues. “Are we a part of nature? Or apart from nature?"
[PICTURED: screen grab from YouTube piece on an April 28 meeting between Pope Francis, left, and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon about climate change.]