How the climate crisis is bringing together all faiths and none
In the ‘I’ part of the I, We, World system that has to be at the heart of any successful new politics, we often find ourselves focusing on personal practice. Whether it’s mindfulness or other technologies of the self, the need for human beings to find - and then lead - their own complex selves, is essential to flourishing communities. Without an internally experienced autonomy, we will always feel threatened or manipulated by external forces – even when they are benign.
But the institutions that support these practices – churches, temples, synagogues, mosques - are rarely covered here. Maybe because they are so long-established that they could be taken for granted, or maybe they appear as part of the old system.
Of course, each has its outreach body and many take part in inter-faith initiatives. Yet, there are inevitably demarcation lines. And the common denominators they are free to embrace are generally universal values rather than negotiated ones.
But in a pattern we are seeing everywhere, the environmental crisis is causing all sorts of organisations to move out of their silos to try and work together to take more specific action. Sometimes by reaching out directly, more often through birthing small projects or NGOs to do that for them.
In a recent meeting hosted by the Centre for Applied Buddhism, Director Jamie Cresswell offered a “climate change training for religious organisations”. Lizzie Nelson from Faith for the Climate took a variety of groups through a ‘world café’ process towards concerted action. Amongst them were the Dharma Action Network for Climate Engagement (DANCE), who hold spontaneous meditations in ‘dangerous places’ – meaning on the premises of businesses that continue to invest in high carbon energy. See left for an intervention both inside and outside Barclays Bank.
They are also currently working with Extinction Rebellion to support their commitment to non-violence in the midst of urgent uprising. As Joe Mishan described, “wherever people begin to wake up to injustice, anger arises as an expression of powerlessness in the need for change. We try to create safe spaces – on the roads and bridges where XR activists operate – so that anyone who needs to, can calm down”.
Faith for the Climate and DANCE are themselves portals for numerous climate initiatives such as the Climate Coalition, whose projects Show the Love and Speak UP connect the faith networks to direct action. Another key source will be Buddhist Action Month (BAM) – leading up to a climate focus in June.
In the course of the afternoon we heard of innumerable established and sometimes surprising actions for climate change occurring within the faith community. The Eco-Dharma Centre in Japan, the Eco-Temple movement in Asia, the Eco-Church and Eco-Synagogue initiatives in the UK. The latter two are part of an A Rocha project that produced a way for any parish church to become environmentally sustainable – then white labelled the prototype for any other faith building to adopt.
In another group of initiatives, diverse Islamic groups have come together to make their joint commitment to climate justice clear. Islamic Relief launched a worldwide Islamic Declaration on Climate Change, while in the UK a new coalition of Muslim groups became the MCA – Muslim Climate Action. At the launch “A ‘green torch’ was showcased which will travel to various mosques throughout the UK. Once the baton arrives, Imams commit to delivering a sermon enlightening people how they can join the fight against climate change and to help protect the planet.”
Perhaps the most unifying call made during the afternoon was to support the rising of young people – ReGen A – who see the urgency of climate change most keenly. Everyone seemed to know a young person who had been on the school strike for the climate initiative by Greta Thunberg in Sweden. Robert Harrap, General Director of Soka Gakkai International – the lay movement of Nichiren Buddhism – introduced the work of their ‘youth division’ to raise awareness of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Amongst regular events, they also designed an App called MapTing which asks you to share photos of people and places where the SDGs are being carried out.
Another strong source of spiritual climate action arises from Thitch Naht Hahn, whose teachings are the basis of many – often youth-driven - climate projects. To finish, here is a quote from his UN statement, which identifies love as the primary action to combat global warming.
“We can all experience a feeling of deep admiration and love when we see the great harmony, elegance and beauty of the Earth. A simple branch of cherry blossom, the shell of a snail or the wing of a bat – all bear witness to the Earth’s masterful creativity. Every advance in our scientific understanding deepens our admiration and love for this wondrous planet. When we can truly see and understand the Earth, love is born in our hearts. We feel connected. That is the meaning of love: to be at one.
…Only when we’ve truly fallen back in love with the Earth will our actions spring from reverence and the insight of our interconnectedness. Yet many of us have become alienated from the Earth. We are lost, isolated and lonely. We work too hard, our lives are too busy, and we are restless and distracted, losing ourselves in consumption. But the Earth is always there for us, offering us everything we need for our nourishment and healing: the miraculous grain of corn, the refreshing stream, the fragrant forest, the majestic snow-capped mountain peak, and the joyful birdsong at dawn.
… All civilisations are impermanent and must come to an end one day. But if we continue on our current course, there’s no doubt that our civilisation will be destroyed sooner than we think. The Earth may need millions of years to heal, to retrieve her balance and restore her beauty. She will be able to recover, but we humans and many other species will disappear, until the Earth can generate conditions to bring us forth again in new forms. Once we can accept the impermanence of our civilization with peace, we will be liberated from our fear. Only then will we have the strength, awakening and love we need to bring us together. Cherishing our precious Earth–falling in love with the Earth–is not an obligation. It is a matter of personal and collective happiness and survival.”