Wies Schuiringa, NSW Regional Meeting
The Australian Religious Response to Climate Change (ARRCC) has taken the initiative to publish four climate change action kits focussing on four faith traditions: Christian, Jewish, Hindu and Islamic. Representatives from each faith have assisted in the writing. The Buddhist kit is in development. All these climate change action kits have the same basic content, lay-out, colour scheme, some images and resource lists. They all have the same paragraph in the introduction “We need to understand how we see ourselves as part of Creation – in terms of how humanity relates to the natural world, how we relate to each other, and people of faith would also say how we relate to God. Ecology also tells us that human well-being and the natural world are interconnected.”
Obvious differences in the kits are in some of the well-chosen images e.g. a Christian Church with solar panels and a synagogue with solar panels, parishioners with skull caps, wearing saris and a bindi (red dot) on the forehead, or the hijab, differences in the foods depicted in social gatherings, different architectural styles in the places of worship.
The kits assist with “a practical way for faith communities to turn concern about climate change into action, and to start leading by example.” There are sections on how to raise awareness about sustainability in your faith community by starting to talk about it, gauging the level of interest and knowledge, forming a group of interested people around you, doing an audit of the building, reducing energy consumption, reducing waste of food and water, car pooling, walking or cycling to your place of worship and so on. The readers are encouraged to create and then spread this awareness to the wider community. Examples of the role and methods of advocacy are explained.
The kits emphasise the importance of linking the doing with an understanding of climate change as such, how caring for creation is steeped in their religious tradition and that climate change is a moral issue. “ARRCC believes that climate change is a moral issue for the following three reasons:
1. While the potentially detrimental outcomes of climate change most severely impact the poor, it is the prosperous who most significantly contribute to the cause through a more significant carbon footprint.
2. Outcomes that arise from choices in the present reduce choices for future generations.
3. How human beings relate to the rest of the created order bears testimony to the inner integrity of humanity itself.” “People are the cause and the solution.”
Interesting are the references to the different religious texts, prayers and the many quotes each faith has about caring for creation, not wasting water or food, not succumbing to the desire for material wealth. A limited selection is below.
A selection from the Christian climate change action kit:
“And God saw everything he had made, and indeed it was very good…The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden to till and to look after it” Genesis 2:15. “Take off your sandals, for where you are standing is holy ground.” Exodus 3:5 “Herefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Romans 12:1-2 “All they asked was that we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I had been eager to do all along.” Galatians 2:10
“Addressing climate change cannot be done individually – we have to work together to make society wide changes. Jesus describes God’s kingdom as being like yeast in dough – that is, people of faith were never meant to be isolated as a community or as individuals, but to be actively contributing to society and working alongside others to bring change.”
“When a person opens a pit, or digs a pit and does not cover it, and an ox or an ass falls into it, the one responsible for the pit must make restitution; they shall pay the price to the owner, but can then keep the dead animal.” Exodus 21:33-35 “When a fire is started and spreads to thorns, so that stacked, standing, or growing grain is consumed, he who started the fire must make restitution.” Exodus 22:5 “Commentary: These laws are part of a series found the legal codes in the Torah which present the legal responsibilities of property owners not to do anything which may cause damage to other people’s property.”
“The Fallow Year: Six years you shall sow your field and prune it, but in the seventh year it shall have a year of rest – neither shall you sow nor prune your vineyard.” Leviticus 25:3-4. Responsibility to speak out: ‘Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.” Proverbs 31:8-9”
“Righteous people do not destroy even a mustard seed in the world and they are distressed at every ruination and spoilage they see; they will take any opportunity to save anything from destruction, with all of their power. Sefer HaChinuch: D’varim 20:19 Mitzvah 529 “
From the Hindu kit:
“May those born of thee, O Earth, be for our welfare, free from sickness and waste, wakeful through a long life, we shall become bearers of tribute to thee. Earth my mother, set me securely with bliss in full accord with heaven, O wise one, uphold me in grace and splendour. (Atharva Veda)
The Hindu Declaration on Climate Change, read out in Melbourne, Australia on December 8th, 2009, at the Convocation of Hindu Spiritual Leaders at the Parliament of the World’s Religions. The introduction to the Hindu Declaration on Climate Change starts with: ‘Earth, in which the seas, the rivers and many waters lie, from which arise foods and fields of grain, abode to all that breathes and moves, may She confer on us Her finest yield.’ (Bhumi Suktam, Atharva Veda xii.1.3) The Hindu tradition understands that man is not separate from nature, that we are linked by spiritual, psychological and physical bonds with the elements around us. Knowing that the Divine is present everywhere and in all things, Hindus strive to do no harm. We hold a deep reverence for life and an awareness that the great forces of nature—the earth, the water, the fire, the air and space—as well as all the various orders of life, including plants and trees, forests and animals, are bound to each other within life’s cosmic web.“
Some quotes from the Islamic kit:
“To God belongs all that is in the heavens and on earth.” (Qur’an, Al-Nisa, 4:126) “Behold your Lord said to the angels: ‘I will create a vicegerent/steward (caliph) on earth.’” (Qur’an, Al-Baqarah, 2:30) “The world is beautiful and verdant and God has appointed you as His stewards over it. He sees how you acquit yourselves.” (Muslim)
“As Muslims we also need to re-discover what the Qur’an and Sunnah (sayings and actions of Prophet Muhammad(peace be upon him)) have to say about God’s Creation – how we are to relate to it, how we enact our role of caliph and how we reflect on God’s Names and Attributes through the signs in Creation.”
“Richness does not lie in the abundance of goods but richness is the richness of the soul (heart, self).” (Ibn Majah) “But waste not by excess, for God loves not the wasteful.” (Qur’an, Al-An’am 6:141) “Do not waste water, even if you perform your ablution on the banks of an abundantly-flowing river.” (Ibn Majah)
Australian Federation of Islamic Councils, speaking for Muslims Climate Change: Green is the Colour of Islam, an excerpt “Many verses of Qur’an prescribe a way of life which expects human beings to conserve and enrich the environment. The environment is God’s creation. The creation of earth and all its natural resources is a sign of His wisdom, mercy and power for the benefit of humans. It is God’s best creation, and serves to develop human awareness and understanding of the creator. God entrusts humans to enjoy the bounty of nature on the strict condition that they take care of it and preserve it.”
We all know that religious texts and writings can be used to justify the most atrocious acts and systems of government. Taken out of context the quotes can be meaningless or prescribe the functioning of a society two millennia ago. These four climate change action kits provide a source of reflection as well as action to understand one’s own faith in relation to the natural world and climate change. They also show how connected we are in our faith traditions. The “golden rule” of all faith traditions is about treating others as we wish to be treated ourselves. Perhaps there is now a “green rule” emerging connecting the imperative to care for creation in the faith traditions.
The four climate change action kits can be down loaded from the website arrcc.org.au. A small donation is asked for to cover the costs of making these kits. AYM, some Regional Meetings and individual Quakers are members of ARRCC.