Communities of faith and our ecological crisis
Today's guest blogger is Ibrahim Abdul-Matin is author of Green Deen: What Islam Teaches About Protecting the Planet and a policy advisor in the NYC Mayor's Office of Long Term Planning & Sustainability.
Is the goal of humanity to control and dominate nature or is it to leave the Earth better than we found it?
On November 3, after the large scale Republican victory, Karl Rove declared, "climate is gone" at a trade conference for natural gas drillers in Pennsylvania.
According to Rove and the new anti-regulation activists in Congress, the goal is clear: humanity must bend nature to its will, dominate and control the natural world, extract resources, create goods, and perpetuate the cycle of profits over people and planet.
For people of faith this presents an opportunity to affirm the basic and core beliefs that tie us to the planet - our role as stewards of the Earth and our sacred trust with the Creator to leave the Earth better than we found it.
But first, we must confront what is be holding us back from taking our rightful place on this planet as its stewards.
The sad truth is that most of us are just as culpable as big-time polluters in poisoning the air, the water, and the land. Not one of us is free from guilt in this ecological crisis. This presents an existential crisis for communities of faith - we can rarely admit that we've gone astray.
At Louisville's Festival of Faiths early this November, Dr. Roger S. Gottlieb noted, "As an environmentalist, you have to admit to a profound failure." He continued, specifically referring to people of faith, "you have to give up your sense of moral superiority."
As an intervention, Dr. Gottlieb advised us to approach being environmentalists of faith from a place of humility, which means, listening twice as much as speaking.
It also means finding what our faiths have in common with respect to stewardship and understanding that irrespective of our creed, belief, theology, that we must live and survive on this planet, together. It means being "ecocentric" not egocentric.
In October, I gave a talk at the Green Festival in Washington D.C. Just before my speech, I shared a meal with an elderly white Christian woman. As a young black Muslim male, the two of us could not have been more different. We arrived at the topic of Islam and the environment. She paused and began to talk about her understanding, as a Christian, of the connection between her faith and environmentalism.
"The Bible," she explained, "talks about Dominion." She mentioned the term appears several times in Genesis - to describe humans as God's stewards on the Earth.
I nodded my head. She then talked about the idea of the covenant, or the trust that humans have with God. Dominion does not mean that we should pillage and destroy the natural world. She felt very strongly - as do a growing number of Christians - that dominion meant that we have to honor the trust with God to take care of the Earth and everything in it.
I nodded my head again. She was basically repeating back to me my own talking points.
In Islam, as in Judaism and Christianity, human beings are the representatives of the Creator on Earth. Muslims call this role the "Khalifa," also known as steward or vice-regent. As the Khalifa, we have a sacred trust or "Amana" with God to treat His creation with utmost respect. Amana is similar in meaning to the Buddhist, Hindu, and Jain idea of "Ahimsa" - which literally means "avoidance of violence" - to humans, planets, animals and even small organisms.
I was reminded of a saying I learned from Episcopalian activist, Reverend Fletcher Harper. "If you Love God, then Love His Creation."
Communities of faith can still be on the right side of history, they can take the moral high ground and help to rightfully establish humanity as stewards of the Earth. But first, we must have the courage to admit that we have been wrong, we have contributed to the problem, we have been part of Karl Rove's declaration that "climate is gone." Then, we can declare that our rightful place on Earth is as stewards and work towards leaving the Earth better than we found (or made) it.
The content of this blog reflects the views of its author and does not necessarily reflect the views of either Eboo Patel or the Interfaith Youth Core.
November 15, 2010; 3:14 PM ET
Religion & Leadership
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