Sunday, 3 July 2016

Green & Colourful: When Science Meets Religion - Bart Mijland

This is the twentieth post in the Interfaith Ramadan 2016 series. Articles written by contributors from diverse faiths and none will published every day throughout the month of Ramadan.

I urgently appeal, then, for a new dialogue about how we are shaping the future of our planet. We need a conversation which includes everyone, since the environmental challenge we are undergoing, and its human roots, concern and affect us all.” (Laudato Si’, 14)

In the summer of 2015, Pope Francis called upon the world to join the global conversation on how to shape the future of our planet in a sustainable way. He did so through his encyclical letter Laudato Si’ (“Praise be to you”). In his appeal, the Pope refers to statements of his predecessors, as well as scripture and other religious sources. It is an impressive document that generated considerable impact in terms of press and responses within the Catholic church (articles, debates, conferences).

In anticipation of the United Nations Climate Change Conference 2015 in Paris, various faith groups published declarations. For example, there was a Buddhist Climate Change Statement to World Leaders that urged world leaders to “recognize and address our universal responsibility to protect the web of life for the benefit of all, now and for the future.” The Hindu Declaration on Climate Change called on all Hindus to “expand our conception of dharma. We must consider the effects of our actions not just on ourselves and those humans around us, but also on all beings. We have a dharmic duty for each of us to do our part in ensuring that we have a functioning, abundant, and bountiful planet.” And from the Islamic Declaration on Global Climate Change: “We call on all groups to join us in collaboration, co-operation and friendly competition in this endeavour and we welcome the significant contributions taken by other faiths, as we can all be winners in this race”.

These contributions from religious leaders to the global political debate on climate change and sustainable development are not exactly a new development. Religious groups have been part of the discussion for a long time. Therefore, it is strange to me how some still seem to believe that religion is irreconcilable with science or should be kept away from politics. The pope addresses this phenomenon in his encyclical:
I am well aware that in the areas of politics and philosophy there are those who firmly reject the idea of a Creator, or consider it irrelevant, and consequently dismiss as irrational the rich contribution which religions can make towards an integral ecology and the full development of humanity. Others view religions simply as a subculture to be tolerated. Nonetheless, science and religion, with their distinctive approaches to understanding reality, can enter into an intense dialogue fruitful for both.(Laudato Si’, 62)

As the above-mentioned texts show, other religious leaders have no problem embracing scientific insights for their understanding of the world, either. They simply add them to their religious or spiritual views and values in their respective calls for climate action:
  • Scientists assure us that limiting the rise in the global average temperature to less than 1.5 degrees Celsius is technologically and economically feasible.” (Buddhist Statement)
  • We note that the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (UNEP, 2005) and backed by over 1300 scientists from 95 countries, found that ‘overall, people have made greater changes to ecosystems in the last half of the 20th century than at any time in human history… these changes have enhanced human well-being, but have been accompanied by ever increasing degradation (of our environment).’” (Islamic Declaration)
  • Today, with the 2015 Paris Climate Conference nearly upon us, members of the global Hindu community again urge strong, meaningful action be taken, at both the international and national level, to slow and prevent climate change. Such action must be scientifically credible and historically fair[...].” (Hindu Declaration)

Surely, this must excite even the most radical science-loving atheists. It is truly in the sciences that we find common ground for sustainable coexistence. Interfaith dialogue, that includes humanists and atheists, becomes especially relevant when we consider the scientific insights we agree on as a starting point for action. We simply cannot afford to argue anymore over who is right and wrong when it comes to beliefs, truths or lack of faith. The ultimate undisputed truth has yet to reveal itself and as long as we have different interpretations of reality we must act upon the truths we do share. In that sense, and as someone who graduated on Bruno Latour, I agree with Pope Francis:

Given the complexity of the ecological crisis and its multiple causes, we need to realize that the solutions will not emerge from just one way of interpreting and transforming reality. Respect must also be shown for the various cultural riches of different peoples, their art and poetry, their interior life and spirituality. If we are truly concerned to develop an ecology capable of remedying the damage we have done, no branch of the sciences and no form of wisdom can be left out, and that includes religion and the language particular to it.” (Laudato Si’, 63)

Judgments of each other, whether based on the Vedas, the Quran or The God Delusion, become futile when you think about the final ruling Earth might have in store for all of us. If we want to postpone or even avoid humanity’s death penalty, we need to stop fighting each other for our (lack of) beliefs. In a way, you and I are foolishly staring at each other when we fight like that. We don’t clearly see what happens to the world around us. The moment you and I shift our gaze towards our common challenge, you and I immediately become a new alliance, a ‘new we’. Together we can face our problems. With scientific knowledge as our common ground and moral inspiration from various faiths and philosophies for transformation. We are the only way to keep the Earth Green & Colourful.

Bart Mijland is a humanistic scholar, pluralistic thinker and works as a knowledge broker on matters of diversity and sustainable development. He is a contributor to Dutch interfaith/ -cultural platform In addition he advises the Youth Council of COC, a leading LGBTQI organization in the Netherlands. Mijland previously wrote 
Holy Boat: Interfaith Pride for Interfaith Ramadan. 

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Related Posts: 

Laudato Si’ (2015) Buddhist Climate Change Statement to World Leaders (2015) Hindu Declaration on Climate Change (2015) Islamic Declaration on Global Climate Change (2015)

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