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are religion and sustainability mutually exclusive?

October 5, 2009

Religion’s getting a bad rap these days – and with good reason. Between the Jihadi’s, the Israelis and the fundies on their compounds, the world is increasingly looking like something out of Dante’s inferno (and yes, I did just have a crack at Israel – and no that doesn’t make me anti-semitic; just as criticising the USA doesn’t make one ‘anti-American’).

Of course, the arguments are that the conflicts in Palestine, the Middle East and just about anywhere outside North America where the US military is stationed are purely political (or related to energy security).

Yet wherever you have Presidents, Kings, Sheiks, Prime Ministers and various other political leaders invoking their god(s), praying in parliament or printing scripture on their currency, there is a pretty decent case to be made for asserting that there is absolutely no separation between church and state.

And if that’s true, a rigorous analysis of the dominant religions and the part they play in shaping policy is essential for determining whether consumer sentiment or political activism really stands a chance of shifting us away from a path of almost certain self-destruction and onto a path of survival.

Many wiser and more erudite people than me have discussed this already, and the point of this post is not to seek to restate their positions, but to bring a particular focus to it in the hope of continuing to stimulate debate and enquiry.

Sam Harris in The End of Faith makes a compelling case for the dangers of faith-based religion, whilst The Ranting Gryphon makes a far more impassioned (and amusing to some) case through his two minute video on Global Warming. And then there’s Richard Dawkins, Bill Maher and a plethora of others asking similar and equally valid questions about whether religion has a future in humanity’s future – or if humanity even has a future as long as religion does.

In a recent post I commented:

It’s time for discussions about politics, religion and consumerism to take centre stage, for all of us to call into question the irrational and dangerous beliefs that have brought us to the precipice. It’s time to wage war on superstition and unsubstantiated belief and embrace reason.

Your lifestyle choice IS my concern – your diet is my concern, your means of transportation is my concern, your politics are my concern, your religion is my concern.

We all know that thought precedes action. I often hear discussions about the ‘lack of thoughtful action’ when it comes to addressing global sustainability concerns – yet I’m pretty sure that it’s the quality of the thinking, and not its absence that is the primary problem.

We’re so busy hammering away at a culture of consumerism – and blaming that for the problems that beset us – that we’ve failed to recognise that each of the three largest monotheistic religious groups have spread their influence throughout politics, the courts, economics, science, philanthropy and education due, in no small part, to our unwillingness to really discuss their place in our societies. Our imam’s, rabbi’s and priests are the original thought-police – not only telling us what we are permitted to believe, but threatening to ostracize us from our communities if we either fail to agree or, heaven forbid, exercise our own (god-given?) intelligence in contradiction to what they teach.

The time for religious tolerance is long past. And by saying this I’m not agitating for racial or cultural intolerance.

Religious tolerance seems to pretty much equate to “you leave me alone to believe what I want, and I’ll leave you alone to believe what you want”.

Yet when our beliefs, collectively, appear to represent a significant threat to our capacity to survive as a species, is this really a reasonable basis for continuing?

What it seems we need is an intolerance for foolishness. An intolerance for irrationality. An intolerance for the beliefs that have not only ‘brought us to the precipice’ but now threaten to tip us over the edge.

What I really want to know is, why, in our quest to save ourselves from self-induced extinction, is everything else up for discussion but God?

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. October 5, 2009 15:31

    Cameron,

    I love the thought provocation. Our God or our God/s influence our whole attitude to how we treat each other and how we treat the planet.

    At a personal level I believe in God. I struggle to believe that he or she might believe in me.

    Regardless of our faith & beliefs there has to be some moral obligation to intra-generational equity and inter-generational equity.

    Thanks for starting these conversations.

    Ro

  2. Michelle Williams permalink
    October 5, 2009 16:47

    Cameron,

    Thanks for stating the obvious. It seems so logical to me what you have written, yet hard to dent the social psyche so to speak.

    I do agree with the notion that the earth is a living organism. And an organism at war with itself is ultimately doomed….

    Can this be the age of resaon?

    I will do my part to make it clear and I am glad to see that you are too! I dont read all your articles but some do catch my eye ;)

    Michelle

    Michelle

  3. Zara Choy permalink
    October 13, 2009 04:33

    I can’t answer your last question but the fact that we could very well raise the discussion right here perhaps speaks volumes.

    I totally agree that being an area that so pervasively governs humanity’s thoughts, actions and interactions, it is high time we able to lay the sensitive topic of religion open on the table for discussion, albeit in a mature, respectful and sensitive fashion. And that it is the quality of thinking, not the absence of it, that makes a difference. I often bemoan that philosophy and critical / logical thinking is given so little emphasis in education, and that we are often taught what to think rather than how to think. If I had it my way, absolutely EVERYTHING should open to being laid on tables for discussion – nothing should be held too sacred or precious in any search for truth of reform. But I digress.

    Yes, justified or not, religion unfortunately gets a bad rap for many things, but only when we confuse what the essence of the problem is (following blindly) with the vehicle (Islam, Christianity, Judaism etc). The same trap can exist in even in sustainability, should people swallow gullibly what others on greenie soapboxes tell them about what’s good for the planet, or just buy everything sold as “planet friendly” to assuage guilt or in personal gratification / justification that we are contributing to a greener world.

    The question on whether religion has a place in humanity’s future is an interesting one and would pertain to definition. I have often found it useful to distinguish between religion and spirituality, the focus of one being attention to exoteric form and the other on esoteric essence. There are also many religious people doing wonderful work within and inter-faith who deserve good rap so we can’t really apply discussion of ‘religion’ in blanket statements.

    My thoughts are that the real issue lies not so much with religion (or politics, law, science, economics or education for that matter) but more-so with dogma; specifically people’s inability (and perhaps willingness) to examine, question and think for themselves, and a seemingly inherent resistance to dropping prevalent ways of thinking in favour of newer, better, more-inspired ones.

    I also think what we lack is an informed, aware, thinking & feeling society, and that we would require sufficient numbers collectively in order to successfully transform and transcend so many of the issues faced today.

    You’ve raised that “The time for religious tolerance is long past”. Yes, I feel religious understanding and inclusiveness would serve us so much better in this time. And I think looking at spirituality as opposed to religion as a contributor to development gets us closer to a arriving at solutions.

    Here’s an article that relates to what you’ve brought up (though perhaps slightly stretches things off-topic) and could take this discussion further in an interesting way…

    “Understanding the role that spirituality plays in economic development is the most important challenge facing humanity today”
    http://www.thefreelibrary.com/Development%20assistance:%20spiritual-and%20moral-dimensions.%28spiritual…-a055576612

    It would be interesting to hear others’ comments or critiques on what has been written.

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