Weaving together personal faith and climate change

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From left to right: Paddy Meskin, Rajwant Singh and Kosho Niwano in a session at the Interfaith Summit on Climate Change in New York. © WCC/Melissa Engle Hess

Although climate change is often thought of as something external to an individual person, it is interwoven with personal spirituality, as well. This was the conclusion of a panel of three faith leaders during a session at the Interfaith Summit on Climate Change held on 22 September.

The workshop, entitled “Ethics, Spirituality and Climate Change” was hosted by the World Council of Churches (WCC) and Religions for Peace as part of the summit which was held in New York City.

The session was held on the second day of the interfaith summit. Sunday the group signed a joint statement calling for climate justice and asking that world leaders meeting this week at the UN working toward a fair and binding agreement addressing climate change.

During the session, Rev. Kosho Niwano of Rissho Kosei-Kai, Japan, spoke of the Buddhist conception of satisfaction. Her religion poses a paradox, she said. “A poor person is not someone who possesses little, but is a person who is not satisfied even if they have much.”

“Greed, fear and insecurity do not provide the ground for solving the challenge of climate change. Rather, reclaiming our original blessing must be and remain our starting point for addressing this challenge. Climate change is a severe challenge, but is it not also a message from the earth? A message to return to our original selves?” said Niwano.

Sikhism, too, suggests that a human cannot experience the highest state of mind unless they purge themselves of ego, said Dr Rajwant Singh, president of EcoSikh.

“The human beings are constantly reminded that the only way you can start to break this false world and this illusion of your own ego is to see who is here with you.”

Climate and social justice are the same, he suggested. “The ultimate responsibility lies in the hands of human beings because they are the only ones who can change their course of action.”

Singh called on faith groups to turn their celebrations into opportunities for ecological action. “There should be green Christmas, and green Ramadan, and green Diwali,” he said.

Faithfulness to God and ecology go together in Judaism, said Paddy Meskin, former president of the South African Union of Temple Sisterhoods and the third member of the panel. In the book of Genesis, the first book of the Torah, God places humanity in the Garden of Eden with instructions to keep watch over it.

“As modern stewards of creation, we too must ensure that we not only do not destroy but that we rebuild the destruction that has already taken place,” she said. “Righteous people do not waste this world.

“There is not a country, certainly not a continent, hardly a city that has not seen destruction and corruption. When will we learn? When will we begin?”

Her mother used to tell her, Meskin said, “if you are lucky enough not to have to receive, you have to give.”

“We are here to care for our neighbours, to love our neighbours as ourselves, to see that all children are our children. We all belong to one another.”

The panel discussion was one of four held on Monday 22 September and attended by some 30 interfaith leaders as well as others.

WCC news release written by Connie Wardle, senior writer and online editor at the Presbyterian Record, Canada.

Interfaith declaration on climate change (WCC news release of 22 September 2014)

Website of the Interfaith Summit on Climate Change

WCC’s work on climate justice and care for creation