Faith Communities, the Environment, and Tales of Responsibility

by Kim   |   March 25, 2009

New Dream receives comments from the perspective of faith now and then. From pastors passing along environmental messages like reducing meat consumption to their congregations, to reflections on water and Ramadan.

It's something I think we don't talk about enough in discussions about the earth. That's why I'm always grateful when bloggers like No Impact Man write about subjects like, "Should God have faith in us?" "But what we've yet to determine, in my view, when it comes to melting the ice caps and another flood, is whether God should trust us," writers, N.I.M., aka Colin Beavan.  I think that no matter what your faith background, or if you have one at all, it's natural to look for a big-picture context in which to put the human condition. When I see pictures of despoiled rainforests and waterfowl with oil clinging to their feathers, I have a sense of having disappointed some responsibility to someone. This could be a lateral brother-sister responsibility, as Beavan described today:  his daughter describes her her dog and her fish as her brother and sister. Or it could be a more vertical tie to a higher power, like the faith communities belonging to GreenFaith: Interfaith Partners for the Environment.

GreenFaith has a  Certification Program - the first comprehensive, interfaith environmental certification program for religious entities. The greening of all institutions is something that is very much in line with New Dream's mission: the Responsible Purchasing Network put out a Responsible Purchasing Guide for Faith Communities (free download with registration) a couple of years ago. I think the parallels go further than that, however.  The GreenFaith website says,

Yet to whom much is given, much is asked… Americans, who consume more than the citizens of any nation on Earth, have today a responsibility and an opportunity to change the patterns of their consumption.

Faith traditions are collections of stories that we keep returning to and keep finding meaning in. Placing our environmental situation and consumption habits within the framework of faith is a way of situating ourselves within a long line of predecessors (back to Abraham, Mohammed, or Buddha) who struggled to live correctly, and who are counting on us to keep up the fight.

Or maybe it's not necessary to look anywhere other than nature for the impulse to do right by the environment. According to the Transcendentalists,

"[Humankind's] rpresence in the center of the cosmic sphere is a dutiful one. Emerson said, "Every natural process is a version of a moral sentence" and nature itself as a whole becomes a discipline of men's moral ethics." [A Comparison of Walden and Nature]

One of the reasons advertising and messaging show up so often in this blog is that I think humans are struggling to conceptualize the huge, rather abstract, very perilous concept of global warming. The better we can communicate the problems, and the solutions, the more effectively we can take action. And in our culture with its faith in consumer power and its cathedrals of consumption, advertising is an important secular narrative, telling us what was, is, and should be much like a faith tradition.

I do think it is very inspiring to hear about faith communities trying to green their practices and help their members make sense of the ecological predicament we find ourselves in today. However you draw the lines between humans, other species, and the earth, it is definitely true that there are ties, and that we will rise or fall together.