Dialogue input by Arthur Dahl
International Environment Forum
From a theological perspective, nature is part of God's creation and reflects attributes of God. Respect for nature is part of knowing and loving God. God created the balance, harmony and perfection in nature, so humanity should not be a destroyer of that harmony. Living in harmony with nature contributes to the individual's spiritual development.
For example, we read in the Qur'an (59:24 Al-Hashr - The Gathering): "He is God, the Creator, the Evolver, the Bestower of Forms (or Colors). To Him belong the Most Beautiful Names: Whatever is in the heavens and on earth, doth declare His Praises and Glory: and He is the Exalted in Might, the Wise."
Unfortunately, some faith traditions have understood dominion over nature as meaning domination and exploitation for human benefit, rather than stewardship or trusteeship. This has been used to justify exploitation of natural resources without regard for the future.
However, there is support in the scriptures of all the major religions to approach nature with a sense of responsibility and stewardship. Moderation is encouraged and waste is condemned. Respect for the earth as the provider of all wealth should instill humility, and lead to the practice of moderation in material civilization.
"Every man of discernment, while walking upon the earth, feeleth indeed abashed, inasmuch as he is fully aware that the thing which is the source of his prosperity, his wealth, his might, his exaltation, his advancement and power is, as ordained by God, the very earth which is trodden beneath the feet of all men. There can be no doubt that whoever is cognizant of this truth, is cleansed and sanctified from all pride, arrogance, and vainglory." (Bahá'í Writings)
The approach should be based on the fundamental harmony of science and religion, which represent two complementary knowledge systems. Science tells us how to live in this world and what limits to respect. Religion teaches why we should follow the instructions of science to achieve our higher human purpose. Religion teaches the benefits of a simple life and being content with little, mastering the desires of the body and the ego that so easily lead to excessive consumption. An economy guided by spiritual values will contribute to a dynamic, just and thriving social order that will be strongly altruistic and cooperative in nature, providing meaningful employment and helping to eradicate poverty in the world.
"As trustees, or stewards, of the planet's vast resources and biological diversity, humanity must learn to make use of the earth's natural resources, both renewable and non-renewable, in a manner that ensures sustainability and equity into the distant reaches of time. This attitude of stewardship will require full consideration of the potential environmental consequences of all development activities. It will compel humanity to temper its actions with moderation and humility, realizing that the true value of nature cannot be expressed in economic terms. It will also require a deep understanding of the natural world and its role in humanity's collective development - both material and spiritual. Therefore, sustainable environmental management must come to be seen not as a discretionary commitment mankind can weigh against other competing interests, but rather as a fundamental responsibility that must be shouldered - a pre-requisite for spiritual development as well as the individual's physical survival." (Bahá'í International Community 1998)
Research has shown that contact with nature from street trees to parks in urban areas increases physical and psychological well-being and school performance. The mechanisms are probably both physical and spiritual.
In many scientific and academic circles, religion is rejected as superstition or anti-reason, if not dangerous, leading to a failure to acknowledge the potential positive contribution of religion in achieving the 2030 Agenda. Similarly, those with a more fundamentalist interpretation of religion cling to a worldview that is exclusive rather than encompassing, and defensive rather than open to change. Both attitudes contribute to division, when the need of the SDGs is for integration and transformation.
Since all the faith traditions share principles of respect for nature and stewardship of the Earth's resources, interfaith dialogue on this theme should lead to joint approaches and collaboration to spread the message through their widespread networks of believers.
The message of harmony with nature should be incorporated into educational programs for children and young people in formal education, in community activities, and in religious instruction where it exists.
Efforts are needed to help young people, particularly those in urban settings, to reconnect with nature through direct experience. This can range from urban gardens to field visits to natural areas.
To counter materialist advertising for excessive consumption, public information campaigns and community action should show how true happiness and well-being come from moderate consumption, being content with little, and meeting needs rather than wants. The media should feature alternative role models of responsible living and sustainable lifestyles.
Nature in all its forms, from formal gardens to nature parks, should be incorporated into places of worship, and urban/community planning in general.
Harmony with nature should become an integral part of religious education for the spiritual benefits it provides.
Education for sustainable lifestyles should include a spiritual dimension.
The coherence of material and spiritual goals should be sought in all parts of life and civilization.