As Cop 26 approaches, in lieu of a meeting, we would like to share some thoughts on the importance of the connection between Faith, Spirituality and Mental Health in the form of some contributions from members of our committee. The importance of climate change as a spiritual challenge is becoming well known and the links between the effects of climate change and our mental health are also becoming better known. Faith beliefs hold in common the image of creation as a divine gift that needs to be respected and nurtured. The 'body' which is our planetary home needs its own version of protection if it is not to be destroyed. Just as spirituality enables us to focus on what we mean by a good and ethical life, so we can use our faith belief to protect and enhance the earth in the context of the current fragilities of our planet. For example, our interdependence with the natural world is a core feature of Buddhism. Such a vision extends beyond care for ourselves and those near to us into care for the wider world around us, so enhancing our well being and that of those near to us. We are grateful to Aziz-ur Rehman, Kate Loewenthal and Judy Jones for sharing their thoughts on this important subject.
An Islamic view of nature vs a Western view of nature (Aziz-ur Rehman) In Islam, the purpose of nature is for man ‘to study nature in order to discover God and to use nature for the benefit of mankind’. Nature can be used to provide food for mankind and its bounty is to be equally distributed among all peoples. All activities that cause harm to mankind and in turn destroy nature are forbidden. Destruction of the natural balance is discouraged, for example, unnecessary killing of animals or removal of vegetation may, in turn, lead to starvation due to lack of food. This view is an extension of the idea that ‘Man’ has been placed on earth as God’s representatives. Modern-day Muslim scholars advocate that scientists and scholars are best motivated by these underlying values when undertaking scientific endeavours. The Islamic view of nature has its roots in the Quran, the very word of God and the basis of Islam. The following passages from the Quran illustrate the relationship between nature and man and how this relationship inspires Muslim scholars to study the natural phenomenon, in order to understand God. The following verses also show the way the Quran presents the whole universe: 464 Islamic view of nature and values ' We created not the heavens, the earth, and all between them, merely in (idle) sport; we created them not except for just ends. But most of them do not understand (Surah AlDukhān 44: 38-39) Behold! In the creation of the heavens and the earth; In the alternation of the night and the day; In the sailing of the ships through the ocean for the profit of mankind; In the rain which Allah sends down from the skies And the life which He gives therewith to an earth that is dead; In the beasts of all kinds that He scatters through the earth; In the change of the winds and the clouds which they trail like their slaves between the sky and the earth - (here) indeed are Signs for a people that are wise (Surah Ad-Baqarah 2: 164). Thus mankind is inspired to study, understand and mould the natural forces for their own purposes. The point to note is the general empirical attitude of the Quran that engendered in its followers a feeling of reverence and thus made them founders of an enlightened society. This view of nature influenced the scholars of the so-called ‘Golden Age of Islam’ to undertake scientific activities that resulted in the vast corpus of scientific works of that era. The Western view of nature that emerged after the Scientific Revolution was that “no footprints of the divine can be discerned in the sands of the natural world” (Peters, 2003, p. 33). From the idea of cosmic order and laws created by God through His Will and applicable to both men and nature to the idea of ‘laws of nature’ discoverable completely by human reason and usually identified with mathematical laws, divorced from ethical and spiritual laws, there is a major transformation that played a central role in the rise of modern science.
A Jewish perspective on climate change (Kate Loewenthal)
In brief, Judaism states that everything a person has is in trust, a divine gift to use rightly. This includes everything we have access to. Religious laws include
- forbidding cruelty to animals, and ensuring that we care for our animals before caring for ourselves
- forbidden to destroy fruit-bearing trees and other wanton destruction
- at least 10% (some say 20%) of any income/assets given to the needy
- many agricultural rules, such as leaving land fallow every 7 years, not harvesting the entire crop, forbidden to mix different crops, allowing fruit trees to mature before starting to harvest fruit.
There are many other laws/details but I hope I have indicated a few important features.
An often-quoted story involves a student who idly pulled a leaf from a tree and was reproved by his rabbi, saying that every item in creation has its purpose and we should be careful to make sure that we treat/use it properly.
A related story involves a student asked by a rabbi to raise a leaf lying on the ground. Underneath was an insect, and the Rabbi emphasised this leaf had been arranged by divine providence to shelter this insect, and so every detail in the universe is arranged by divine providence, and we should respect creation.
A Christian perspective on climate change (Judy Jones)
God cares about creation Many faiths including the Christian Bible, celebrate God as Creator and Sustainer of the universe and everything in it. And since the countdown to COP26, I’ve been thinking about God’s creation, the personal salvation He offers us and our responsibility to care for His planet. He has made all things well. From gorillas to goldfish, granite to geraniums, he has filled the earth with amazing things and commands the weather and seasons. Importantly He made us. We can enjoy His creation for our physical and mental well-being. For example, lovely food walks in the countryside. However, we have a ‘duty of care' to sustain His earth by using resources carefully and preserving them for future generations.
God understands us and our mental health There are many climate stresses that adversely affect the prevalence of poor mental health. People feel unable to control climate change and are experiencing isolation in feelings of impotency and inability to change anything individually given its global scale. Dissonance in our mental health is compounded by stigma which reduces people’s ability to share their feelings/experiences with others. Data is limited but related studies suggest Eco-anxiety as a ‘chronic fear of unalterable doom’. This particularly affects younger people and brings grief and stress. There is an emerging pattern of links between high temperatures and negative mental health effects, heatwaves and an increased rate of suicide. Floods bring traumas such as economic hardship, anxiety and depression, loss of businesses, increased migration, increased aggression, domestic violence and alcohol consumption.
God gives us over to the harm we do in our lives but if we turn back to him, he rescues us as he gave Jesus to reconcile us back to him. God wants us to work together I am encouraged that so many Christian groups and churches are holding prayer meetings and activities for COP26. We are humbly asking God’s forgiveness for our greed, neglect and exploitation of His earth. And for mercy and guidance so to get back on track in caring for His creation.
God and inter-faith dialogue about the climate
Can liaison with world-faiths address this from a spiritual perspective? Pope Francis met with other representatives of world-faiths recently (4.10.21) to draw up a document for world leaders attending COP26 on common themes: that nature/the world/ the environment is a gift to us. It has not been given for us to destroy or dominate in a negative way but is our common home, given for our enrichment and to sustain us to grow humanly and spiritually. We are not to abuse it but cherish and take care of it. We can’t run away (from the environmental crisis) as it is coming from our own souls, drawing on faith and conviction. The (multi-faith) group’s role is to take forward a common challenge to humanity religiously but compelling the world to take responsibility. God’s long term plan Despite humans making a mess of things, God not only offers us personal salvation but has a long-term plan. He will reconcile all things whether on heaven or on earth to Himself through Jesus. This will restore His creation back in harmony with Him and will make a ‘new heaven and a new earth’ The Bible talks of the whole creation yearning ‘ groaning as in the pains of childbirth’ for when it will be liberated from its bondage to corruption and decay.
We need to fall in love with creation again- to love it as God does. I want to take more opportunity to palpably feel it within my soul, immerse myself in it. Being within creation gives me joy and a peace in my soul. God gives strength and ideas to combat climate change We need strength and courage to make individual changes in own lives and in lives of our society and countries to stop what the harmful causes of climate change. For example pollution with car fumes or plastic waste. To finish... ‘…Through forest glades I wander and hear the birds and feel the gentle breeze, when I look down from lofty mountain grandeur…Then sings my soul my Saviour God to Thee - how great Thou art!’ Do you have any thoughts which you would like to add ? Then feel free to let us have them.