Christian and Islamic Teachings on Climate Change and the World to Come
By Belinda F. Espiritu, New Age Islam
18 March 2016
Sign of Peril, Test of Faith, Accelerated Climate Change, the document published by the World Council of Churches (WCC) in May 1994, challenged the validity of the global socio-political system where economic growth is extolled as the panacea for all problems by pointing out that unlimited growth is manifestly impossible in a finite world (McDonagh, 2007). The drafters of the document recognize that governments are much more responsive to the vested interests of powerful economic groups who are committed to the present economic growth-oriented system for as long as they can make profits from it.
Let me illustrate concretely these general ideas by describing factually what is happening in my country, Philippines. While the Syrian people are undergoing extreme hardships as they flee from the war and violence in their towns, cities, and villages, indigenous peoples in the Philippines have also been fleeing from their ancestral lands in the mountains as military and paramilitary groups burned their schools and homes and threatened to kill them if they stay. They have already killed some of their leaders together with a number of anti-mining activists and development workers who have been helping them to put up schools and assisting them in their livelihood which the Philippine government failed to do for them. The reason for the killings is connected with the government’s favouring of the so-called “foreign investments” in the form of transnational mining corporations, cash-crop plantations, and coal-fired power plants –which are all driven by the economic model known as “neo-liberalism”.
The mining liberalization, in particular, which began in the 90s, paved the way for the entry of transnational mining corporations in different parts of the Philippines, causing untold destruction to Philippine ecology and environment, the pollution of rivers and seas with mining tailings, the displacement and loss of livelihood of indigenous peoples and poor Filipino communities, militarization of mined areas, and extrajudicial killings. It has also aggravated climate change as mining corporations and cash crop transnational corporations denude thousands of forest areas and use up a lot of water, leading to drought in certain parts of Southern Philippines where hundreds of mining permits were given while resulting to heavy floods and landslides in other places.
As I researched further, I found out that corporate plunder is done not just in my country, but in other countries where minerals and resources can be found such as Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Central Asia, India, African countries, and Latin American countries.
Pope Francis in his book Laudato Si’ quoted Patriarch Bartholomew of the Eastern Orthodox Church who stated the following words: “For human beings….to destroy the biological diversity of God’s creation, for human beings to degrade the integrity of the earth by causing changes in its climate, by stripping the earth of its natural forests or destroying its wetlands; for human beings to contaminate the earth’s waters, its land, its air, and its life – these are sins”. The Pope further quoted the Patriarch who said “For to commit a crime against the natural world is a sin against ourselves and a sin against God”.
Pope Benedict was quoted as saying: “The external deserts in the world are growing, because the internal deserts have become so vast. Therefore the earth’s treasures no longer serve to build God’s garden for all to live in, but they have been made to serve the powers of exploitation and destruction”.
It can be said that today’s environmental crisis is, at its roots, a moral crisis. Dan Story, an evangelical Christian writer and teacher, sees indifference and an apathetic attitude as among the causes of the environmental crisis when he wrote: “The same indifferent and apathetic attitude that compels people to dump rubbish illegally on national forest likewise prompts the factory owner to dump toxic waste into rivers, pollute the atmosphere with poisonous gases, and destroy vulnerable habitats for economic expediency”. He is one with the great leaders of the Catholic Christian Church in affirming the necessity of having a shift in moral values in order to “tame humanity’s intrinsic exploitative behaviour and inspire the human race to obey God’s charge to be His caretakers over creation”. This requires that our ethical behaviour must no longer be confined solely to our relationship with God and other human beings but also extend and include our relationship with all creation (McDonagh, 2007).
The Islamic Declaration on Global Climate Change, the fruit of the International Islamic Climate Change Symposium held in Istanbul on August 17-18, 2015, succinctly enumerates the urgent actions needed to be done by people of all nations and their leaders. The following is an excerpt from the said Declaration (from www.islamicclimatedeclaration.org) :
We Call On The People Of All Nations And Their Leaders To –
Aim to phase out greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible in order to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere;
Commit themselves to 100 % renewable energy and/or a zero emissions strategy as early as possible, to mitigate the environmental impact of their activities;
Invest in decentralized renewable energy, which is the best way to reduce poverty and achieve sustainable development;
Realize that to chase after unlimited economic growth in a planet that is finite and already overloaded is not viable. Growth must be pursued wisely and in moderation; placing a priority on increasing the resilience of all, and especially the most vulnerable, to the climate change impacts already underway and expected to continue for many years to come.
Set in motion a fresh model of wellbeing, based on an alternative to the current financial model which depletes resources, degrades the environment, and deepens inequality.
Prioritise adaptation efforts with appropriate support to the vulnerable countries with the least capacity to adapt. And to vulnerable groups, including indigenous peoples, women and children.
The proponents of the Islamic Declaration on Climate Change particularly call on the well-off nations and oil-producing states to –
Lead the way in phasing out their greenhouse gas emissions as early as possible and no later than the middle of the century;
Provide generous financial and technical support to the less well-off to achieve a phase-out of greenhouse gases as early as possible;
Recognize the moral obligation to reduce consumption so that the poor may benefit from what is left of the earth’s non-renewable resources;
Stay within the ‘2 degree’ limit, or, preferably, within the ‘1.5 degree’ limit, bearing in mind that two-thirds of the earth’s proven fossil fuel reserves remain in the ground;
Re-focus their concerns from unethical profit from the environment, to that of preserving it and elevating the condition of the world’s poor.
Invest In The Creation Of A Green Economy.
The drafters of the Islamic Declaration on Climate Change also call upon corporations, finance, and the business sector to do the following: change from the current business model which is based on an unsustainable escalating economy, and to adopt a circular economy that is wholly sustainable; pay more heed to social and ecological responsibilities, particularly to the extent that they extract and utilize scarce resources; and assist in the divestment from the fossil fuel driven economy and the scaling up of renewable energy and other ecological alternatives.
Personal responsibility to contribute to the mitigation climate change is a call of both Islamic and Christian leaders. The need to reduce our consumption, reduce our carbon footprint, live a simpler lifestyle, and apply the maxim “reduce, reuse, and recycle” in different ways is imperative for everyone to address the global environmental and moral crisis.
But if our efforts do not seem to match with the gravity of the problem, we should not despair but continue our journey with hope since the crisis we are facing now can be considered as one of the birth pangs of a world that is to come - a world free from war and violence, corporate greed, callous government leaders, sins of various kinds, erratic weather patterns, hunger, sickness, pain and suffering, tears, sicknesses, and death. The other birth pangs of this renewed world to come are prevalent earthquakes, signs from the sky, calamities, wars and rumors of war, deterioration of morals and values, and climate change.
Pope Francis ends his book Laudato Si’ with the section “Beyond the Sun” wherein he writes evocatively the following words: “Even now we are journeying towards the Sabbath of eternity, the new Jerusalem, towards our common home in heaven…..Eternal life will be a shared experience of awe, in which each creature, resplendently transfigured, will take its rightful place and have something to give those poor men and women who will have been liberated once and for all.” Similarly, MaulanaWahiduddin Khan, the November 2015 issue of Spirit of Islam magazine, writes that “a conversion shall take place on a far grander scale, changing this far from ideal world into an ideal one. This in religious terms would be Paradise”. He quoted the following verse in the Quran:
When the earth is changed into another earth. (The Quran 14: 48).
MaulanaWahiduddin Khan further writes that as the final phase of civilization approaches, the bad individuals will be separated from the good, and they will be deprived of the resources of the earth as the earth will be entrusted solely to the good. A cosmic optimism is at the heart of both Islam and Christianity. Dan Story (2012) writes of this yearning for Paradise, the perfect world God originally designed and intended to be our home, but which was lost in the horrible tragedy of the fall. He goes to explain that because God has not given us any desires that do not have a fulfillment, this yearning for Paradise will be fulfilled in a future, renewed “new heaven and earth” where nature will be restored to its former glory.
In the perfect world of Paradise, there will be no pollution of any kind. “Calamities will cease to occur, and all disadvantages such as disease, accidents, old age and death will be eradicated forever” (MaulahanaWahiddudin Khan, 2015). In Paradise, humans will make unending discoveries. All activities will be a source of entertainment and enjoyment. Deified humans in heaven will live a life of joy, peace and happiness in a state of perfection enjoying the blessed state of seeing and communing with God and His saints for eternity.
Meanwhile, we take care of this present world. In the words of Pope Francis: “…we come together to take charge of this home which has been entrusted to us, knowing that all the good which exists here will be taken up into the heavenly feast….Let us sing as we go. May our struggles and our concern for this planet never take away the joy of our hope.”
International Islamic Climate Change Symposium. Islamic Declaration on Global Climate Change. Retrieved from http://islamicclimatedeclaration.org/islamic-declaration-on-global-climate-change/.
McDonagh, S. (2007).Climate change: The challenge to all of us..Dublin: Columba Press.
Pope Francis. (2015). Papal Encyclical of the Holy Father on Care for our Home. Rome: Vatican Press Office.
Story, D. (2012). Should Christians be environmentalists? Michigan: Kregel Publications.
Belinda F. Espiritu teaches at the University of the Philippines, Cebu