Religions for Peace first raised the call for Action with the Faiths for Earth program in 2015. Religions for Peace partners with the United Nations Environment Program and the Parliament of the World’s Religions Climate Action to deliver the program, Faiths for Earth – A Call to Action. In this series of articles, Religions for Peace Australia – each month – will present the approach of one of the world’s many religions and its responses to a Call for Action – living in harmony with the Earth.
During The World Wildlife Fund’s International 25th anniversary celebration in Assisi, Italy in September 1986, leaders of five of the world’s religions — Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, and Judaism — presented statements about their traditions’ understanding of nature and their religion’s values concerning conservation and the environment. Known as the Assisi Declarations, those five statements are regarded as a landmark in religious environmental ethics. The World Wildlife Fund also launched the Network on Conservation and Religion at that time, leading to the formation of the Alliance of Religions and Conservation (ARC). The Bahá’í Faith, Confucianism, Daoism, the Jain Religion, the Sikh Religion, Shinto, and Zoroastrianism joined the Alliance of Religions and Conservation and created statements about their faith’s relation to nature, and the Assisi Declarations themselves expanded to include additional detail. Each of the faith traditions’ teachings in the following pages begins with brief excerpts from the five Assisi Declarations, from the statements by the seven religions that joined the Alliance of Religions and Conservation network, and from a declaration by the Alliance of Mother Nature’s Guardians, a group of Indigenous leaders and activists from around the world, at their second assembly in 2017.
There are more than 370 million Indigenous Peoples living in 70 countries on six continents, with unique cultures distinct from the dominant societies in which they live and long-standing connections to particular ancestral lands. The United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues states that “…the most fruitful approach is to identify, rather than define, indigenous peoples. This is based on the fundamental criterion of self-identification as underlined in a number of human rights documents.” Despite their diversity, the traditions of Indigenous Peoples share several common themes, including recognition of the community of all life, in which humans are just one member; respect for nature and other-than-human forms of life; the imperative of harmony with nature; and living in accord with original instructions given by spiritual beings and the Creator.
Judaism, Christianity, and Islam agree that nature is God’s creation. God has made the universe and the order of the natural world, and has provided for all God’s creatures. These faiths press us to recognise that we are one small part of a complex, interdependent creation. And yet God has given humans a special responsibility to take care of and protect creation, as good stewards or guardians. All beings in creation have value in God’s eyes and should be treated with respect.
Religious traditions originating in India are Hinduism, the Jain Religion, Buddhism, and the Sikh Religion. While their worldviews differ, they share certain basic concepts, including belief in many births, or “reincarnation,” in which life can take different forms, creating continuity between human life and other living things. Rebirth is determined in part by one’s karma, which may be ethically good, bad, or neutral. The word karma means “action,” and implies that every action has a result, an important idea for ecological ethics. Indic traditions affirm that there is a right order of the universe and of human society, often called Dharma, a term of central importance in Indian civilisation. Indicating universal moral norms, Dharma has many possible translations, including “law,” “duty,” and “righteousness.” Indic religions also share systems of spiritual discipline and contemplative practice known cross-traditionally as Yoga or “union,” aiming at oneness with a sacred reality.
East Asian Religions
The religions originating in East Asia are Confucianism, Daoism, and Shinto. Chinese civilisation is at least 5,000 years old and the roots of Confucianism and Daoism are very ancient. They share a worldview in which the universe is seen as a living organic whole, united by matter-energy (qi or ch’i). This vital force is the basis for dynamic change and creativity. The great triad of Heaven, Earth, and Humans forms the unity of the universe. Within this triad, humans cultivate virtue, following the Way of the Sages. Confucian teachings on humaneness and filial piety contribute to social and political harmony. Daoist teachings contribute to individual health and wellbeing. In Japan, the indigenous tradition of Shinto centres on the community of deities (kami) in the natural and human worlds. These deities are to be respected so that the natural world, infused with divinity and purity, will continue to sustain all life.
Note: The articles that follow are guided by the concept that a religion has three aspects: a worldview or “cosmovision”; a value system, or ethics; and a set of practices or “way of life” that attune the individual and the community to that world view. A religious worldview (as distinct from a secular one) references a larger reality sometimes called the Sacred. We have consulted with community members from each religious tradition on the content of individual sections. We recognise that not all may agree on how a given religion should be named, and have tried to be respectful of different points of view. We have made slight revisions in a few places in wording to accommodate gender-inclusive language.
Religions to be covered include Indigenous Traditions, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Zoroastrianism, The Bahá’í Faith, Hinduism, the Jain Religion, Buddhism, the Sikh Religion, Confucianism, Daoism, Shinto, and in summary, Environmental Ethics: Points of Agreement among the World’s Religions.