Stephen A. Fuqua (saf)

a Bahá'í, software engineer, and nature lover in Austin, Texas, USA

A Conversation on Bahá'í Principles for Climate Action

Amongst its many admirable principles, where does one find environmental concerns in the Bahá’í Faith? So I wondered, early on my journey on this religious path. Recently, in honor of Faith Climate Action Week, several friends and I reflected on this question.

Our conversation opened with a brief meditation on this passage of praise for God, who is recognized through all the natural wonders:

“… whatever I behold I readily discover that it maketh Thee known unto me, and it remindeth me of Thy signs, and of Thy tokens, and of Thy testimonies. By Thy glory! Every time I lift up mine eyes unto Thy heaven, I call to mind Thy highness and Thy loftiness, and Thine incomparable glory and greatness; and every time I turn my gaze to Thine earth, I am made to recognize the evidences of Thy power and the tokens of Thy bounty. And when I behold the sea, I find that it speaketh to me of Thy majesty, and of the potency of Thy might, and of Thy sovereignty and Thy grandeur. And at whatever time I contemplate the mountains, I am led to discover the ensigns of Thy victory and the standards of Thine omnipotence.”

Bahá’u’lláh, Prayers and Meditations by Bahá’u’lláh, CLXXVI.

Naw Ruz flowers at Enchanted Rock State Natural Area, by Stephen A. Fuqua

From there, we turned to the importance of thinking about the oneness of humanity, and the analogy: if one limb of the body is afflicted, the entire human body suffers. So too is it with individuals in a community. Thus, knowing that the climate crisis afflicts humanity, we must act to avert that crisis as best we can.

Bahá’í literature and teachings first emphasize the principals of the “three onenesses” (or “unities”): that of humanity is joined by recognition of the oneness of God and of religion. Next, they frequently (and rightly) echo principles enunciated by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in His writings and talks, dating especially to the first decades of the twentieth century. Lists of those principles frequently reference abolition of prejudice, equality of the sexes, independent investigation of the truth, harmony of science and religion, world peace, international governance, universal auxiliary language, and compulsory education. Ther are no forewarnings about health impact of pollution, the future climate calamity, or loss of biodiversity.

On the one hand: these were not the most pressing challenges of the time. And on the other: these very principles, and the institutions inaugurated by Bahá’u’lláh and ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, are essential for solving the new questions and challenges that have arisen since that time.

Not surprisingly, we quickly identified “harmony of science and religion” as a key concept in thinking about climate change and related issues . This principle suggests that religion bereft of science – rationalism, investigation – tends toward superstition and social stagnation. And science and technological innovation without spirituality and religion tends toward a materialism that demeans individual dignity, facilitates an uneven distribution of wealth, and encourages excessive consumption.

Clearly there is a very strong link between excess consumption, pollution, and climate degradation. Though not in that list above, Bahá’u’lláh mentioned the importance of “moderation” many times. A favorite and germane example:

“The civilization, so often vaunted by the learned exponents of arts and sciences, will, if allowed to overleap the bounds of moderation, bring great evil upon men. Thus warneth you He Who is the All-Knowing. If carried to excess, civilization will prove as prolific a source of evil as it had been of goodness when kept within the restraints of moderation.”

Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, CLXIV.

We noted that fundamental concepts of personal spirituality naturally moderate our desires for physical gratification and consumption. The book Reflections on the Life of the Spirit is the first unit in a sequence of courses for youth and adults. The book is studied by Bahá’ís and their friends worldwide. Under unit headings of “Understanding the Bahá’í Writings”, “Prayer”, and “Life and Death”, this book introduces spiritual practices of reading sacred scriptures daily; holding ourselves accountable for our thoughts and deeds; personal and communal (not congregational) prayer; and the notion of developing the life of the soul. Surely these are ameliorating influences to counter “civilization” “carried to excess.”

A Central Texas Hill Country sunset, by Stephen A. Fuqua

Another fundamental concept in the Faith, not listed in the principles above, is the idea of consultation:

“The Great Being saith: The heaven of divine wisdom is illumined with the two luminaries of consultation and compassion. Take ye counsel together in all matters, inasmuch as consultation is the lamp of guidance which leadeth the way, and is the bestower of understanding.”

Bahá’u’lláh, Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh, Lawḥ-i-Maqṣúd

This spiritual consultation is the idea of a group of people engaged in a frank and cordial search for the truth. It is a cornerstone of family, community, and institutional decision-making in the Bahá’í Faith, and a tool that Bahá’ís offer gladly to any who wish to make use of it.

As we wound down our conversation, we noted how the knowledge, attribute, and actions imparted by all of the books in the sequence of courses teach lessons valuable to those who recognize the need for improved environmental stewardship. For example, the topic of consultation is treated many times, most especially in the tenth book. The second book introduces the idea of “meaningful conversations” – aiding the participant to develop the skill of having this very sort of conversation. Likewise each book could be linked in some way.

Finally, we touched briefly on the importance of action: recognizing the imperative for the course of humanity to be shifted onto a sustainable path, we must each determine how we can contribute to individual action while simultaneously supporting collective endeavors.

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Posted with : On the Subject of Religion, Nature, Sustainability, Environment, Wildlife, Bahá'í Faith, Climate Change