Language to make us act

HOW can COP23 convince the world to care for mother Earth?

Scientists have told us clearly what causes climate change and what we need to do. However, we need a language that will move the earth community to act. We need a language that will change peoples’ relationship with the whole universe. As well as a new language, we need a new imagination, a new politics, a new pedagogy, a new ethics, a new discovery of the sacred, and a new spirituality.

Root cause of the

ecological crisis

To find a solution we must have a clear understanding of the root cause of ecological crisis.

Pope Francis and others have pointed out that the fundamental ecological crisis is our loss of connectedness with the whole of creation; with God, human beings and the earth. The Jewish and Christian traditions name this fundamental crisis as original sin or the sin of the world. The ecological crisis is not only about the collapse of the planet’s ecosystems and biochemical cycles with a profound impact on human populations, especially on the poor. The ecological crisis is also a deeply spiritual and religious crisis. Pope Benedict XVI states: “The external deserts in the world are growing because the internal deserts have become so vast.” The ecological crisis is symptomatic of a deeper spiritual and religious crisis.

Symbolic language of

religion and

indigenous spirituality

Where can we find the prescription to heal our loss of connectedness with God, with other people and with the earth? How do we reweave our connectedness?

I believe that religion (including indigenous religions), native cultures, traditional symbols and the mystical have the resources and vision to reweave our connectedness. Religion and indigenous spiritual resources have the language to move people to action. COP23 needs this language to motivate us to change our lifestyles.

Moreover, scientists have admitted the limitation of scientific language and the need for religious language to face the ecological crisis. The Global Forum of Spiritual and Parliamentary Leaders on Human Survival in 1990 stated: “We are close to committing — many would argue we are already committing — what in religious language is sometimes called crimes against creation.”

Calling on religious leaders, scientist state: “Problems of such magnitude … must be recognised from the outset as having a religious as well as a scientific dimension. Mindful of our common responsibility, we scientists — many of us long engaged in combating the environmental crisis — urgently appeal to the world religious community to commit in word and deed, and as boldly as required, to preserve the environment of the Earth.”

In 2006, noted Harvard biologist Edward O Wilson renewed the call to faith communities to recognise the contemporary ecological crisis as a crisis of God’s creation and appealed for their help to protect planet’s dwindling biodiversity. He states: “We need your help. The creation — living nature — is in deep trouble. … We must act quickly to prevent the extinction of species and, with it, the pauperisation of Earth’s ecosystems — hence of the creation. It is time to perceive our ecological predicament as a spiritual and religious crisis at the deepest level.”

Scientists have provided the world with clear physical understanding of the ecological crisis. Religious leaders need to develop the moral and spiritual understanding of the ecological crisis. We must use our religious traditions, scriptures, and theologies of creation to heal the ecological crisis.

Theologians hold that the symbolic language has power to move people to action. Hence Fr Richard Rohr a Franciscan priest and globally recognised ecumenical teacher states: “We should be searching primarily in the universal and wise depths of recurring symbols, metaphors, and sacred stories, which is where human beings can find deep and lasting meaning — or personal truth.

“Some ancient peoples seem to have lived with a greater sense of wonder, gratitude, and inherent belonging than we do. Poets, artistes, and storytellers have always known this, and now scientists are honest enough to realise that they too need metaphors to point to deeper reality. Without new symbols unconscious meanings never break through to consciousness, and the invisible has no way of becoming visible.”

Many have said our postmodern world has “a crisis of meaning” a world where things do not mean anything. Humans cannot live happily without meaning – and ever-deeper meaning. Symbols have the power to give meaning, to reframe, to organise, and reset the core meanings of our lives again and again.

There are some communities in the world who live a life of connectedness to God, neighbour and earth. These are indigenous communities whose rituals, cultural symbols, and tradition point to the connectivity of life. Therefore, the world has much to learn from indigenous cosmology and spirituality.

Pope Francis says “indigenous peoples have values that guide greater responsibility to caring for the earth. Indigenous communities have a strong sense of community, readiness to protect others, a spirit of creativity, and a deep love for the land. They are also concerned about what will they eventually leave to their children and grandchildren”.

Call to religious leaders

and indigenous leaders

Religious leaders need to develop a theology of creation. We need to preach not only about the God of our human salvation but also about the God who created and saves our common home, our Mother Earth.

Our Taukei leaders need to be faithful to the symbolism of the turaga ni vanua and ritual of their installation. Through the ritual on the installation of a turaga ni vanua, the new turaga commits himself to protect the vanua, that is the people, the land, and all living creatures. We look to our turaga and marama ni vanua for the care of our mother Earth and protection of our vanua from the greed of those who are only concerned about their monetary gain.

Native American traditional leader Chief Seattle said in the early 1880s: “When the last tree has been cut down, when the last river has been poisoned, when the last fish has been caught, only then will we be aware that money cannot be eaten.”

* Archbishop Peter Loy Chong is the head of the local Catholic Church. The views expressed are his and not of this newspaper.

* To be continued next week.

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