Faith and Climate Change: What is your view?

Informed by their faith and spirituality, two members of the community weigh in.

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By Mardi Moran

Mardi Moran is a member of both Grace Episcopal Church and the Martha’s Vineyard Hebrew Center. She is part of the Interfaith Climate Action Team’s writers committee, and in this column she speaks to Ursula Goodenough, a retired biologist living in Chilmark, president of the Religious Naturalist Association, and author of “The Sacred Depths of Nature,” and to Steve Powers, a local Catholic. 

How does your tradition view climate change and its effects? 

Goodenough: I don’t represent a traditional faith group. I belong to an online group, the Religious Naturalists (religious-naturalist-association.org). We hold the whole world to be sacred; hence it follows that we protect it and revere it. Being religious calls us to be both spiritual and moral, in service to others, and in communion with not only humans but the larger natural world. Hence the climate crisis that can be approached from a religious perspective.

Are there examples from texts or paradigms that form your community’s response? 

Scientific inquiry has provisioned us with mind-blowing new ways of understanding the natural world. Naturalists recognize that these narratives will deepen, and may be revised with further discoveries. They adopt this account as a core narrative. Naturalists are at home in the natural world.

Eco-morality entails seeking right relations between humans, the Earth, and its creatures, mindful of our interrelatedness and interdependence. We engage in an exploration, in the company of other explorers. Each odyssey is informed and guided as well by our mindful explorations of human cultural and wisdom traditions, including art, literature, philosophy, and the world religions. These are also part of nature.

A religious naturalist orientation refers to personal attitudes, values, and ways of living that reflect a deep reverence for life, a sense of awe at the wonder of nature, and a desire to act in ways that reflect this. 

What would you do to cope with the effects of climate change on Martha’s Vineyard? What could your community do to encourage and promote a unified, united response to climate change by the Island as a whole?

There are a lot of initiatives occurring on the Island, and the most important thing to do is to learn about them, integrate and participate in them. I would advise people to live sustainably, work together as a community to mitigate climate change, and to support local and national groups actively and financially. 

Steve Powers writes:

I need to first make it clear that I am speaking for myself, not all Catholics. Pope Francis issued the encyclical “Laudato Si” (Praise to You, God) to address climate change. In that he relies heavily on St. Francis of Assisi, who refers to “our sister, Mother Earth.” It states we must “nurture the sublime fraternity with all creation.”

My favorite theologian is the Jesuit Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, who saw sacredness in all of God’s creation and evolution as a continual expression of God’s creation.

The encyclical on climate change echoes these sentiments. It says, “There is mystical meaning found in a leaf, a dewdrop,” “nature is a focus of [God’s] presence,” and “flowers and birds … [are] imbued with [Christ’s] radiant presence.” It further states, “All creatures are moving forward … toward a common point of arrival, which is God, in transcendent fullness.”

The encyclical warns about our part in climate change, saying, “To commit a crime against the natural world is a sin against ourselves and a sin against God.”

We must remember the consequences of our actions. “Each community can take from the earth whatever it needs … but it also has the duty to protect the earth and to ensure its fruitfulness for coming generations.” It calls us to action, saying we must “avoid the sin of indifference,” and warns of pride, saying, “We need to slow down … and recover the values and great goals swept away by our unrestricted delusions of grandeur.”

The encyclical draws from ancient Jewish texts as well as the New Testament, reminding us that in Genesis, God commands us “to till, and keep” the earth, pointing out our need to heed the “keep” part of that message. This is followed by numerous examples admonishing us to respect and care for all creatures.

The ban on single-use plastic does not seem to be universally in effect. I think that is a good place to start. I am happy about all the actions toward use of electric vehicles, and the abundance of charging stations on the Island. When more electric large vehicles are available, I think it is incumbent on all towns to purchase those for their town fleets.

Jesus is a social activist; as a Christian, I think of Jesus in the present tense. Admittedly, he took direct action when he drove the moneychangers out of the temple, but most of his social activism was in the form of witness, of speaking truth to power, making the leaders of the day uncomfortable in their hypocrisy. I think we need to do the same.

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