Alastair McIntosh was contributing BBC Radio 4’s Thought for the Day yesterday. Here’s an excerpt –
Our conundrum is that we need more consumption to save the economy, but less to save the planet.
Spending our way out of a recession is therefore only a stop-gap measure. It’s methadone for our planetary heroin addiction.
We simply feed the habit if we think that today’s problems can be tackled at conventional political, technical or economic levels. If we’re redefining our “central mission”, we must press further.
Technical fixes are certainly part of the solution. But I’d put it to you that the deep work must be this: to learn to live more abundantly with less, to rekindle community, and to serve fundamental human need instead of worshiping at the altars of greed.
The crisis of these times is therefore spiritual. It calls for reconnecting our inner lives with the outer world – an expansion of consciousness. And that’s an opportunity that we neglect at our peril, for as I once heard an old Quaker woman say, “It is perilous, to neglect one’s spiritual life.
From an article by Nick Reeves in today’s Guardian –
At a global environment conference in London last year, my professional institution, the Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management, brought together representatives of all the major faiths. There was one matter on which they all agreed: the need to collaborate for action on the environment, and especially on climate change. The leadership of Archbishop Bartholomew was seen as a beacon.
But faith groups have been silent for too long on this crisis, and should do far more to remind us of our moral duty to restore and protect the fragile ecological balance of the planet. As the archbishop said: “We are all culpable. Each one of us has a smaller or greater contribution to the deliberate degradation of nature.”
Butt, in reporting the environmentalism of some religious leaders, suggests that an ecological coalition of faiths is possible: “There is hardly a religious leader in the world now who is not preoccupied by the problems of pollution and climate change.” And it’s true. In the last year or so we have seen faith leaders including the Dalai Lama, the Bishop of Liverpool and Pope Benedict step down from the pulpit and speak directly on environmental issues. This is good news and “God-bothering” of the sort we need for the 21st century.
Below is a letter from someone (Mark Dowd) who used to work in television – for Channel 4, in fact. Mr Dowd wrote his letter to the Guardian in the light of the UK Commmunications Industry regulator’s (OFCOM) ruling about the film, the Great Global Warming Swindle, shown on Channel 4 in 2007. He was none too happy with the film –
So serious is the climate threat that I gave up TV after that film last year to work with Operation Noah, a faith-based campaign that calls for leadership from religious and political figures on global warming. I have done more than 30 public meetings so far this year and am in no doubt that the Durkin programme has given many people a fig leaf for carrying on with business as usual.
Ofcom’s report showed that Wag TV treated David King, Professor Carl Wunsch and the IPCC unfairly. Yet mysteriously it also found that “there is no evidence that the programme in itself did, or would cause appreciable potential harm to members of the public”. Just when are we going to stop this denial? As a species, we put 26bn metric tons of CO2 into the atmosphere every year: three times the amount of 50 years ago. The correlation between CO2 and global heating was established in 1896 by the Swedish scientist, Svante Arrhenius. But then they said there was no correlation between tobacco and lung cancer, didn’t they?
Our neighbouring parish is laced around a rather confusing network of roads where I invariably seem to get lost. But if the village lacks a centre, the villagers themselves certainly don’t lack heart or organisational ability. Last weekend they put on their fifth and, in my opinion, finest sculpture trail. The idea originated more than a decade ago with a more modest project to showcase some of the beautiful gardens in Bergh Apton. The event worked brilliantly and in subsequent years they added a cultural dimension. Now it is one of the biggest sculpture exhibitions in Norfolk and surely one of the most important arts events in any British village.
This year they weren’t blessed with the weather. When the vehicle behind us became mired en route to the car park and its hopelessly spinning tyres set up a thick spray of Norfolk mud, it seemed a perfect metaphor for the wider sense of frustration. Fortunately, on the last of three weekends the sun shone, 1,000 cars filled the field and the roads were thronged with cyclists and walkers.
People at the entrances to the dozen gardens often asked you which was your favourite piece, suggesting a hint of friendly rivalry between the burghers of Apton. I must confess, despite the glorious range and quality of the work, I almost plumped for a non-sculptural feature. No, not the string quartet, nor the brass band, nor the vast throng besieging the ice-cream trailer. The Wishing Trees were an inspired bit of old English animism: we were invited to express our heart’s desire on lengths of calico attached to the spreading limbs of summer greenery. (One touching piece read: “I wish my grandad would come back to live [sic].”) At Bergh Apton last Sunday it certainly felt as if some dreams had come true.
The video is worth watching just for the remarkable difference between his wooden presidential campaign of 2000 and his demonstrative passion here. There are other nuggets – like the number of questions asked of the presidential candidates regarding climate change, and this wonderful African proverb –
If you want to go quickly, go alone; if you want to go far, go together
Vodpod videos no longer available.
I was particularly struck by the thought that one week’s worth of the Iraq war could be much better spent. There may come a point for US citizens and their allies where there is a decision to be made as to the greater threat and the greater good, Iraq or the whole world.
Good overview at Slate about why China is so interested in Tibet: nationalism mainly, followed by strategic and economic factors (i.e. mountain-range buffer zone and mining respectively. The linked-to article on the Chinese mining industry doesn’t say anything about uranium deposits there, though – which, according to the Tibetan Government In Exile, are the largest high-grade deposits in the world.) There’s also a nice ‘bonus explanation’ as to when Buddhist monks can get violent, ending with the following proviso –
It’s important to note, however, that the actual extent to which monks were responsible for the violence in Tibet remains unclear. Monks instigated the initial demonstrations, but lay Tibetans may have ratcheted up those protests to riot status.
Note Gore’s message – ‘Yes We Can’ mitigate the devastating effects of man-made global warming (which sounds good as far as an Obama endorsement is concerned).
[One of the things I find interesting about his approach is his casting of the issue as a moral-cum-spiritual problem, one that concerns basic survival –
“We all share the exact same interest in doing the right thing on this. Who are we as human beings? Are we destined to destroy this place that we call home, planet earth? I can’t believe that that’s our destiny. It is not our destiny. But we have to awaken to the moral duty that we have to do the right thing and get out of this silly political game-playing about it. This is about survival,” he said.
I had thought basic survival comes first on the (Maslow) hierarchy of needs – with spiritual/moral needs coming later, once basic survival needs have been satisfied. (I kind of like Max Neef’s take on this; see the Maslow wikipedia link above. Maslow could have been projecting a whole lot of cultural junk, about the developmental stages of evolution towards ‘civilisation’, into his hierarchy – but that’s a whole other discussion.) Maybe Gore’s understanding of the relationship between survival and morality reflects a difference between British and American culture. I don’t know. To my mind, matters of survival don’t necessitate lofty arguments about morality but rather the finding of food, water, air, shelter and warmth. And probably laughter too. Anyway…]
Perhaps unsurprisingly many are envisaging Gore as a possible bridge between the Democratic party and the White House. What did I say? I still maintain, though, that Obama should be at the top of the ticket.
Some intervention into the presidential campaign his ad campaign could be.
Today, Obama gave the speech of his campaign, maybe his political life. Facing immense scrutiny regarding his alliance with the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Obama had to explain how he could vehemently disagree with Wright’s highly politicised outbursts whilst maintaining his friendship. Andrew Sullivan rightly, I think, says this is a speech America has been waiting for for a long, long time –
Having recently been given Barack Obama’s book, The Audacity of Hope, and zipped through it from cover to cover, I was impressed with the quality of his writing and his ability to communicate his experience and thinking in an engaging way. In it he covers the American political and economic landscape and ‘The World Beyond Our Borders’, chapters that stirred in me the impression of an outstanding political mind.
But I found his chapter on ‘Faith’ to be particularly constructive, which he began with a lyrical telling of his upbringing.
[…] my mother viewed religion through the eyes of the anthropologist that she would become; it was a phenomenon to be treated with a suitable respect, but with a suitable detachment as well. Moreover, as a child I rarely came in contact with those who might offer a substantially different view of faith. My father was almost entirely absent from my childhood, having been divorced from my mother when I was two years old; in any event, although my father had been raised a Muslim, by the time he met my mother he was a confirmed atheist, thinking religion to be so much superstition, like the mumbo-jumbo of witch doctors that he had witnessed in the Kenyan villages of his youth.
When my mother remarried, it was to an Indonesian with an equally skeptical bent, a man who saw religion as not particularly useful in the practical business of making one’s way in the world, and who had grown up in a country of Hinduism, Buddhism, and ancient animist traditions. During the five years that we would live with my stepfather in Indonesia, I was sent first to a neighborhood Catholic school and then to a predominantly Muslim school; in both cases, my mother was less concerned with me learning the catechism or puzzling out the meaning of the muezzin’s call to evening prayer than she was with whether I was properly learning my multiplication tables.
And yet for all her professed secularism, my mother was in many ways the most spiritually awakened person that I’ve ever known. She had an unswerving instinct for kindness, charity, and love, and spent much of her life acting on that instinct, sometimes to her detriment. Without the help of religious texts or outside authorities, she worked mightily to instill in me the values that many Americans learn in Sunday school: honesty, empathy, discipline, delayed gratification, and hard work. She raged at poverty and injustice, and scorned those who were indifferent to both.
Most of all, she possessed an abiding sense of wonder, a reverence for life and its precious, transitory nature that would properly be described as devotional. During the course of the day, she might come across a painting, read a line of poetry, or hear a piece of music, and I would see tears well up in her eyes. Sometimes, as I was growing up, she would wake me up in the middle of the night to have me gaze at a particularly spectacular moon, or she would have me close my eyes as we walked together at twilight to listen to the rustle of leaves. She loved to take children – any child – and sit them in her lap and tickle them or play games with them or examine their hands, tracing out the miracle of bone and tendon and skin and delighting at the truths to be found there. She saw mysteries everywhere and took joy in the sheer strangeness of life.
– Barack Obama, The Audacity of Hope, pp.204-5
To my eyes, these are unusual words for a politican to write, to say the least. He follows them with what seems to be constructive commentary on being a politician in an increasingly fractious, multicultural world.
Below is a video, which conveys Obama’s maturity and wisdom, posted on the barackobama.com campaign blog with the following introduction –
Barack Obama is a committed Chrisitan who has been a member of Trinity United Church of Christ on Chicago’s Southside for the past twenty years.
In June of 2006, Senator Obama delivered what was called the most important speech on religion and politics in 40 years. Speaking before an evangelical audience, Senator Obama candidly discussed his own religious conversion and doubts, and the need for a deeper, more substantive discussion about the role of faith in American life.
I particularly like the distinction between politics as the art of the possible compared with religion as the art of the impossible. In Obama, I think, we truly have a world statesman for our times.