The Bahá’í Statement on Nature
“Nature in its essence is the embodiment of My Name, the Maker, the Creator. Its manifestations are diversified by varying causes, and in this diversity there are signs for men of discernment. Nature is God's Will and is its expression in and through the contingent world. It is a dispensation of Providence ordained by the Ordainer, the All-Wise.”Bahá'í Writings
With those words, Bahá'u'lláh, Prophet-Founder of the Bahá'í Faith, outlines the essential relationship between man and the environment: that the grandeur and diversity of the natural world are purposeful reflections of the majesty and bounty of God. For Bahá'ís, there follows an implicit understanding that nature is to be respected and protected, as a divine trust for which we are answerable
As the most recent of God's revelations, the Bahá'í teachings have a special relevance to present-day circumstances when the whole of nature is threatened by man-made perils ranging from the wholesale destruction of the world's rain forests to the final nightmare of nuclear annihilation.
A century ago, Bahá'u'lláh proclaimed that humanity has entered a new age. Promised by all the religious Messengers of the past, this new epoch will ultimately bring peace and enlightenment for humanity. To reach that point, however, humankind must first recognize its fundamental unity as well as the unity of God and of religion. Until there is a general recognition of this wholeness and interdependence, humanity's problems will only worsen.
"The well-being of mankind, its peace and security, are unattainable unless and until its unity is firmly established," Bahá'u'lláh wrote. "The earth is but one country, and mankind its citizens."
The major issues facing the environmental movement today hinge on this point. The problems of ocean pollution, the extinction of species, acid rain and deforestation – not to mention the ultimate scourge of nuclear war – respect no boundaries. All require a transnational approach.
While all religious traditions point to the kind of cooperation and harmony that will indeed be necessary to curb these threats, the religious writings of the Bahá'í Faith also contain an explicit prescription for the kind of new world political order that offers the only long-term solution to such problems.
"That which the Lord hath ordained as the sovereign remedy and mightiest instrument for the healing of the world is the union of all its people in one universal Cause . . . ." Bahá'u'lláh wrote.
Built around the idea of the world commonwealth of nations, with an international parliament and executive to carry out its will, such a new political order must also, according to the Bahá'í teachings, be based on principles of economic justice, equality between the races, equal rights for women and men and universal education.
All these points bear squarely on any attempt to protect the world's environment. The issue of economic justice is an example. In many regions of the world, the assault on rain forests and endangered species comes as the poor, legitimately seeking a fair share of the world's wealth, fell trees to create fields. They are unaware that, over the long term and as members of a world community which they know little about, they may be irretrievably damaging rather than improving their children's chances for a better life. Any attempt to protect nature, must, therefore, also address the fundamental inequities between the world's rich and poor.
Likewise, the uplifting of women to full equality with men can help the environmental cause by bringing a new spirit of feminine values into decision-making about natural resources.
Education, especially an education that emphasizes Bahá'í principles of human interdependence, is another prerequisite to the building of a global conservation consciousness. The Faith's theology of unity and interdependence relates specifically to environmental issues. Again, to quote Bahá'í sacred writings:
“By nature is meant those inherent properties and necessary relations derived from the realities of things. And these realities of things, though in the utmost diversity, are yet intimately connected one with the other . . . Liken the world of existence to the temple of man. All the organs of the human body assist one another, therefore life continues . . . Likewise among the parts of existence there is a wonderful connection and interchange of forces which is the cause of life of the world and the continuation of these countless phenomena.”
The very fact that such principles should come with the authority of religions and not merely from human sources, is yet another piece of the overall solution to our environmental troubles. The impulse behind the Assisi declarations on nature is testimony to this idea.
There is perhaps no more powerful impetus for social change than religion. Bahá'u'lláh said:
“Religion is the greatest of all means for the establishment of order in the world and for the peaceful contentment of all that dwell therein.”
He Himself expressed a keen love and appreciation for nature, furthering the connection between the environment and the spiritual world in Bahá'í theology.
“The country is the world of the soul, the city is the world of bodies,” Bahá'u'lláh said.
This dichotomy between spirituality and materialism is a key to understanding the plight of humankind today. In the Bahá'í view, the major threats to our world environment such as the threat of nuclear annihilation, are manifestations of a world-encompassing sickness of the human spirit, a sickness that is marked by an overemphasis on material things and a self-centeredness that inhibits our ability to work together as a global community. The Bahá'í Faith seeks above all else to revitalize the human spirit and break down the barriers that limit fruitful and harmonious cooperation among men and women, whatever their national, racial or religious background.
For Bahá'ís the goal of existence is to carry forward an ever-advancing civilization. Such a civilization can only be built on an earth that can sustain itself. The Bahá'í commitment to the environment is fundamental to our Faith.
Shoghi Effendi says:
We cannot segregate the human heart from the environment outside us and say that once one of these is reformed everything will be improved. Man is organic with the world. His inner life moulds the environment and is itself also deeply affected by it. The one acts upon the other and every abiding change in the life of man is the result of these mutual reactions.
Why not think of the choices we can make and questions we can ask ourselves every day? Here are a few practical and simple questions to ponder:
WATER: How do I conserve water? Do I turn off the tap when I’m not using water? Is it necessary for me to take a 15-minute shower every day?
ENERGY: Do I turn off the lights when I leave a room?
DRIVING: Do I choose to drive when I could easily walk or bike? Do I plan my errands better so I don’t make two or three trips instead of one?
FOOD: How much do I cook at home? When I go out, do I always take the leftovers and actually eat them? Did you know that restaurants and consumers throw away an estimated 55 million tonnes of food a year, enough to feed 200 million people?
DIET: Have I given myself a few minutes to learn how much water and energy is used for me to have the food I choose to eat? Do I remember that it takes 200 liters of water to make 1 cup of coffee? And 15,000 liters to make 1 kilogram of beef?
FASHION: Have I looked into the practices of the companies I buy clothing from? Do they pollute the rivers with dye? Do you follow the trend of buying large amounts of cheap clothing? Perhaps every time you want to purchase clothing you could try to remember that more than a half trillion gallons of fresh water are used in the dyeing of textiles each year.
This statement from the Baha’i International Community in 1997 explains our role in crystal clear terms:
The changes required to reorient the world toward a sustainable future imply degrees of sacrifice, social integration, selfless action, and unity of purpose rarely achieved in human history. These qualities have reached their highest degree of development through the power of religion. Therefore, the world’s religious communities have a major role to play in inspiring these qualities in their members, releasing latent capacities of the human spirit and empowering individuals to act on behalf of the planet, its peoples, and future generations.
Bahá’ís of Botswana
Bahá’í communities are working together with their neighbours and friends to promote and contribute to the well-being and progress of society. In urban centres and rural villages, in homes and schools, citizens of all backgrounds, classes and ages are participating in a dynamic pattern of life, taking part in activities which are, at once, spiritual, social and educational.
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