All men have been created to carry forward an ever-advancing civilization. – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 215.
Does humankind have a future? Will we be able to survive and thrive in the face of enormous problems like the environmental crisis, especially climate change, and the world’s worsening political and social instability? I would like to share why I am confident that humankind will develop an environmentally sustainable and socially just civilization.
Last October, the United Nations issued a new Sustainable Development Agenda, a comprehensive framework for action to achieve 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by the year 2030. These goals encompass four areas at the heart of sustainable development. One article about the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development highlights these four areas of critical importance for humanity and the planet as follows :
- People – We are determined to end poverty and hunger, in all their forms and dimensions, and to ensure that all human beings can fulfill their potential in dignity and equality and in a healthy environment.
- Planet – We are determined to protect the planet from degradation, including through sustainable consumption and production, sustainably managing its natural resources and taking urgent action on climate change, so that it can support the needs of the present and future generations.
- Prosperity – We are determined to ensure that all human beings can enjoy prosperous and fulfilling lives and that economic, social and technological progress occurs in harmony with nature.
- Peace – We are determined to foster peaceful, just and inclusive societies which are free from fear and violence. There can be no sustainable development without peace and no peace without sustainable development.
These goals look beautiful on paper—but will we ever achieve them? Due to the erroneous perception of the inherently aggressive nature of human beings and of the widespread myth that the economic system depends on the unlimited exploitation of people and nature, much of our society has accepted the unfair and cruel treatment of people and the destruction of the environment as inevitable. Such views stand in the way of implementing these important goals.
Many have noted that the true test of Agenda 2030 will be its practical implémentations. Particularly important will be the degree that its efforts are able to secure the commitment, support and labours of the peoples of the world… The Secretary-General of the UN, for example, declared that “If we are to succeed, the new agenda cannot remain the exclusive domain of institutions and governments. It must be embraced by people.”
Not only governments and international agencies need to work on the Sustainable Development goals—every person on the planet must become involved!
Summoning Our Common Will then focuses on the question: “How do individuals and communities become motivated to contribute their efforts toward a higher cause, with no expectation of immediate, material recompense?”
Faith has shown itself to be key in this regard. Whether faith in the efficacy of the development process, the capacity of the human race, the virtues of family, community, or a host of other ideals, the combination of conviction and aspiration has been central to generating motivation. Among these, religious faith plays a unique and vital role in global development efforts. – p. 6.
Therefore, one reason to have confidence in the future—many people of different faiths all around the world are deeply committed to work for the well-being of people and of the planet.
Some knowledge, though, seems to be a prerequisite for meaningful action, as the BIC statement points out:
The link between religious conviction and service to the common good, however, is by no means automatic. It is entirely possible, for example, to have a congregation of noble-thinking and well-intentioned adherents whose actions do little to contribute to the betterment of society. Clearly there is much to learn about how noble ideals become expressed in committed, sustained action. In this sense, religious communities can be understood as communities of practice in which spiritual teachings are translated into social reality.
The statement then offers the Baha’i community as an example, and explains how Baha’is work to “translate moral and spiritual precepts into the practical forms of a new social reality”:
Baha’is around the globe, in a wide range of settings, are striving to establish a pattern of activity and community life that helps translate moral and spiritual precepts into the practical forms of a new social reality. The Baha’i community readily acknowledges that to uphold high ideals and to become their embodiment are not the same thing. Yet we remain committed to this path of learning, and seek to pursue it not only in explicitly “religious” settings or “development” venues, but across all spheres of life.
Everywhere, Baha’is get together with people of all faiths to study spiritual teachings and apply them to every-day life. Baha’is also offer classes for children and youth that prepare them to become responsible world citizens empowered to address the vital needs of humankind. All these Baha’i classes are free, and available practically everywhere on the planet, with the intention to spiritualize society and to help people in neighborhoods collaboratively work together to improve their living conditions.
In addition, the Wilmette Institute will offer an online course on Sustainable Development and the Prosperity of Humankind, covering issues such as extreme poverty, economic injustice, and the environmental crisis. Course participants will develop a vision of how a spiritual, just, and environmentally sustainable civilization could emerge, and discuss how we can all become agents of change to get there. There is a fee for this course to cover expenses, but there are scholarships available for anyone who needs one. The course will run from September 10 through October 28, 2016. To learn more about the course, or to sign up, click here.
That’s another reason for confidence—growing numbers of people are engaged in continuous education and developing their capacity to improve their own lives and their communities.
Some people may argue that, as individuals, we have no influence on the global problems addressed in the UN’s Sustainable Development Agenda. How can we contribute to ending “poverty and hunger” and to ensuring “that all human beings can fulfill their potential in dignity and equality and in a healthy environment”?
Baha’is believe that sustainability begins in our thoughts, which then translate into reality with wiser decisions. Faith and knowledge will empower us to address the problems confronting our communities. The documentary video Frontiers of Learning illustrates how a culture of spiritual learning and service enables communities on four different continents to transform aspects of their society. As the BIC statement Summoning Our Common Will says, we can learn to build together a “spiritually and materially prospering world civilization.” Won’t you join us?