What role can religion play in tackling the major social issues of our time—including the global environmental challenge of climate change?

Some people would say that religion and social or governmental policies should have nothing to do with each other—but religion teaches moral and spiritual truths, so every faithful person has a responsibility to act on those truths. The Baha’i teachings make that principle quite clear:

Happy are they who act; happy are they who understand; happy the man that hath clung unto the truth, detached from all that is in the heavens and all that is on earth. – Baha’u’llah, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, p. 138.

O well-beloved ones! The tabernacle of unity hath been raised; regard ye not one another as strangers. Ye are the fruits of one tree, and the leaves of one branch. We cherish the hope that the light of justice may shine upon the world and sanctify it from tyranny. – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 218.

After all, religion has played a major role in social change for a very long time. In dealing with issues of war, poverty and human rights, almost every religion has weighed in, prompting believers to follow the teachings of their founders and apply those spiritual principles to current policy concerns.

Christ asked his followers, for example, to pay particular attention to the poor and needy—and Christianity puts special emphasis on doing exactly that, with thousands of churches and their parishioners working hard to alleviate the suffering that poverty and homelessness creates, and to tackle the root causes of poverty, as well.

However—concerns about poverty, war and human freedom have existed for centuries. We know, if we follow just about any Faith, that we have a responsibility not only to other people but to God to do our best to alleviate those concerns. All true religion teaches kindness, caring and compassion for our fellow human beings, so it seems natural and right to respond in any positive way we can to those issues.

But what about the new issues, the ones that have presented themselves to us during the period of our recent history? What about labor strife; cloning; reproductive rights? What about global environmental issues, especially climate change?

Some religious groups have decided to address the issue of climate change by broadly applying the ancient and more general teachings of their Faith—love for others, concern for the well-being of humanity as a whole and stewardship of our natural, God-given environment. On the other hand, some religious groups have vehemently opposed the science surrounding climate change, called it a hoax and pressured their elected representatives in various governments to ignore it.

This drastically polarized, split response, often driven more by political than religious concerns, has divided families and Faiths.

The Baha’i Faith, though, has a built-in mechanism designed to deal constructively and spiritually with these kinds of newly-arising issues. This unique, divinely ordained structure prevents schism and division, upholding the unity the Baha’i teachings call for in every human and religious endeavor, and emphasizing the deep spiritual principles Baha’u’llah brought. Three of those important principles have a direct bearing on the subject of climate change.

First, the Baha’i teachings call for the agreement of science and religion:

Every religion which is not in accordance with established science is superstition. Religion must be reasonable. If it does not square with reason, it is superstition and without foundation. It is like a mirage, which deceives man by leading him to think it is a body of water. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 63.

Second, the Baha’i teachings exalt scientists and commend their important work:

The highest praise is due to men who devote their energies to science, and the noblest center is a center wherein the sciences and arts are taught and studied. Science ever tends to the illumination of the world of humanity. It is the cause of eternal honor to man, and its sovereignty is far greater than the sovereignty of kings. The dominion of kings has an ending; the king himself may be dethroned; but the sovereignty of science is everlasting and without end. –Ibid., p. 348.

Third, the Baha’i Faith has an administrative system that provides continuing, contemporary guidance on emerging issues—a democratically-elected global governing body called the Universal House of Justice. Whatever subjects the original Baha’i writings—from the founder of the Faith, Baha’u’llah; from the Center of its Covenant, Abdu’l-Baha; and from its Guardian, Shoghi Effendi—do not cover, the Universal House of Justice can consult about, legislate on and implement among the world’s Baha’is.

Recently, in November of 2017, the Universal House of Justice, through its Secretariat, wrote a lengthy, detailed letter on the subject of global climate change. In this series of articles, we’ll look at that letter sequentially, point by point, and explore its ramifications, especially where they concern the question of religion’s role in reducing climate change.

Utilizing this guidance from the Universal House of Justice, and applying the Baha’i teachings themselves, we can forge a new approach to the world’s environmental issues.

The opinions and views expressed in this article are those of the author only and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of BahaiTeachings.org or any institution of the Baha’i Faith.

11 Comments

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  • Paul Platner
    Feb 23, 2018
    What people are looking for is not how we debate, but how we act. We know that mankind has abused resources and has caused damage, we have also seen great efforts in cleanup and conservation. If we have affected the climate, we have the guidance to act, reflect, and consult on the appropriate actions. If we have not affected the climate, we have the guidance to act, reflect, and consult on the appropriate actions. Let us not waste resources or words. We know what to do, unify. "The principle of the Oneness of Mankind, as proclaimed by Baha’u’llah....that its realization ...is fast approaching, and that nothing short of a power that is born of God can succeed in establishing it." – Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Baha’u’llah, pp. 42-43.
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  • Rosslyn and Steven Osborne
    Feb 19, 2018
    Thank you David
  • Neil Chase
    Feb 19, 2018
    Can we agree that air pollution is caused by industry, as well as volcanos? Rather than invoking the contentious term, "global warming" Why not simply reduce industrial air pollution, especially in urban areas? If that were done, it would be interesting to see if there is a correlation with temperature. If that can't be done, at least give the children cocoa, as was done in Mexico City, to reverse brain damage caused by the pollution.
  • Ray LINDSTROM
    Feb 19, 2018
    The Universal House of Justice did indeed provide instruction for we Baha'is regarding Anthropogenic Climate Change! (29 Nov 17). I found no place in the letter where our Supreme Governing Body neither advise, nor negated, any opinion of that singular hypothesis. And it strongly proposed de-politicalizing with our sacred fold. As much as one scientific opinion accepts the idea of man made global warming (the intended context behind the current political lexicon), I find this is equally addressed by modern science that questions only one key point, that being the extent of the anthropogenic influence. The science is not in, ...as has been politically suggested here and in other venues! Scientific research is most astute, but not infallible!
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    • Feb 19, 2018
      In the 2017 statement by the UHJ, among other quotes: "...there does exist at present a striking degree of agreement among experts in relevant fields about the cause and impact of climate change." I cannot see how talking about science as I understand it can be called proselytizing. I am deeply disheartened to be attacked for this even by Baha'is. This is the very divisiveness that most of the UHJ message is devoted to.
  • Feb 18, 2018
    I believe this is one of the most serious problems our society is facing. Also, if we start seriously taking steps to deal with it, the same steps will help deal with other problems, like income inequality, pollution, and the fact that our energy and agricultural systems are not sustainable and are likely to fail just when population peaks around 2050. So I study the issue, I teach what I have learned in every venue I can find (like Community College), and I am striving to make my own lifestyle as low-emissions as practical.
    • Ray LINDSTROM
      Feb 19, 2018
      Please try to identify how your proselyting this AGW/ACC theory agrees with the message of the 29 November 2017 letter from the Universal House of Justice
  • Feb 18, 2018
    Global warming has been debunked as a hoax, by rhetoric, not by science. I have spent a lot of time looking into these claims. None have been verifiable, and most are easily refuted by logic, science, or statistics. If you can come up with one claim that you think is scientific, showing that global warming is a hoax, I will check it out and report my findings, here or elsewhere.
  • Feb 18, 2018
    I refer to all those sources you mention. I check them against my own knowledge of science. I even do my best to check out the things that "deniers" say. I find all these sources, and the UHJ and the Pope, to be consistent with each other.
  • Charles Boyle
    Feb 18, 2018
    OK, so now you have offered the guidance, please share the action we should take, or you have taken?
  • Feb 18, 2018
    This is wonderful. I am so thrilled that you are writing a series on this most important Global issue. Thank you David.