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It seems like every day brings us continuing headlines about the state of our environment, usually connected to a current catastrophe. When the mail is delivered, we can also depend on finding various appeals to sign a petition and send money to help save some component of our natural world: the oceans, the land, the atmosphere or the animals. We each probably have to pick and choose which we will support, because sending money to all would be financially impossible.
Or we could all just include everything with an all-purpose “SAVE THE PLANET!” bumper sticker, to remind us that it needs saving.
In theory, saving the planet is a good idea. However, this proclamation may lead us away from the reality that the planet has saved itself for millions of years before us, and will continue to do so millions of years after us. Nature will do what it has always done — when not in balance, it will adjust itself, sometimes with alarming consequences. The Baha’i teachings proclaim this important spiritual reality:
Reflect upon the inner realities of the universe, the secret wisdoms involved, the enigmas, the inter-relationships, the rules that govern all. For every part of the universe is connected with every other part by ties that are very powerful and admit of no imbalance, nor any slackening whatever. – Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 157.
As humans we have created a massive imbalance on the planet our very existence depends on. This imbalance simply reflects where we are as human beings at this point in our history. As early as 1932, Shoghi Effendi, the Guardian of the Baha’i Faith, wrote:
We need a change of heart, a reframing of all our conceptions and a new orientation of our activities. The inward life of man as well as his outward environment have to be reshaped if human salvation is to be secured. – 27 May 1932, letter to an individual Baha’i.
Baha’is see the environmental crisis as a crisis of the human spirit. According to the Baha’i International Community, the unfettered exploitation of planetary natural resources is one symptom of a “sickness of the human spirit”. This sickness underpins decisions unduly influenced by profit and greed. The result is we deny ourselves the blessings of God. Destroying the Amazon rain forest, described as the lungs of the world, deprives us of the oxygen it creates — and the natural medicines that can be developed into treatment and cures. In polluting the water and air, we poison ourselves. When the realities of our natural world, such as volcanoes, flood plains, and fault lines, are not factored into our planning and building, we subject ourselves to the inherent danger they present. Can we then raise our hands to God and ask Him why things go wrong?
It can be tempting to deny any human responsibility for the unfolding environmental crisis, and feel that nature is doing something to us — but this denial will not save us from the consequences. However, through the bounty of God, we can choose to voluntarily change our course of action, embrace our connection to nature and then decide to properly administrate the great gift that has been bestowed upon us:
It is evident therefore that man is ruler over nature’s sphere and province. Nature is inert, man is progressive. Nature has no consciousness, man is endowed with it. Nature is without volition and acts perforce whereas man possesses a mighty will. Nature is incapable of discovering mysteries or realities whereas man is especially fitted to do so. Nature is not in touch with the realm of God, man is attuned to its evidences. Nature is uninformed of God, man is conscious of Him. Man acquires divine virtues, nature is denied them. Man can voluntarily discontinue vices, nature has no power to modify the influence of its instincts. – Abdu’l-Baha, Baha’i World Faith, pp. 236-237.
So a more realistic bumper sticker might read “SAVE THE HUMANS!”, because the planet will continue to exist by rebalancing itself, with or without us. The real question becomes — will we decide to save ourselves?
If we do, whatever decisions we make must flow from a more mature understanding of our relationship to our earth and our relationship to our spiritual reality. With that more mature viewpoint we can utilize nature to enhance, not diminish; to responsibly develop, not exploit; to preserve and protect, not extinguish. When looking at the natural world that surrounds us, we need to like what we see — because we really only look in nature’s mirror, which reflects ourselves and our own hearts.