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A Sustainable Environment—Service to the Common Good

Arthur Lyon Dahl | Aug 18, 2015

PART 5 IN SERIES Exploring the Pope's Encyclical

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.

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Arthur Lyon Dahl | Aug 18, 2015

PART 5 IN SERIES Exploring the Pope's Encyclical

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.

…is there any deed in the world that would be nobler than service to the common good? Is there any greater blessing conceivable for a man, than that he should become the cause of the education, the development, the prosperity and honor of his fellow-creatures? No, by the Lord God! The highest righteousness of all is for blessed souls to take hold of the hands of the helpless and deliver them out of their ignorance and abasement and poverty, and with pure motives, and only for the sake of God, to arise and energetically devote themselves to the service of the masses, forgetting their own worldly advantage and working only to serve the general good. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Secret of Divine Civilization, p. 103.

Pope Francis, in his new encyclical on the environment and poverty, focuses primarily on the universal spiritual principle of the common good:

Underlying the principle of the common good is respect for the human person as such, endowed with basic and inalienable rights ordered to his or her integral development. It has also to do with the overall welfare of society and the development of a variety of intermediate groups, in applying the principle of subsidiarity. Outstanding among those groups is the family, as the basic cell of society. Finally, the common good calls for social peace, the stability and security provided by a certain order which cannot be achieved without particular concern for distributive justice; whenever this is violated, violence always ensues. Society as a whole, and the state in particular, are obliged to defend and promote the common good. (§157)

The notion of the common good also extends to future generations…. We can no longer speak of sustainable development apart from intergenerational solidarity. Once we start to think about the kind of world we are leaving to future generations, we look at things differently; we realize that the world is a gift which we have freely received and must share with others. Since the world has been given to us, we can no longer view reality in a purely utilitarian way, in which efficiency and productivity are entirely geared to our individual benefit. Intergenerational solidarity is not optional, but rather a basic question of justice, since the world we have received also belongs to those who will follow us. (§159)

The fifth chapter of the Papal encyclical develops lines of approach and action, the major paths of dialogue that help us to escape the spiral of self-destruction that currently engulfs the natural world. Central to this is the concept of the oneness of humankind so central in the Baha’i teachings:

There has been a growing conviction that our planet is a homeland and that humanity is one people living in a common home. An interdependent world not only makes us more conscious of the negative effects of certain lifestyles and models of production and consumption which affect us all; more importantly, it motivates us to ensure that solutions are proposed from a global perspective, and not simply to defend the interests of a few countries. Interdependence obliges us to think of one world with a common plan. (§164)

Our world has entered the dark heart of an age of fundamental change beyond anything in all of its tumultuous history. Its peoples, of whatever race, nation, or religion, are being challenged to subordinate all lesser loyalties and limiting identities to their oneness as citizens of a single planetary homeland. – The Universal House of Justice, introduction to Baha’u’llah’s Most Holy Book, p. 11.

The concept of the oneness of humankind and of the planet as our common home has obvious implications for international approaches to governance, so pertinent with the coming UN summit on the post-2015 agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals, and the December Climate Change Conference (COP21) in Paris. There, it has become obvious, the world’s nations will need to prioritize the planet’s and humanity’s common good above all other considerations:

International negotiations cannot make significant progress due to positions taken by countries which place their national interests above the global common good. Those who will have to suffer the consequences of what we are trying to hide will not forget this failure of conscience and responsibility. (§169)

Halfway measures simply delay the inevitable disaster. Put simply, it is a matter of redefining our notion of progress. (§194)

The Papal letter also makes some very specific comments on issues central to the environmental debate that will take place at the upcoming Paris conference and at those destined to follow:

Politics must not be subject to the economy, nor should the economy be subject to the dictates of an efficiency-driven paradigm of technocracy. Today, in view of the common good, there is urgent need for politics and economics to enter into a frank dialogue in the service of life, especially human life. (§189)

In his encyclical, Pope Francis asks humanity, just as the Baha’i Faith has done for the past 150 years, to go beyond the parochial interests of individual nations in favor of the common interests of all:

In these days there must needs be a mighty power of accord instilled into the nations. The principles of the oneness of the world of humanity must be proclaimed, understood and put into practice, so that all the nations and religions may again remember the long-forgotten fact – that they are all… the denizens of one land. Are they not breathing one air? Is not the same sun shining upon all? Are they not the sheep of one flock? Is not God the universal shepherd? Is he not kind unto all?

Let us banish the phantasmal thoughts of east and west, north and south, European and American, English and German, Persian and French.

Consider the creation of the infinite universe. This globe of ours is one of the smallest planets. Those stupendous bodies revolving in yonder immeasurable space, the infinite blue canopy of God, are many times greater than our small earth. To our eyes this globe appears spacious; yet when we look upon it with divine eyes, it is reduced to the tiniest atom. This small planet is not worthy of division. Is it not one home, one native land? Is not all humanity one race? – Abdu’l-Baha, Divine Philosophy, pp. 177-178.

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