Monday, March 2, 2009

I have a concern...

I have a concern that Friends are not radical enough in their commitment to the environment.

Peace. When we fail to support environmentalist efforts, we fail to promote peace. The imbalance of use and access of natural resources between the developed and developing nations has resulted in a long and bloody history. Imperialism, slavery, forced migration, territorial wars, and genocide are all direct causes and results of environmental destruction. From the murders of indigenous peoples in the Amazon to the slavery of the people of the Congo, to the attempted genocide of the indigenous peoples of North America, lust for resources has fueled the most obscene violence humanity has ever witnessed. A failure to insist on the centrality of environmentalism in our spiritual practice is a failure to live up to our Testimony of Peace.

Integrity. Integrity is more than just honesty. It implies wholeness, moral rectitude and ethical passion. There is no integrity in taking more than your fair share. There is no integrity in saying you care for the poor, the weak, and the hungry when you are not willing to resist a lifestyle that results in poverty, weakness and hunger in your sisters and brothers. If we are not willing to make difficult and uncomfortable decisions in the name of radical love, then we have no integrity. A failure to make environmental justice a central theme of our lives is a failure to live up to our Testimony of Integrity.

Community. We cannot survive as a species apart from our environment. That we are living lives of relative comfort in the western world does not mean that our collective actions are not leading to very real and very deadly results around the world. For now, we in the West remain largely insulated from the nightmarish results of our actions. Deforestation. Soil erosion. Air pollution. Water pollution and scarcity. Western peoples have disproportionate power because we have disproportionate access to resources (in part because we used imperialism to exploit the resources in other countries). Today our rampant consumerism and thoughtless lifestyles continue to cause shortages, disease, and starvation in the world community. A failure to support radical environmentalist action is a failure to live up to our Testimony of Community.

Equality. It is not a matter of theory that some human beings struggle to survive or die needlessly because they do not have enough clean water, enough land to farm, and enough medicine to get well while others, including many Friends, have so much they think nothing of throwing it away. There is no equality when the foods we purchase are produced by slave labor, deplete the planet's resources, and poison the planet. There is no equality when the products we buy are manufactured unethically. When we are willing to sacrifice the lives of others for our conveniences, pleasures and addictions, then we are utterly failing to live up to our Testimony of Equality.

Simplicity. Gandhi asked us to live simply so that others may simply live. Long before Gandhi, Friends' Testimony of Simplicity was at the heart of a spiritual lifestyle that eschewed greed, hierarchy, and symbols of inequality. Simplicity supported resistance to the world's most deadly fashions. The Testimony of Simplicity, an ancient form of Voluntary Simplicity, is ideally suited to provide spiritual light and integrity to the greater environmentalist movement. But unless Friends are willing to act on their ideals, then "Simplicity" is meaningless: worse, in the light of our great material wealth, the word becomes an obscenity. The destruction of the environment is a direct result of humanity's failure to live in balance. Greed, consumerism, and rampant, irresponsible industrialization have deeply threatened our planet's ability to sustain life. When we consume more than our fair share, when we lust after possessions and make excuses for behaviors we know damage the land, water, and soil upon which our brothers and sisters depend, then we have shamefully failed in our Testimony of Simplicity.

The evidence is mounting. Global warming, desertification, famine, species extinction, pandemic disease, birth defects, chronic illnesses, and natural disasters are increasing in intensity. Most horribly, those who have the least power and the least wealth will suffer first and they will suffer most painfully. We know that women and children suffer disproportionately in natural disasters and from starvation and poverty. We know that the poor suffer first in times of resource scarcity. We know they suffer disproportionately in wars and in refugee camps. We who are fortunate enough to own televisions and computer have seen the faces of the dying. We know what is at stake.

So I issue a jeremiad. Friends are not given to millennialism but I say to you that while we live in comfort and ease, for many of the weakest, poorest, and most egregiously exploited, the end of times are literally at hand. Are we to be the instrument of their deaths, if not by violence then by indifference? We who were called to stand for women's equality, for the absolute and immediate emancipation of slavery, for the end of the world's most popular wars can and must take a radical stand to preserve the environment. It is a matter of justice, of equality, and of love. It is a matter of survival. And we are running out of time.


Lone Star Ma said...

Thank you. I will try to do better.

Hystery said...

Lone Star Ma,

Well you'd better step it up, lady! LOL.

Of course I don't mean this as a diatribe against individuals because I think individual Friends are really more likely than the average population to be on top of this issue. However, I've seen frequent (what is the right word?) ---apologies for our environmental concerns being more indicative of middle-class values or Democratic politics. I want to make it clear that I see that dedication to environmental concerns is deeply spiritual and transcends class and politics. It is integral to our integrity as a spiritual people as well as to our survival as a species.

Priscilla said...

I wonder if the apologetic attitude comes from being influenced by the surrounding theistic society, where the divine is elsewhere--residing outside the body and outside the body of us all, the earth. Seeing the divine within is the hallmark of Friends. If the light is within (us, the earth), then environmentalism is by definition a spiritual activity.

Hystery said...

Priscilla, I was thinking along the same lines. Part of the reason I began calling myself Neo-Pagan was because I do not recognize a divide between the embodied and the spiritual worlds. Any hesitancy to acknowledge spiritual urgency in response to environmental destruction seems to indicate an unFriendly Abrahamic emphasis on transcendence over imminence as a dominant theological framework. I'm still at the beginning of my work with Friends' theological history, but my guess is that even hardline christocentric Friends recognize a softer division between the mundane and the sacred so your suggestion that they may be influenced by worldly (and perhaps Protestant?)influences seems right on the mark to me.

Another possibility is that the very presence of non-theistic and Neo-Pagan Friends may be causing a reactionary theism among more traditional Friends and/or that nontheistic and Neo-Pagan Friends like me may, in an effort to appear less un-Christian, are failing to be as earth-centered as we would be outside of our hyphenated status among Friends. (The only explicitly environmentalist group I've found among Friends is also explicitly Christian). So what's going on?

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