What religion has to say at Copenhagen
By Mark Dowd
COPENHAGEN -- I've had a voice from my past in my mind here at the UN climate summit in Copenhagen. It's my best friend at high school who stopped going to church aged 15: "Religion is boring," Chris said to me. I wish he could have been here to witness 40 faith leaders of all traditions bringing their wisdom to bear on the proceedings.
They've been brought here by the GPIW, the Global Peace Institute of Women and they come none livelier than Joan Chittister, a veritable tornado of energy and also, for many decades now, a Benedictine nun. Sister Joan jetted in from Melbourne and a session of the World Parliament of Religions and I set her a stiff test. What would she say to President Obama if she had a mere 30 seconds in a crowded room with him? "You were not elected to save the past. What made America great in energy is both scarce and dangerous now. It's gone. It's deadly. It's over. Begin alternative energy systems immediately now in the United States. No-one goes to heavens without tears in his eyes," she tells me (him!) "Cry for all those who have suffered as a result of our bad energy choices."
A packed audience at the downtown Climate Forum were kept enraptured by both Sister Joan and Andrew Harvey, an author on spirituality and self-styled architect of "sacred activism." Harvey says politicians will flunk it here and the time is coming for a global movement of religious spirits to forge a new mindset. The Abrahamic traditions will have to confront materialism and our treatment of nature as an external commodity while eastern leaders will have to confront how their asceticism has often resulted in their turning their back on the created world and leaving the poor to fend for themselves. Dominion and elitism have to be sacrificed on the altar of ecological emergency.
But what will these gatherings achieve? You can't foist on these mystics and gurus the burden of working out deals on the nitty-gritty of carbon markets and greenhouse gas mitigation. That's for the politicos. But as Einstein famously remarked, you don't get out of a mess by employing the thinking that got you into the mess in the first place. We're talking the need for paradigm shifts and the mission of these people is to start that process.
So much for religion being "boring."
Mark Dowd has been Operation Noah's director of education and communications since January 2008. He was born in Manchester and was educated by the De La Salle brothers at a Roman Catholic Direct Grant school.
Watch Dowd's special video reports from Copenhagen on Odyssey Networks.
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