‘Religion and Ecology’ Conference




The one-day Second Inter-Religious Forum Conference this year was on Religion and Ecology.  The theme revolved around how the various religions view their spiritual existence in this world, what value do religions assign to nature, if religions carry responsibility for taking care of the environment, and to what extent is this shared responsibility for the environment a  point of contact between the various  spiritual persuasions and if and how this enabled inter-religious dialogue.

Dr. Jaco Beyers and the Vice Dean opening

The Conference was opened by the Vice Dean of the University of Pretoria and Dr. Jaco Beyers of the Department of Religion and Missiology who explained that it was hoped that this IR conference (started last year in the Orange Free State) will continue to happen every year. This year’s papers, will be collated into a book which will then be presented as an advisory document to Parliament, by Dr. Mathole Motshekga.  They exhorted the community leaders to appeal for community engagement in future conferences, in order to promote these IR Conferences.

Prof. Patrick Ryan, from Fordham University in New York, was the first speaker with a PP presentation on the degeneration of the North of the African Continent’s savanna and the gradual and progressive desertification (e.g. an alarming 5km/year in Mali) at the hands of the disregarding imported forms of spirituality, the petrol and forestry industries.

The speaker for the African Traditional Religion, Mr. Elijah Dube, explained how the system of totems and taboos within African Traditional belief system played an important role in the preservation of the environment but saying that the greatest challenge on this front, was the obstacle of poverty which in many cases led to the over-utilization of natural resources.    He summed up by saying that the ATR were ecologically friendly through its totemic and taboos system.

The speaker for the Islamic Faith, Qari Noman Shaikh explained how man has lost his connection with Nature as well as his respect for the environment, but that Islam holds man accountable for his actions in the afterlife.  The Laws of Islam encourage man to look after the environment , peace,  the planting and preservation of nature.  Islam encourages its adherents not to waste and the using of everything in accordance to need.  Islam promises penalties for transgressing the rules of God.

Dr. Phillip R Christensen was the speaker for the Baha’I Faith who expressed how they view Nature as the embodiment of God.  One of their fundamental tenets is the commitment to the environment  for nature reflects the attributes of God and must be respected but not worshipped.  He spoke about the interconnectedness of everything and humanity,  and mentioned that according to the Baha’I faith all religions have one source.  He said that religion was the way to peace and that it can and has the responsibility to inspire its followers to responsibility towards the environment.

The representative for Buddhism, Mr. Willem Visser, an ex student of Rob Nairn, spoke about the necessity to focus on the protection of “our home” through prayers and meditation.  He expressed that man was caught up in a mentality of denial with what pertains the condition of the environment and this was the greatest danger today.  Man is disconnected and does not know how to reconnect.  He made mention of the 3 mind poisons, and that the Buddhist solution is the awakening from the illusion of separativeness and the adoption of new habits, new value and new lifestyles.

Next on the program Dr. Beyers announced the retirement of Dr. Piet van der Merwe and a gift honouring his career in the Faculty of Religion and Missiology as well as his literary works in the field of spirituality and ecology was handed to him.

Speaker number 5 was Dr. Maniraj Sukdaven from the University of the Orange Free State introduced the religion of Hinduism’s stance and introduced a colleague who elaborated on the negative impact of human activity on the environment.  According to Hinduism, all of Nature is sacred and serving it is a chief purpose of Hinduism.  He explained that through the laws of Dharma, Karma, austerities,  Ahimsa, Karma Yoga and vegetarianism, Hinduism promoted the caring for the environment and that Hinduism is expressly an ecological spirituality.

Dr. Attie van Niekerk was the speaker for Christianity.  He confessed that the ideology of subduing and dominating the earth were to blame for the rapacious technological development in the West and that it directly caused the sole focus on inner/religious matters of the Christians, at the cost of external degradation of the environment.   He spoke of the need to revise the stance of the adherents of the Christian faith and arousing in them a feeling of responsibility towards the environment.

Morgause Fonteleve delivering her paper on Paganism and Pantheism

On the Pagan front, our strong environmental awareness was explained through the term Pantheism; the immanent Divine, does not transcend the All-including Oneness of all, but is One with It and all-inclusive.  The collective whole, the cosmos, the earth are all One and sacred.  It was expressed that everything is interconnected and to be considered sacred and worthy of respect; as part of our Greater Body.  Ecology is the way of respect and preservation and should be a natural expression, as well as being our acknowledgement and the embracing the full spectrum of the Divine Experience and Manifestation.  It was stressed that spiritual leaders should encourage men, women and children to act with nobility and truth towards one another and the environment for we are facing a planetary emergency which is a moral and spiritual challenge to the whole of humanity and that this is also our greatest opportunity to lift Global Consciousness to a higher level.

Thau Thau Hamanaruba and Zha-Zha

Thau Thau Hamanaruba presented the Rastafari stance towards ecology, through a spirituality of peace, love and harmony.  He described the essence of Nature and, the why of Rastafari vegetarianism and the need for balance and harmony between mankind and the environment.  He said that all of this could be achieved through conscious awareness of the interconnectedness of everything, through a diet that attains to the rule of raw, fresh and natural which is the essence of nature.  He used the example of how daily, kilograms of Koeberg’s radioactive waste are being disposed of in cement bunkers in San land (people on the brink of extinction), despite the fact that nobody knows what will be the results further down the line.  He expressed the urgent need of all religions and spiritualities to develop ecologically friendly theologies and the discarding of apocalyptic philosophies which do nothing to promote the preservation of the environment.

Rabbi Gideon Pogrund was unable to attend the Conference to represent the Jewish Faith (as he was summoned to another Conference overseas) and Dr. Mathole Motshekga had to attend an emergency sitting in Parliament.

Next year’s conference will be on the subject of gender and abuse and will probably be held at Unisa.


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