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Nature in harmony with faith: The Globe’s monthly panel discusses spiritual perspectives on the environment (Laura Leyshon for The Globe and Mail)
Nature in harmony with faith: The Globe’s monthly panel discusses spiritual perspectives on the environment (Laura Leyshon for The Globe and Mail)

FAITH EXCHANGE

Nature in harmony with faith Add to ...

Howard Voss-Altman: We are constantly touched by God’s creation, whether it’s the small miracle of a spider’s web or the majesty of Banff National Park and the Canadian Rockies. To experience nature is to recognize that we are an integral part of a complex and often incomprehensible world that touches us each day. Sadly, we are also in the process of destroying God’s work, as greed and negligence threatens to overwhelm nature’s delicate balance.

Peter Stockland: Well, this may surprise you, Rabbi Voss-Altman, but I disagree. I certainly agree about the majesty and spider’s web miracles. But the destroying through greed and negligence part? Not so much. Strong arguments are made that the world is on a far better path today than it was during the past 100 years. I think the environmentalist industry has done a good job of frightening us into funding it so it can frighten us with more of its apocalyptic exaggerations.

Howard Voss-Altman: Peter, since we’re not in the Garden of Eden any more (thank goodness), we have been given the unique gift of knowledge, a gift that enables us to see the consequences of our actions. Accordingly, we must use our God-given intelligence to use our resources not only prudently, but wisely. I’m afraid that when our polar ice caps start to melt (as they already have) and when the ozone layer is dangerously diminished, it will be much to late for apologies to our children and grandchildren. I believe our common faiths call for humility, something we are in short supply of at the moment.

Lorna Dueck: Rabbi, I must explore – why would you not want to be in a Garden of Eden any more? The perfect beginning for humanity … we’ve been taking it downhill ever since. I think shalom is going back there.

Howard Voss-Altman: Judaism (at least as I understand it) teaches that as a result of “the Fall,” human beings acquired judgment, the ability to discern right from wrong, and most importantly, a purposeful existence through work. I would not wish to return to a prehuman existence of primarily gathering fruits and vegetables.

Peter Stockland: Humility, by its nature, is always in short supply. It must be the rarest of commodities. But the gift of knowledge leads us to understand balance, and the understanding of balance teaches us to avoid the Chicken Little effect. Sure, we’ve done awful things over the past 100 or 125 years. But the sky hasn’t fallen. It isn’t falling. And I doubt very much that it will fall on my grandchildren. (Assuming I ever have any.)

Guy Nicholson: “Assuming I ever have any” – Peter, have you been plotting strategy with my mother-in-law?

Peter Stockland: Maybe. We’ll never tell.

Guy Nicholson: Peter raised a good point in his first reply. The conflict over the environment is in many ways a conflict about values and priorities. How might your faith’s values guide you in prioritizing things like pipelines, jobs, communities, resources, animals, ecosystems, air quality and the like?

Sheema Khan: Our guiding principle is to do no harm. Where some harm is inevitable, then the harm must be minimized.

In the case of the oil sands, we must weigh harms and benefits. The benefits are primarily economic – this cannot, and should not, be underestimated. On the other hand, we must be cognizant of harm done to the environment, to the lifestyle of those who inhabit the land, and do everything to minimize it. Our priorities should be based on consultations with all stakeholders, in  a respectful, co-operative manner. The Conservative government’s approach – for instance, calling those who oppose the Northern Gateway pipeline extremists – is counterproductive.

April Churchill: We well know the sweat of our brow. We follow our ancient harvest calendar to provide for self and community. Harvesting, preparing and preserving for the year takes a great deal of work and community effort from the spring through winter. On Haida Gwaii, our people are working intimately with all life forms: seaweeds, clams, cockles, all species of fish, sea cucumber, geoduck, mussels, octopus, to name a few of the ocean foods. The forest gifts include trees, medicines, berries and greens.

All is connected. We watch the bears, birds and tide feed the forest and lands. Everything depends on the well-being of the other. The inevitable oil spills will kill and poison the ocean and waterway that feeds the oceans and even the land and forests will suffer. We have lived through ice ages on Haida Gwaii. We know if we care for Haida Gwaii, she will care for us. We also know from millenniums of experience that, when we are not respectful of the Creator’s gifts, there are grave consequences, as our oral histories and stories tell us.

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