The Interfaith And Multi-Faith Movement Is A Dead End
There are two meanings to the word ‘faith.’ The first pertains to belief systems and gives primacy to organized religion; the second pertains to trust and confidence, and gives primacy to those essential qualities within and between individuals.
Belief systems and politics make compatible, if malignant bedfellows because both rest on shaping and manipulating the human mind. Despite or because organized religions and the nation-states are in their death throes, right-wing movements are ascendant worldwide.
In short, operating in terms of political power is a much more comfortable fit for religious fundamentalists and right wing political extremists than it is with liberal organizations.
Whether from the right or the left however, the more that religious faith infuses public discourse regarding the global ecological crisis, the more that trust and confidence in humanity is destroyed in the individual.
In recent years there has been an attempt on the left to harness the power of “faith-based organizations” to influence the policies of national governments and international institutions.
However whereas the right is succeeding and seceding from democracy all over the world, the left is failing and flailing with its ‘interfaith’ and ‘multi-faith’ idealism. The interfaith and multi-faith movement is a dead end.
The unspoken or unseen assumptions of even the most well-intentioned and progressive faith-based organizations are that a) there is no alternative except to engage with political power; and b) radical change within the individual and human consciousness is neither necessary nor possible.
An egregious example of the corruption of political power merging with dying belief systems is evangelical Christianity in America, which has become synonymous with the takeover of the Republican Party by a man who sits on the right hand of the devil and has openly stated his goal of replacing the rule of law with dictatorship.
On the left, the ineffectuality of religious trafficking in political power is epitomized by GreenFaith, an “Eco-Theology” faith-based organization that’s a player at the Cop conferences, including the present one, Cop28, in Dubai.
GreenFaith attempts to combine spiritual values, religious leaders, and caring for the earth with the activist’s staple of education, training and lobbying endeavors.
GreenFaith’s founder is an Episcopalian priest, Rev. Fletcher Harper, who the organization describes as “a pioneer of the global religious environmental movement.” He “helped spearhead the faith-based fossil fuel divestment movement, and mobilized tens of thousands of people of faith for climate marches and public actions.”
In other words, except for the religious patina, GreenFaith operates just like a plethora of secular environmental organizations.
I spoke with GreenFaith’s representative to Cop28 in Dubai, Meryne Warah, a Kenyan, a few days ago. When asked about the efficacy of thinking and lobbying in terms of the North-South divide on carbon emissions and wealth, she sang from the standard activist’s hymnal: “We need to hold the North accountable, but proceed by prioritizing local people.”
Her most passionate response was less conventional: “I believe in the sanctity of the earth and humanity and all people. We need a global, multi-faith, grass roots revolution, which can prevail against the fossil fuel industry.”
When I inquired how that could be achieved however, Meryne spoke of “faith leaders of power affecting the environmental policies of political leaders who have the power.”
Taking power as a given, and trying to meet the ecological crisis by operating within the rotten structures of international power dynamics, is the same failed approach that has burned out so many secular activists. The only difference is the retention of the belief systems. And that can only make matters even worse.
Whether on the right or the left, faith-based organizations are the activist arms of belief systems and organized religions. As such they are part of the problem. That’s because the closer religions get to the centers of power, the more corrupted they become.
Moreover, the petty politics of nation-states, and the corporate interests they largely serve, are wholly inadequate to meeting the ecological crisis wrought by man’s consciousness as a whole, which bleeds across all borders.
Whether some international institutions (like the UN) can be reformed I don’t know, but the assumption about belief systems and power – that both are indispensable – is false. The nation-state paradigm is crumbling before our eyes, and its toxic wellspring, nationalism, has become fatally poisonous.
The planetary climate and ecological crisis is not the result of the failure of national governments and their policies in any case, but the main symptom of the crisis of human consciousness itself, which has reached its logical end in our age.
The present crisis is not a societal challenge that can be placed within quasi-scientific studies of history, or theories about previous cultures and their collapse due to over-stressing their environments.
For the first time in human history, humankind is faced with a growing planetary crisis of our entire species, an unparalleled climacteric stemming from human consciousness itself, for which there is no historical precedent.
The confluence of man’s war on nature and man’s war on each other has become lethal to everyone’s mental/emotional health, and thus to the human spirit itself.
Can a minority of people face and bring abiding insight into the overwhelming fragmentary tendencies of thought? Can the assumption of the necessity of belief systems end?