Thursday, November 10, 2011

Spirituality, Religion and Ecology for Transformation _ Fr.Xavier Manjooran

Spirituality, Religion and Ecology for Transformation

“The world stands in need of liberation, my lord”. These words of a song depict the cry of millions of people in the world. In response to this song someone in the internet ( wrote, “God bless you my friend and hear your voice. it is the voice of all humans in this planet”.  People want liberation from poverty, oppression, corruption, all kinds of exploitations and injustices. Every normal human being longs for a happy and peaceful life. But that does not seem to be happening today. Poverty is  increasing, millions of people go to bed everyday hungry, thousands of children are dying of malnutrition every day, millions do not have shelter, indigenous people are pushed out from their abode and thrown into the streets, forests are denuded and people’s lively hood is destroyed, corruption is rampant. Indeed the world stands in need of liberation from all these. In other words the world needs to be changed, transformed into a place where everyone is happy. The Training for Transformation is a response to that. It focuses on the transformation of self and society. However, transformation does not happen all of a sudden nor does it happen once and for all. It is a process that will go on if proper atmosphere is created, and right steps are taken. In this essay we want to discuss how spirituality, religion and ecology contribute to the transformation of society. We shall first try to understand the meaning of spirituality, religion and ecology and  then go on to explain how they are connected to transformation of society.

The first question we might ask is what is spirituality and how it is connected to transformation? As Wikipedia mentions spirituality can be defined as an ultimate or immaterial reality, an inner path enabling one to discover the essence of one’s being. It is a call, an inner voice, to genuineness, to be what you are and to become what you are meant to be. Like a bud becoming full bloomed flower with the help of sunlight, fresh air and conducive environment, spirituality helps one to become fully human. Spirituality helps one to live one's life authentically, that is, in the way human life should be lived. Spirituality is a way of life through which we express God’s actual presence in our life helping us and directing us to make choices  to become more and more human and to work for a  just, caring and sharing society. This also means our lives have to be directed according to the values that will show the presence of God in our lives. “We recognize it in love, in generosity, in courage, in the search for meaning, in commitment to justice, in creativity  and in co creation such as music, great works of art and literature” (Reader-1,2010) Hence it is something that affects every aspect of our life.

That means, spirituality has to be contextualized.  It cannot be divorced from or ignoring the reality around us. When there is injustice and exploitation, spirituality will inspire us to respond constructively with the values that will help human beings fully human. Spirituality, therefore, will inspire to denounce all that is inhuman and to announce all that is human and will work for a just society.  It requires courage and conviction like that of prophets to denounce all that is against human values  and to announce  the values of the  Kingdom.  Hence spirituality, has to be prophetic. The life of Oscar Romero, the Arch bishop of El Salvador is a very telling example of this prophetic spirituality. His spirituality inspired him to denounce the oppressive government and to fight for justice and freedom for his country at the cost of his own life.  Spirituality opens our hearts to all, especially to the poor, the marginalized and the exploited and helps to ask the ‘why’ of the exploitation. In my context my predecessor, Fr. Joseph Idiakunnel, a Jesuit priest, inspired by his spirituality started his work with the indigenous people of Gujarat, India, and began a free legal aid centre to create awareness among the Adivasis (the indigenous, aboriginal people are known as adivasis in India)  of their rights. His work helped the people to fight the cases of injustice. This gave the Adivasis hope that justice is possible and that they can live with dignity and courage to fight for their due place in the society. Besides the political leadership of that area was in the hands of non-adivasis. As a result of Fr. Joseph’s intervention the political leadership today is in the hands of the Adivasis. They have realized their power and dignity; the sense of fear and helplessness has gone away. They are becoming more self reliant. The process of transformation has started, though still a long way to go to build a just and equitable society.  This transformation will be possible if the struggle continues adhering to the values of godliness.

Now let us define religion. “Religion is a search for God and to understand one’s relationship with him/her and to strengthen it and to see the link between our daily life and the transcendent spirit” (reader-1,Spirituality, Religion and Commitment to justice). Many consider spirituality and religion, both as a search for God. But there are more and more people who consider spirituality different from religion. Religion can be considered as one way of expressing spirituality. Wikipedia explains that the main difference is that religion is more an external search while spirituality is an internal search, within oneself. (Wikipedia, accessed on 31 Oct 2010)
The word ‘religion’ comes from the Latin word re+ligare, means to re-connect, to bind again. In this sense religion is that which connects individual with God, with one another and with the nature. In Sanskrit language religion is called ‘dharma’ which means duty, human being’s  duty to God, to one another and to the creation. This duty is to live a happy life, help others to live happily and to take care of the nature in order that the world created by God is a happy place to live.   Religion gives set of rules, values and teachings that explain and show how to be happy and be interconnected.  It has got a community of believers who find meaning for their existence and happiness through these doctrines.  So religion is not concerned about God and individual only but also about society and the nature. Commitment to justice and creating a just order is also part of religion. This is echoed in the declaration made at the Parliament of World Religions (1993 and 1999) where all religions agreed to “a commitment to respect for life and non violence (to the earth, to animals and all people), a commitment to a culture of truthfulness and trust worthiness, a commitment to a just economic system and a commitment to a culture of partnership between women and men”. So we can say religion is to empower the spirituality of its followers to build a just society.  In our context, in India, Gandhiji, was a staunch follower of Hinduism. He fought against caste system and his religion inspired him to fight against oppressive colonialism and to demand for freedom for India. His fight for freedom with a spirituality of non-violence, respect for persons lead the country to liberation.  It is very clear that if religion is practiced as it is meant to be, it will lead to transforming the unjust society.

Religions need institutions to help the followers, to organize the worship and pass on the teachings and the doctrines they have received. However, when these rules and doctrines and worship are adhered to as an end in itself, they can become obstacles for transformation.  Often the spirit and the purpose behind the doctrine and the teachings are forgotten and they become a cause of power struggle, oppression and exploitation. Study of history tells us that more wars are fought and atrocities are committed in the world in the name of religions than any other cause. In 2002, more than 2000 Muslims were killed in Gujarat, India, in the name of religion. The government supporting the Hindu fundamentalists  allowed this genocide to take place in which hundreds of women were raped, videos taken, a pregnant woman’s stomach  was cut open  and the fetus was thrown into fire. Shops were looted, properties were destroyed and the Muslim community had to run away for their life-all these in the name of protecting one’s religion. This example tells us how religion can deform the society rather than transform it. It is at this time that people with prophetic spirituality have to intervene. As in the Bible the prophet Jeremiah was mandated by the Lord “to uproot and pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant” (Jeremiah, ch.1:10) these structures need to be destroyed  and new transforming structures have to be built in order to achieve the transformation of the society.

We believe ecology is another vehicle for transformation of society. According to  Wikipedia (accessed on 30 October 2010,at 1.42 pm) ecology deals with interactions between individual organisms and their surroundings, including interactions with both species of the same kind  and members of other species. All these organisms are necessary for the survival and well being of the human kind and a happy society. A central principle of ecology is that each living organism has an ongoing and continual relationship with every other element that makes up its environment.

God created the earth and the universe and then created man and woman and  placed them in Paradise so that they can be happy. They were also told not to eat the fruit of the tree at the centre. This was necessary for their happy life there. But the man, because of his greediness plucked the fruit of the forbidden tree and ate it. This was the beginning of all sorrows and destructions (Genesis,ch.1). This example is a good reminder for us that the creation is for our use but it is not to be plundered for our greed or else the whole human race will suffer. This is what is happening today. The greed for profit has driven human beings to plunder the earth, destroy the forest, kill animals. This has lead to all kinds of disasters- global warming, tsunamis, unheard of sicknesses, lack of drinking water, rain etc.  So it is necessary  to use the  things of nature for our need and for our survival, not for greed and profit. The indigenous community in India always considered the earth as their mother and the forest as the abode of their gods. They protected the forest, coexisted with the animals and lived a happy life. It was the British who took away their land, cut their forest and introduced them to private property and profit motive. As the chief Seattle (1885) wrote to the President of America, “Every part of the earth is sacred to my people. Every shining pine needle, every sandy shore, every mist in the dark woods, every meadow, every humming insect, all are holy in the memory and experience of my people… the earth is our mother?”. An example of this is how the indigenous community (Adivasis)  in Orissa,India, fought against a multinational company called Vedanta and protected the forest there. The company wanted to dig out Bauxite from Niyamgiri, a vast area of  thick forest in Orissa, which was the religious place of the adivasi community. The fight for justice in the name of their religion made the government to stop the whole project and save the forest and the worship place. This has given courage and strength to the community to stand for their right and become self-reliant. Religion here has helped in the transformation of that community.

Ecological problems are very much connected with the social problems such as socio economic, cultural and gender conflicts of the society we live in. These are at the core of the most serious ecological dislocations we face today.  The effect of environmental destruction is more  on the poor, marginalized and vulnerable communities. It also impacts on fragile plants, animals and eco systems. (Bookchin, Murray 1993 & also Gadgil,M 1992). Hence caring for the earth, for ecology, will help resolving the  social problems and that will contribute to the transformation of the society. Hence the attitude of hoarding and exploiting the nature to satisfy the greed of the individuals and the nations has to be changed. Nature is to be experienced and not to be exploited. When we care for nature, the nature will care for us and it will lead to social transformation. But the change has to start with self, “to change those aspects of ourselves that block us from connecting with nature, with our fellow creatures, and with God. Our dominion over the natural world, made clear at the beginning of Genesis, is a mandate for gentle, just stewardship. We are called to eradicate within ourselves those aspects of our character that conflict with that mandate, and because we have free will and grace we can succeed in accomplishing this great transformation”(Schwyzer 2006).  

From the above discussions we have seen that Spirituality, religion and ecology are not only very much interconnected but can contribute to the transformation of the society. Spirituality, Religion and Ecology are like three overlapping circles and the intersect is the process of transformation. The more each of these three functions effectively the more the process of transformation is enhanced. What is required is the call to be genuine and to become fully human has to be lived with all the values that will enhance this becoming,  religion will support and facilitate this spirituality and empower its followers to build a just society with respect for nature, concern for all, and sharing with all, real transformation will take place.
Fr.Xavier Manjooran


1 comment:

  1. Religion and ecology is an emerging area of study, research, and engagement that embraces multiple disciplines, including environmental studies, geography, history, anthropology, sociology, and politics. Thanks a lot.

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