Friday, 17 November 2017

Humanity, Nature & Faith - Lessons from Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam & Judaism

These are the five original Faith Declarations on Nature which were created in 1986, at a meeting held in Assisi by WWF-International. The meeting stemmed from an idea by HRH the Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh at which five leaders of the five major world religions – Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam and Judaism – were invited to come and discuss how their faiths could and should help save the natural world. 

By 1995 when the Alliance of Religions and Conservation was formed, the five initial faiths had issued more detailed statements, and six other significant world faiths had also made their statements about the environment. Links to the book, Faith in Conservation, published by the World Bank, in which all these eleven statements were published together for the first time, can be found at the end of this document.

The Religious Imperative To Fight Climate Change: Environmental Stewardship And World Religions

One may easily argue that climate change represents the greatest ever threat to the continued existence of civilization. And such a threat, global and multi-generational in its scope, cannot long go unabated. Let me be very clear: We humans cannot, under any circumstances, afford to ignore climate change. Rather, we have to muster our very best efforts to combat it, both for our own safety and the safety of all future persons.
But how can we effectively communicate the kind of peril that a rapidly warming planet poses? Despite a nearly continuous stream of headlines referencing the dire reality of the environmental crisis, many people around the world continue to ignore climate change, simply do not know about or understand it—thus underestimating it—and still others deny its destructive capabilities, or even its very existence, altogether.
If there are inroads to be made for the cause of confronting climate change, they will be made through convincing individuals that it is in their best interests, and in the interests of their loved ones, to pursue environmental wellbeing. We must convince the people of the world that maintaining a stable climate is in line with their values. We must appeal to them on an almost spiritual level.
One of the most effective ways to open the hearts and minds of the masses is through religion. On an individual basis, religion represents our inmost principles: those concepts and ideals closest to and most comfortable for us. Religion usually provides, for those who adhere to it, useful notions for navigating and enjoying life in what is otherwise an indifferent and often unfair world.
However, despite humanity’s predilection for religion—the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life reported that, in 2012, 84 percent of all people adhered to some form of religion—religious values have not kept us from pursuing the selfish practices which have led to the ecological disaster we now find ourselves in the midst of. I think it best, then, that we review some of the world’s great faith traditions and see for ourselves what they have to say (or at least imply) about environmental stewardship:
One of Buddhism’s central tenets, a so-called brahmavihara—a cardinal virtue—is compassion (karuna). Indeed, the Buddhist tradition is built upon the fundamental principle of reducing suffering—an ethical concept that has come to be known as “negative utilitarianism.” According to the Buddha, an enlightened person is one who has relinquished the “three poisons” (trivisa) of ignorance (moha), ill-will (dvesha), and greed (raga), which together form the root of endless attachments or cravings (tanha), none of which can ever be fully satisfied in a world of impermanent phenomena, thus ultimately leading to suffering or dis-ease (dukkha). The enlightened person, overcoming his ego and attachments, renounces the pursuit of needless pleasures and looks upon the world—rife with the suffering of living beings—with an eye of compassion, as well as loving-kindness. (Metta.)
The spirit of renunciation, humility, love, and simplicity is totally anathema to the kind of wasteful consumer culture which has given rise to anthropogenic climate change.
Among the Buddha’s five precepts (pancasilani), which practitioners are expected to undertake in almost all schools of Buddhism, there is the vow “to abstain from killing,” with the following elaboration from the Cunda Kammaraputta Sutta, a section of the Buddhist Pali Canon: “There is the case where a certain person, abandoning the taking of life, abstains from the taking of life. He dwells with his rod laid down, his knife laid down, scrupulous, merciful, compassionate for the welfare of all living beings.”
The fourteenth and current Dalai Lama, the head of the Gelug school of Tibetan Buddhism and probably the most well-known Buddhist in the public imagination, has repeatedly called for strong action to combat climate change.
In the Old Testament’s Book of Jeremiah we read: “And I brought you into a plentiful land to enjoy its fruits and its good things. But when you came in, you defiled my land and made my heritage an abomination.” (Jeremiah 2:7.) Elsewhere in that book, we read: “How long will the land mourn and the grass of every field wither? For the evil of those who dwell in it the beasts and the birds are swept away, because they said, “He will not see our latter end.”” (Jeremiah 12:4.)
Does this not suggest that God looks down upon—seriously judges—those who would abuse and destroy his creation? Christ himself speaks in near-poetic terms about the beauty and glory inherent in nature, God’s original providence: “Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.” (Matthew 6:28-29.)
Pope Francis, the current head of the Catholic Church, has, on many occasions, called on the world to better protect the environment. Notably, in 2015, Francis released the papal encyclical Laudeto si’, a critique of unabated consumerism and continued ecological harm.
In September of 2017, Pope Francis released a joint message alongside the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, leader of the Eastern Orthodox Church—the largest Christian church after the Catholic Church—urging humanity to “care for the whole of creation”. In their message they state: “Our propensity to interrupt the world’s delicate and balanced ecosystems, our insatiable desire to manipulate and control the planet’s limited resources, and our greed for limitless profit in markets – all these have alienated us from the original purpose of creation.”
Hinduism, arguably the world’s oldest organized religion—or, more realistically, a complex of many different religions bound together by similar ideas and origins—places a special emphasis on the value of the natural world. On this topic, Dr. Pankaj Jain, associate professor of philosophy and religion at the University of North Texas, writes in the Huffington Post, “Our environmental actions affect our karma. Karma, a central Hindu teaching, holds that each of our actions creates consequences — good and bad — which constitute our karma and determine our future fate… Moral behavior creates good karma, and our behavior toward the environment has karmic consequences.” Dr. Jain, a leading expert on the intersection of environmentalism and the Hindu faith, also writes, “The earth — Devi — is a goddess and our mother and deserves our devotion and protection.” He goes on to note that, “Non-violence — ahimsa — is the greatest dharma,” dharma being one’s moral duty or obligation, that, “Ahimsa to the earth improves one’s karma,” and that, “For observant Hindus, hurting or harming another being damages one’s karma and obstructs advancement toward moksha — liberation.”
On a related note: There is a profound, sacred phrase which comes to us from the Isha Upanishad of the Shukla (“white”) Yajurveda, itself one of the Vedas, the foundational texts of the Hindu tradition: Ishavasyam idam sarvam. This roughly translates to “The entire cosmos is to be seen as being one with God.”
So, if God inhabits everything, and God is worthy of reverence, should we not, then, give due respect to all existence? And if all existence is sacred, then surely the Earth itself—the one place in the entire universe that we know can support life—must be so utterly sacred that it is impossible to overstate its importance!
I will cap off this section by mentioning the Assisi Declarations on Nature: In 1986, the World Wildlife Fund, via its president Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, invited five leaders representing five of the world’s great religions to assemble in Assisi, Italy, discuss how their respective faiths could help preserve the environment, and make declarations on the issue thereafter.
The Hindu declaration included the following statements: “Nature is sacred and the divine is expressed through all its forms. Reverence for life is an essential principle, as is ahimsa (non-violence)… Nature cannot be destroyed without humanity destroying itself… The divine is not exterior to creation, but expresses itself through natural phenomena.”
Just as in the Bible, we find examples of environmental concern in the Qur’an. In the Qur’an’s fifty-fifth chapter (surah), ar-Rahman (“The Most Merciful”) we read: “He raised the heaven[s] and established the balance / So that you would not transgress the balance. / Give just weight – do not skimp in the balance. / He laid out the earth for all living creatures.” (Qur’an 55: 7-10.)
The Prophet Muhammad himself understood the value of nature, and saw that the mindful use of its bounty, by humans, represents a form of charity—indeed, almost a sacred duty—on behalf of both God’s creation (the ecosystem) and other human beings. As we read in the hadith of Sahih Bukhari: “If any Muslim plants any plant and a human being or an animal eats of it, he will be rewarded as if he had given that much in charity.”
The Prophet is also reported to have said, as recorded in the Ibadi Jami Sahih, “If the Hour is about to be established and one of you was holding a palm shoot, let him take advantage of even one second before the Hour is established to plant it.”
In 2015, 60 high-ranking Islamic clerics gathered together to issue the Islamic Declaration on Global Climate Change, which states: “Our species, though selected to be a caretaker or steward [khalifah] on the earth, has been the cause of such corruption and devastation on it that we are in danger of ending life as we know it on our planet. This current rate of climate change cannot be sustained, and the earth’s fine equilibrium [mizan] may soon be lost.”
The Islamic declaration at the aforementioned 1986 Assisi Declarations on Nature included the following statements: “For the Muslim, mankind’s role on earth is that of a khalifa, vice-regent, or trustee of God. We are God’s stewards and agents on Earth. We are not masters of this Earth; it does not belong to us to do what we wish. It belongs to God and He has entrusted us with its safekeeping. Our function as vice-regents, khalifa of God, is only to oversee the trust… His trustees are responsible for maintaining the unity of His creation, the integrity of the Earth, its flora and fauna, its wildlife and natural environment. Unity cannot be had by discord, by setting one need against another or letting one end predominate over another; it is maintained by balance and harmony.”
In the Jewish Tanakh, which is the source of the Christian Old Testament, we find a passage from the Book of Psalms, which reads: “For every beast of the forest is Mine, the cattle on a thousand hills / “I know every bird of the mountains, and everything that moves in the field is Mine / “If I were hungry I would not tell you, / For the world is Mine, and all it contains…”
This statement clearly show’s God’s dominion over all of nature — and that he is intimately connected to it. To destroy it, then, is a sin against God. Thus observant Jews follow the doctrine of bal tashchit, which means “do not destroy”—rooted in the Book of Deuteronomy—the injunction originally used in the context of cutting down an enemy’s fruit trees during a siege in wartime. Bal tashchit implies refraining from engaging in any kind of destruction unless the situation absolutely warrants it, a sort of mindfulness towards one’s actions insofar as they may include damage to or waste of resources.
In 2015, the Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom, Ephraim Mirvis, gave the following statement (edited for brevity) ahead of the COP21 Paris climate accord:World leaders convene in Paris this week to agree a global response to Climate Change. The challenge before them is unprecedented in scale and of the greatest consequence. The planet is experiencing a long-term warming trend… this due in part to the injurious actions of mankind. Many nations and major corporations are making admirable pledges to scale back greenhouse gas emissions… These are vitally important steps in safeguarding our collective future. Our planet is a beautiful web of ecosystems, weather patterns and natural resources upon which we depend.
“With the freedom to sample the fruits of God’s creation comes the responsibility to protect and steward, not abuse, our environment. I pray that the efforts of those participating will be blessed with the far-sighted wisdom to agree outcomes that reflect what is, undeniably, in all of our best interests.”
The Jewish declaration at the aforementioned 1986 Assisi Declarations on Nature included the following statements: “Now, when the whole world is in peril, when the environment is in danger of being poisoned and various species, both plant and animal, are becoming extinct, it is our Jewish responsibility to put the defence of the whole of nature at the very centre of our concern. We have a responsibility to life, to defend it everywhere, not only against our own sins but also against those of others… We are all passengers together in the same fragile and glorious world. Let us safeguard our rowboat — and let us row together.”
… In conclusion:
The world’s major religions all stress, in some way or another, the value of the environment, and mindful stewardship of the Earth. Thus the imperative to fight climate change, on behalf of both the environment and the countless species—including our own—which it supports, is, in this time, stronger than ever: Today, the carbon emissions which we have released into the Earth’s atmosphere practically guarantee, in lieu of global-scale “negative emissions” (a speculative technology and form of geo-engineering), a dramatic reshaping of the Earth’s biosphere, including a major loss of surface ice across the world, with all the knock-on effects—both known and unforeseen—that those will bring. Continued emissions, basically inevitable for the foreseeable future, will add unthinkable damage to our world on top of these already devastating effects.
Yes, sadly, awfully, we continue to pump ever more carbon into the air: Not only are our overall carbon emissions increasing—the rate at which they are increasing is accelerating. We have already passed 403 parts per million (ppm) of CO2 in our atmosphere—a critical threshold—and will soon blow past 405 ppm. The level of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere is over 100 ppm higher than at any time in the past 3 million years.
The time to stop climate change and, if possible, to reverse it, is now. It has always—that is, since humans realized climate change is a global issue—been now. And our faith leaders, and our faiths themselves, can pave the way for the development of truly sustainable ways of life, those by which we may exist in harmony with our environment, instead of destroying it.
Ryan V. Stewart is a student and writer concerned with environmental issues. A seventeen-year resident of Connecticut, he originally hails from Austin. He believes in a God who likes to laugh at himself. He sometimes writes under the pseudonym “Vincent St. Clare”.

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

MANY FAITHS --- ONE PLANET : an interfaith pathway to caring for our environment

Have received the following with the picture above from Sister Veronica Lawson, a Catholic Sister of Mercy based here in Ballarat.  It comes from the Parliament of the World's Religions.

Spiritual Leaders Deliver Interfaith Climate Declaration

at COP23 - By Bicycle

Posted In: 

Parliament of Religions's pictureParliament of Religions

Personal Commitment and Invitation to UN Climate Conference:

MEDIA CONTACT: Rev. Fletcher Harper,
+1-201-390-0094Photos, B-roll: Dorothy Breuer
(Bonn, November 10, 2017) Scores of religious leaders and people of diverse faiths and spiritualities on bicycles, some wearing traditional religious clothing, delivered a multi-faith statement to the UN Conference on Climate Change (COP23), pledging to adopt sustainable behaviors themselves and calling on their followers and world leaders to do the same. The delivery also marked the launch of a new international, multi-faith sustainable lifestyles initiative.
Bishop Marc Andrus of the Episcopal Diocese of California was among faith leaders carrying the message to the UN meeting on bikes, symbolizing a commitment to sustainable transport. “By changing our own lifestyles, the lifestyles of our congregants, and the consumption habits of our congregations, we can help make good on our commitment to the Paris Agreement,” he says. “For us, it’s a way to state loudly and clearly: We’re still in.”
The COP23 Interfaith Climate Statement on Sustainable Lifestyle, entitled Walk Gently on Earth (Download Here), represents a shared assertion by religious leaders globally that widespread sustainable behavior change is required if global temperature rise is to meet the targets established by the Paris Climate Agreement. 
“Together we are coming to you with an invitation to embark on a journey towards compassionate simplicity for the sake of the climate, the human family and the community of life,” the statement says. The signatories pledged to reduce home energy use, adopt plant-based diets, and use cleaner modes of transportation, behaviors which scientists say make the greatest contribution to household greenhouse gas emissions in many countries.
The November 10th events began at 9:30 with interfaith prayers at St. Cyprian Church, Andauerallee 61, Bonn, after which bikers depart for the three-kilometer route along the Rhine River, arriving at Dahlmannstrasse and corner of WilhelmSpiritus-Ufer, steps away from the World Conference Center where the UN meetings convene. 
The statement marks the launch of a global Multi-Faith Sustainable Living Initiative, a campaign launched at a day-long symposium in Bonn November 9th. The livestreamed conference (see blog post below for the video) addressed the challenges and opportunities on how to best foster sustainable lifestyles. Partners in the Initiative include leading Protestant, Catholic, Evangelical, Jewish, Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist, Interfaith and Unitarian organizations.
Following events in Bonn, a community of multi-faith partners will work with spiritual leaders and people of faith worldwide to secure formal commitments to a sustainable lifestyle. “These commitments will accelerate a growing multi-faith sustainable living movement,” says Imam Saffet Catovic, Senior Advisor for GreenFaith, the organization coordinating the initiative. “The commitments will be announced at a global weekend of commitment in 2018 through thousands of grassroots events at spiritual and religious centers around the world,” he says.
Quotes from religious and spiritual leaders on COP23 Interfaith Climate Statement
Addressing climate change by reducing our carbon footprint is a moral responsibility as Khualfa al-ard – caretakers, stewards, and guardians of the earth. We must care for all of creation. Reshaping our patterns of consumption and conservation not only help preserve the planet for us and our future generations, but also improve overall public health and economic prosperity, particularly for the vulnerable amongst us who are most severely impacted by climate change. Dr. Azhar Azeez, President, Islamic Society of North America
As Muslims we are enjoined to be the custodians of God on this earth. We must walk softly thereupon and do no harm. This ethic is desperately needed if we are to help avert a looming climate disaster. -- Imam Zaid Shakir, Co-founder, Zaytuna College, Berkeley, CA
God the creator has given us this world as our common home, together with all that are created and living here. We have to walk on the land and sail at the sea with care and deep respect for what is given. To love God and to love our neighbor means that we also love the creation of God. -- Rev Dr. Olav Fykse-Tveit, General Secretary of World Council of Churches
Keeping global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius will take people of all faiths and all nations working together as quickly as possible. In Laudato Si' Pope Francis said, "All of us can cooperate as instruments of God for the care of creation. " That is why Catholics, through the Global Catholic Climate Movement, have signed this interfaith statement committing to adopting a sustainable lifestyle. We stand with our brothers and sisters of all faiths to protect creation the poor and vulnerable. -- Bishop Allwyn D'Silva Auxiliary Bishop of Archdiocese of Bombay
Climate change isn't a side issue for Catholics. It’s one of the most important things we can do to live out our faith. It's a way to protect the poor and care for the gifts God has given us. With sisters and brothers from all faith backgrounds standing beside us, we have good cause for hope. Climate solutions are within our grasp. -- Tomas Insua, Executive Director, Global Catholic Climate Movement
Evangelicals responding to the biblical call to care for creation want to know how they can live joyful, faith-consistent lives that care for God’s gift of creation. In addition to advocating for necessary large-scale solutions to tackle climate change— which is the greatest creation care challenge of our generation, our individual lifestyle choices, when scaled up can make a big difference. Dr. Chris Elisara, Director World Evangelical Creation Care Task Force.
In the Hindu tradition we believe the world is one family. That world includes not only human beings but also all living beings, all of Mother Nature and Mother Earth. Therefore, it is incumbent upon each of us to live in a way that is sustainable for all beings with whom we share this planet, today and for all future generations. To abuse it, neglect it, or destroy it, is sacrilege. -- Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswati, President Parmarth Niketan, Rishikesh, Global Interfaith WASH Alliance
We cannot be bystanders when our planet is in such danger; we belong to this living web and are called to consciously engage. While that engagement needs to address the larger political and economic systems that can wreak such havoc, it also needs to include our daily relationships with each other and the earth. Can our daily choices in consuming and sharing our own resources reflect the truth that we are a part of this precious world and it needs our care? --Tara Brach, Buddhist author, teacher and founder of the Insight Meditation Community of Washington, DC

LIVESTREAM: Launch of the Multi-Faith Sustainable Living Initiative

Friday, 10 November 2017

Remembering the dead - in action, in prayer, as community

The text and the pictures of this post are taken from Religion News Service
This is from a USA viewpoint - but The Editor of this blog thinks it applies in
other nations and situations as well.
Who decides when we as a country pray
and when we act?
 (RNS) — The similarities and contrasts of two terrible attacks in recent days — one in Manhattan and one in Sutherland Springs, Texas — begs the question: When do we as Americans pray, and when do we act?
In one case, after a man driving a truck ran over scores in New York City, our president demanded new immigration restrictions immediately without qualms about offending the friends and family of victims, who came from Argentina, Belgium, New Jersey and New York.
And after a gunman attacked a Texas church five days later,  President Trump called for prayers and skirted any discussion of policy change. Conservative lawmakers argued that discussing gun control would be an offense to the 25 people between the ages of 1 and 77 who, like the innocent civilians in New York, were also killed in cold blood.  

As an Episcopal priest and director of the Interfaith Center of New York, I believe the dichotomy between prayers and action portrayed in the Twitter feeds of our leaders is a false one and serves neither the dead, the bereaved, nor our nation as a whole. It reveals a narrow view of prayer on the one hand and a shortsighted understanding of action on the other.
Last Tuesday evening (Oct.31), after establishing that friends weren’t in the path of the attacker’s van, I saw an email from a member of the Majlis Ashura (Islamic Council of New York), a fellow member of New Yorker Interfaith Coalition Against Islamophobia. The email read, “I hope and pray someone will be organizing an interfaith vigil.”
Along with the Muslim Community Network and other faith groups, we began a now all-too-familiar drill: Find a location, secure a permit, put up a Facebook invite, get co-sponsors, rent sound equipment, locate electric candles, draw up a speakers list and send out invitations. By early Wednesday morning, a plan was in place.
Who arrives at a moment’s notice to something like this? Who showed up at this vigil on Wednesday night on the steps of Foley Square to commemorate the dead and to pray for the city? Debbie Almontaser, a co-organizer of the vigil and the chair of Muslim Community Network, welcomed the assembled crowd and introduced  Manhattan’s borough president. Then came an inspiring slate of diverse religious leaders from all over the city.
We heard from a member of Sadhana: The Coalition of Progressive Hindus, a bicyclist herself who brought her bike up on our makeshift stage as she said her Hindu prayer. Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum of Congregation Beit Simchat Torah and Evan Bernstein of the Anti-Defamation League offered their Jewish perspective. Three prominent Christian pastors spoke as well: the Rev. Winnie Varghese from Trinity Church Wall Street, the Rev. Jacqueline Lewis from Middle Collegiate Church and the Rev. Kaji Dousa from Park Avenue Christian Church.
Aldo Rafael Perez of the Islamic Leadership Council of New York — in Spanish and English — mourned the dead, prayed for the families, condemned terrorism and gave thanks for the police and first responders who put their lives on the line to stop the carnage.
Family and friends of Nicholas Cleves introduced themselves to us at the vigil. Nicholas was the 23-year-old software developer, Skidmore College graduate and only native New Yorker of the eight people murdered last Tuesday. Bahij Chancey, Nicholas’ childhood friend, carried a piece of cardboard with his name on it and photographs of Nicholas smiling astride his bike. The religious leaders and Nicholas’ family and friends read the names of the dead one at a time, by the light of the plastic candles we all held up.
This understanding of prayer — a collective, public expression of grief and solidarity inclusive of Islam, the very religious tradition so desecrated after the suspect, Sayfullo Saipov, reportedly said he committed his atrocities in its name — this vision of prayer that recognizes our common humanity across faith lines and national borders, seems wider than the definition of prayer many of our political leaders express after American mass slaughters.
A narrow understanding of both prayer and action was on display from the White House in the recent inconsistent response to the two terrible tragedies.
According to our national leadership, prayer actually has a narrow and specific meaning: It is something that Christian Americans do when they lose their loved ones to indiscriminate violence. Other prayers, such as those expressed in New York, with the outpouring of grief from Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish and Muslim religious leaders, are deemed less valid.
How else do we explain that in the Sutherland Springs church shooting, the administration deems discussion of policy change as an affront to the prayers of the bereaved? But in the case of New York, the prayers of bereaved families and fellow citizens should apparently not be offended by a same-day call to end the green card lottery.
The prayers and heartache of some were less valid than others and therefore not worth the sign of “respect” that a pause in policy advocacy apparently indicates.
And what about action? The juxtaposing of the New York City and Sutherland Springs attacks again reveals a shortsighted and narrow definition of the word in the mouths of our national elected leaders. The action we need at this time – across both acts of mass violence – is coming together across our diverse backgrounds to find solutions rooted in evidence, not religious discrimination.
We need inclusive prayer and farsighted action together.
Martin Luther King Jr., second from left, and Abraham Joshua Heschel, second from right, during Selma march in 1965. Courtesy of Susannah Heschel
Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, the civil rights leader and scholar who marched with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., when challenged by some people in his community as to why he would march on the Sabbath, replied famously that he was praying with his feet. Heschel, like King, embraced the prophetic strand of his religious tradition as much as he did the pastoral. He knew his civil rights activism for policy change was sacred because Jim Crow laws and legally justified segregation denied the God-given equality of all people regardless of race, religion, gender or national origin.
With the benefit of hindsight, we know King and Heschel’s “actions” to be prophetic. At the time, plenty of their pro-segregationist enemies would have been quick to call their activism disrespectful for whatever reason happened to be lying around at the time.
Policy or action, then, when it is portrayed by politicians as “disrespectful” to the prayers and grief of those who mourn the death of their loved ones in the recent senseless killings in New York and Southerland Springs, deserves a qualifier when it is pronounced as such by our political leaders. What they really mean is “certain policy actions” are disrespectful to “a particular kind of expression of prayer.”
(The Rev. Chloe Breyer is executive director of the Interfaith Center of New York and an associate priest at St. Philip’s Episcopal Church in Harlem. The views expressed in this opinion piece do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service.

Thursday, 9 November 2017

Religious freedom for Indonesian native faiths

Court recognises Indonesian native faiths in victory for religious freedom
·       Jewel Topsfield

·       Karuni Rompies

Dewi Kanti adheres to a traditional Indonesian religious belief system known as Sunda Wiwitan, which venerates the power of nature and the spirit of ancestors.
She is among perhaps 15 million native-faith followers in Indonesia who have been discriminated against for decades by Indonesia's policy of only recognising six official religions.
As it stands, Indonesians have had to list their religion as Muslim, Catholic, Protestant, Hindu, Buddhist or Confucian on their national identification cards –or leave the religion field blank.
But those who left their ID cards blank had difficulty registering their marriage, obtaining birth certificates, accessing employment as civil servants and applying for government services.
Now, in an historic victory for religious freedom in Indonesia, the Constitutional Court ruled on Tuesday it was discriminatory to require native-faith followers to leave the religion field blank.
Constitutional Court Judge Saldi Isra said this was not in line with the spirit of the 1945 Constitution, which enshrines religious freedom.
The court recommended that a seventh category be created – native-faith followers –  although the card would not specify the particular faith.
Sunda Wiwitan is one of several hundred native-faith beliefs across Indonesia. They follow an animistic system of belief but over time have been influenced by other religions including Hinduism and Islam.
Ms Dewi welcomed the Constitutional Court decision. "Our fight has borne fruit," she said.
"The most important thing is the restoration of civil rights especially for those who have been stigmatised. Under the repressive New Order regime, I was stigmatised as (following) a deviant sect. This is a realisation on the part of policymakers that there has been an abuse of our constitutional rights."
Despite practising a native Javanese faith, Ms Dewi's husband had been forced to put "Catholic" on his ID card so the couple could obtain birth certificates for their children.
She said it was almost impossible to know how many people still adhered to Sunda Wiwitan, because there were no administrative records.
"In 1964 there were around 10,000 to 15,000 of us," she said.
However, blasphemy laws passed in 1965 stipulated only six religions would be officially recognised.
"The New Order regime said it was compulsory for all citizens to follow a religion, this was a policy to fight communism because communism was regarded as atheist or not believing in God," said Bonar Tigor Naipospos, the vice chairperson of the Setara Institute for democracy and peace.
"Native faith was regarded as not believing in God because it was ethnocentric."
He said the Constitutional Court ruling provided protection to followers of native faiths and granted equality among followers of other religions.

Human Rights Watch Indonesia researcher Andreas Harsono said the court ruling marked the end of Indonesia only recognising six religions.

Thursday, 12 October 2017

Victoria's Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill - Religions protest

Pressure is mounting on state MPs as they prepare to debate controversial voluntary euthanasia laws next week.

The pro and anti campaigns are ramping up their efforts, with voting on the bill to begin as early as next Thursday.

More than 120 doctors from around the state intervened on Wednesday, writing to all 127 parliamentarians, urging the politicians to "reduce the suffering" of terminally ill Victorians by voting in support of the euthanasia laws.

The doctors' intervention came as a coalition of religious leaders launched a united campaign on Wednesday, pushing for a no-vote.

Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Jews, Sikhs and Christians gathered on the steps of Victorian Parliament to deliver a statement opposing the laws to Deputy Premier James Merlino.

The material for this post has been taken from Ballarat's daily newspaper, The Courier.

For more information on what is being considered/proposed by the Victorian Govt,
please read

Editor's Note:
With Voluntary Assisted Dying, people are being offered an option.
There are particular safeguards on the manner of carrying out the option.
Those with conscientious objections have their objections respected.
The role of palliative care is neither overlooked nor is it excluded.