An installation at the parliament manifested the murder: baby socks and baby shoes, made in the affected countries and hung on strings, formed a depressing labyrinth through which visitors walked. One pair of shoes represented ten thousand lost girls

Concern for the environment is religious

But the biggest issue was climate change. You don’t need to be religious to put that subject on the political agenda. It is obvious that concern for the climate and the environment is also a matter for religions. On the frontline:  indigenous communities, for example the Yanomami Indians in Brazil. Or Angaangaq Angakkorsuaq, elder and shaman from Greenland, who sees the ice melting away before his very eyes. One suspects that the secularised perception of nature as nothing more than object has much to learn from indigenous religions on this point.

But the ′high religions′ also now concern themselves with the environment. Pomnyun Sunim, Zen-Buddhist from South Korea, founded the environmental movement EcoBuddha. Pope Francis, present in the form of his environmental representative, followed with the encyclical "Laudato Si" in the year 2015. Ingrid Mattson is able to quote from the Koran. God intended man to be governor of the Earth. Therefore, he must protect it.

On the subject of climate change, progressive, alternative movements (of which the Parliament of the World’s Religions is one) have found their Archimedean point. It is hoped that from this vantage point, the global dominance of capitalism can be broken up.

This is a major concern shared by religions and non-religious people alike. In this context, calls for the absolute separation of religion and politics could begin to look reactionary: namely as an attempt to prevent the religions from taking a stand against unbridled liberalism – and for the environment.

Discourse perhaps too well-mannered

It is more difficult to imagine the compatibility of gender equality and religion working as smoothly as that of religion and the battle for the environment. It worked in Toronto, admittedly because conservative and fundamentalist groups were not in attendance. Neither Iranian scholars nor Saudi Salafists, Christian fundamentalists and ultraorthodox Jews were present.

This ′parliament′ does not have an official, institutional character. It is a gathering of people with similar concerns. But anyone believing his faith represents an exclusive claim to truth would have felt out of place in Toronto. The fact that religions no longer perceive themselves to be in competition with each other is huge progress. Nevertheless, the conference would have benefitted from a certain degree of discord.

"Interfaith" is the word often cited to describe the search for commonalities. In Toronto, often referred to as the world’s most multicultural city, it was impossible to determine the "us" and "them". White Canadians turned out to be Baha’is, the Buddhists came from Australia, a delegate from China made the case for a spiritual humanism. A Palestinian woman sang in English to Arab rhythms, while American musicians intoned Persian poetry by Rumi and the Portuguese dancer Carolina Fonseca performed a feminine take on the whirling Mevlevi dervish ritual.

If these cheerful and progressive religious representatives succeed in taking their enthusiasm and political engagement out onto the streets, religion could soon play a completely new role, even in the secularised West.

Stefan Weidner

© 2018

Translated from the German by Nina Coon

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