The Bahá’í Faith's responses
The Bahá’í Faith:
The Bahá’í documents on ecology are impressive.
1,2 However, with only 6
million members, it is difficult for the Bahá’í faith to have much
influence worldwide. In fact, there are no signs of the Bahá’í involvement
in ecology outside their community. It is difficult to judge how important, in the context of their
everyday religious activities, environmental considerations are,
Typical Bahá’í views, as they reflect on our relationship to
the natural world, are:
||The Bahá’í faith shares with the New Age movement an optimistic vision of the
future of mankind. The deepening crisis of planetary destruction is seen not as
the inevitable failure of fallen humanity, but as a crucial stage in the
evolution of human consciousness towards greater wholeness. The fear and pain
created by this crisis impel us to reflect profoundly on the incompleteness of
our current vision and to respond with urgency to the forces of
||The current state of our society’s understanding of the environment is
comparable to that of medicine 60 years ago when the effects of behaviors
(such as smoking) and attitudes (e.g., stress) on health were not yet
understood. We recognize (some-times) that a particular environmental problem
exists, but are often unable to distinguish symptoms from diseases and causes from
effects. For many environmental problems we have not yet arrived at a balanced
||Rapidly progressing environmental changes –
global warming, ozone depletion, soil degradation, forest depletion, and
species extinction – threaten the delicate ecological balance of the ecosphere.
||The dominant worldview of modern industrial society is ecologically
destructive because the earth is seen primarily as a collection of natural
resources with no value other than to be used for human exploitation. This view
is seen as arrogantly anthropocentric. It needs to be replaced by a biocentric
view in which other forms of life are seen as having intrinsic value. What
is needed is the development of an ecological consciousness, of valuing
nature as having intrinsic worth. 2
||Most of the socioeconomic institutions of modern industrial societies are
based on the pursuit of material progress through separation from, and conquest
of, nature. Nature is seen primarily as a storehouse of resources to be managed,
harvested, and industrially processed for unmoderated human consumption. This
materialistic philosophy leads to the accelerating destruction of planetary
ecological systems, a destruction that our prevailing political, social, and
economic institutions appear powerless to halt. 2
||All claims made for the protection of other forms of life are necessarily
based on human values of justice and compassion. 2
||‘Abdu’l-Bahá wrote: "The mineral, plant, and animal are seen to possess various
grades and stations of spirit." 2
||Our ability to recognize environmental problems, to assess correctly their
causes, and to respond in a timely and effective manner is intimately tied up
with our worldviews and our values. Our reaction to environmental
issues is not based on rationality or cost-benefit analysis. Rather, it is the
result of our deep emotional needs, prejudices, and assumptions. A major
is the presence or absence of religious convictions.
||The view of humankind as separately created, apart from this physical world,
and destined to rule over the inferior world of nature, is a dominant theme in
our (Western) culture. Many Christians have viewed the natural world as a
punishment for our fall of grace in the Garden of Eden. This view tends to
create an uncaring and even hostile attitude towards nature. Similarly, the view
of many Eastern religions is that the physical world is inherently a place of
pain and suffering. 1
||Bahá’ís believe that man is the highest work of creation, nearest to God of
all creatures. 3 Among creatures he is the sum of all existing
perfections. 2 However, it is also believed that humanity was not created
separately from nature but evolved biologically as
part of God’s plan. The Adam and Eve story is
understood to be metaphorical.
||According to ‘Abdu’l-Bahá:
“All created things are closely related together and
each is influenced by the other or deriveth benefit there from -- cooperation
and reciprocity are essential properties which are inherent in the unified
system of the world of existence, and without which the entire creation would be
reduced to nothingness"
Although it is not completely obvious how all species are interconnected, this
much is clear: If, in the subtle, fragile, and intricate web of life in which
all living creatures are suspended, the simplest forms of plant and animal forms
die, then at some critical point we shall die with them. We cling, however, to
the naïve thinking that we are somehow independent, above and outside of natural
order. Human beings have been very slow to realize that they are highly
dependent on the plant and animal forms with which they share the planet.
||The belief that the world is inherently corrupt and decaying and only getting
worse leads to a callous mistreatment of nature.
||In the past, the degree of control over
natural events was limited. After the emergence of the great axial
civilizations of recorded history, nature became to be subsumed as a
resource for the development of larger collective units of social
organization. Trade, commerce, and artistic as well as intellectual pursuits
were associated with urban dwelling and thus with an increased physical
separation from nature. The Earth ceased to be a community to which humanity
belonged and was seen as a commodity for use and possession.
||Not so long ago, the average man was figuratively, and often literally,
hitched to the plough from sunrise until sunset. He could not read, had no
books, and had no time for contemplation. He has seen the world as dirty,
decaying, imperfect and corrupt. This has seriously harmed our relations with
nature. How is it possible to care about and be a good steward of such a natural
world? Historically, people have not appreciated nature but have tried to
conquer it, and remnants of this attitude remain even today.
1 Western peoples
have very little respect for nature per se.
||One of the most serious contributors to environmental destruction is the
extreme short-sightedness of society’s responses to its problems. This is
particularly the case for environmental problems, many of them being cumulative
over a very long time. It is often far easier to prevent such problems as soil
loss than it is to fix them. For example, it was known for at least 20 years
that the potential existed for high altitude ozone to be destroyed by man-made
compounds such as those used in refrigeration, before any serious action was
||At a time when the first industrial revolution was just at its outset and the
whole process could have been kept under control, Bahá’u’lláh warned of the
danger of uncontrolled civilization which might lead to the destruction of the
environment. He wrote: “If carried to excess, civilization will prove as prolific source
of evil as it has been for goodness when kept within constraints of moderation."
||Without the bond of community created by religion and the spirit of service
arising from it, people are left increasingly empty and without any higher
purpose than their own needs and desires. Few feel constrained by the
requirements and needs of the society in which they are living.
||If we defile the air and water, strip away the forests and extinguish species,
then we are opposing God’s plan for the future of humankind. Good stewardship of
nature is a sacred responsibility. 1
||It is the firm conviction of Bahá’ís that action can only truly succeed when
it is based on spiritual principles. 1
||The key ingredients of sound agriculture are education and capital.
||Bahá’u’lláh has placed elimination of prejudice at the top of His followers’
spiritual agenda, prejudice being one of the principal causes of environmental
||The status of women as a disadvantaged section of humanity is a major, hidden
cause of environmental degradation. 1
||The impact of human population on the natural environment is most severe in
the developing countries, which is also where population growth is greatest. Two
things decrease the population growth rate: Economic development and the
education of women. Education of women is often seen as conflicting with the
basic status of women as secondary and subservient to men.
||Growing technological might, often developed from military research, fostered
irresponsible consumption and ever expanding expectations of material benefits.
||The inequitable distribution of wealth and human rights has resulted in untold
human suffering and added to the stress on fragile ecosystems. This is apparent
in Africa where food-export-dependent countries facing trade barriers and low
commodity prices overuse their fragile soils to feed burgeoning populations and
to pay mounting foreign debts. 2
||Cruelty to animals is condemned as unjust,
because they experience the pain in the
same way as humans. Vivisection for research is considered permissible as long
as the animal is anaesthetized and does not suffer. 4
||Ecological consciousness has mostly developed within ‘minority traditions’
that include tribal cultures. The Bahá’í approach is based on a fundamental
respect for the values of traditional cultures.
||The continuing separation between religious revelation and scientific
investigation keeps humanity from pursuing a truly integrated approach to
solving the ecological crisis. 2
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The following information sources were used to
prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still
Craig Loehle, "On the Shoulders of Giants," George Ronald,
Robert A White, "Spiritual Foundations of an Ecologically Sustainable
Society," The Journal of Bahá’í Studies 7.2 (1995), Pages 47-74.
Ray Walder, "Address of 2004-JUL-18," at:
Peter Smith, "A Concise Encyclopedia of the Bahá’í Faith,"
Copyright © 2006
by Vladimir Tomek
Original publishing date: 2006-AUG-27
Latest update on: 2006-AUG-27
Author. Vladimir Tomek