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Environmental concerns

The Bahá’í Faith's responses

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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:

bullet 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 transformation. 2
bullet 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 understanding. 1
bullet Rapidly progressing environmental changes – global warming, ozone depletion, soil degradation, forest depletion, and species extinction – threaten the delicate ecological balance of the ecosphere. 2
bullet 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
bullet 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
bullet All claims made for the protection of other forms of life are necessarily based on human values of justice and compassion. 2
bullet ‘Abdu’l-Bahá wrote: "The mineral, plant, and animal are seen to possess various grades and stations of spirit."  2
bullet 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 influence is the presence or absence of religious convictions. 1
bullet 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
bullet 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.
bullet 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.

bullet The belief that the world is inherently corrupt and decaying and only getting worse leads to a callous mistreatment of nature. 1
bullet 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. 2
bullet 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.
bullet 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 taken. 1
bullet 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."
bullet 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. 1
bullet 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
bullet It is the firm conviction of Bahá’ís that action can only truly succeed when it is based on spiritual principles. 1
bullet The key ingredients of sound agriculture are education and capital. 1
bullet 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 destruction. 1
bullet The status of women as a disadvantaged section of humanity is a major, hidden cause of environmental degradation. 1
bullet 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. 1
bullet Growing technological might, often developed from military research, fostered irresponsible consumption and ever expanding expectations of material benefits.
bullet 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
bullet 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
bullet 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. 2
bullet 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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A search of the data base returned the following books on Bahá’í responses to the environment:

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Craig Loehle, "On the Shoulders of Giants," George Ronald, (1994).
  2. Robert A White, "Spiritual Foundations of an Ecologically Sustainable Society," The Journal of Bahá’í Studies 7.2 (1995), Pages 47-74.
  3. Ray Walder, "Address of 2004-JUL-18," at:
  4. Peter Smith, "A Concise Encyclopedia of the Bahá’í Faith," Oneworld, (2000).

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Copyright © 2006 by Vladimir Tomek
Original publishing date: 2006-AUG-27
Latest update on: 2006-AUG-27
Author. Vladimir Tomek

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