Why pollution is sacrilege

By Colin M. Morris
28 Dec 2009

The post mortems about the Copenhagen Conference are well underway and the general view seems to be that some rich nations have done a shabby deal for which poor countries will pay the price.

That may be true, but it is still amazing that the leaders of 193 countries could be got together for days to tackle an issue as complex and divisive as climate change. Though to imagine that they would be able to agree a legally binding plan to save the world in a fortnight was surely to inflate expectations beyond all reason. After all, it can take your local council months of wrangling to come up with a parking scheme.

They were all there, industrialised nations and developing economies, democracies and dictatorships, superpowers and tiny island states - a world divided in a hundred ways and in some cases for hundreds of years, yet they turned up, thus acknowledging that this is the defining issue of the 21st century, however resistant some are to change.

In religious jargon, you could call Copenhagen the first truly ecumenical conference. Over the centuries, the word ecumenical has been domesticated by the churches to refer to ecclesiastical matters - should the Methodists take bishops into their system, will high church Anglicans opposed to the leadership of women go over to Rome? How can the great faiths move closer together?

But originally the word ecumenical meant not just churchy issues but the concerns of the whole inhabited earth and what could be of more concern to the whole inhabited earth than its bare survival?

Who knows? One spin off from Copenhagen may be that more religious believers rediscover the original and larger meaning of 'ecumenical', mothball their doctrinal squabbles and ecclesiastical preoccupations and weigh in to make common cause with politicians and scientists in the ultimate crusade of our time.

Of course, even had the world's leaders agreed on every one of the aims of the Copenhagen Conference - they would still be faced with the mammoth task of persuading the ordinary people of their countries to change their ways. This is where the faith communities are important - they exist in strategic groups scattered throughout society and the world.

Faith communities are (or ought to be) already sensitised to issues of poverty and justice, they are not just debating points; they give money and time; they can be agents of change. And they start from a high view of creation recognising that we do not own this world, we are merely caretakers of it, and because God has created it, it demands our reverence.

To pollute, poison and pillage it is a form of sacrilege.

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© Colin M. Morris is a former President of the Methodist Conference and has held senior positions in the BBC. He was Director of the Centre for Religious Communication in Oxford from 1991-96, and is author of numerous books, including Things Shaken - Things Unshaken (reflections on faith and terror) and Bible Reflections Round the Christian Year. Dr Morris is a frequent contributor to BBC Radio 4's Thought for the Day, in which form this article was originally broadcast. Reproduced with grateful acknowledgement to the author and the BBC.

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