The pivotal partnership between God and science
If religious groups are to lead the fight against what Amitav Ghosh calls “the securitisation and corporatisation of climate change” they will have to have a theology which goes with it.
Seeing the dry bed of the Yamuna, and reading current warnings about a water crisis in Delhi drove me back to Amitav Ghosh’s book on the climate crisis, The Great Derangement. I read it a few years ago, but one passage has stuck firmly in my mind. In his last chapter, he describes “the terrain of climate change” as “bleak”, but says “a few features stand out in relief”. The most promising development he sees is “the growing involvement of religious groups and leaders in the politics of climate change”. He says existing communities will have to be at the forefront of the struggle to curb the climate crisis and “those with religious affiliations possess the ability to mobilise people in far greater numbers than any other”.
If religious groups are to lead the fight against what Ghosh calls “the securitisation and corporatisation of climate change” they will have to have a theology which goes with it. This should not be a problem for leaders of Indic religious institutions as the Dalai Lama shows for Buddhists. Hinduism’s concept of unity with nature provides the basis for Hindu leaders to campaign for action to mitigate the climate crisis too. For Christians, the Pope is now deeply involved in this issue. In his crucial encyclical Laudato si’ (Praise Be to You), Pope Francis says we humans are “spirit and will, but also nature”.
What about Islam? Here surely is a religion which is so concerned about the human relation with God, and with ritual – saying namaz five times a day, attending Friday prayers, pilgrimage and fasting throughout the month of Ramzan — that it has no place for nature.
This brings me to my second reason for writing this column – a visit by Dr Mohammad Aslam Parvaiz who resigned as vice-chancellor of the Maulana Azad National Urdu University in Hyderabad. He is a doctor of botany. In his book The Scientific Muslim: Understanding Islam in a New Light, he is strongly critical of the traditional Islamic teaching in madrasas. He says for instance, “submission (to God) can’t be achieved by reducing Islam to prayer, worship when we just recite the commands, verses, and feel that by praising God our duties are done.” Aslam Parvaiz is also critical of education which finds no place for God. He quotes the Koranic verse which asks secular scholars, Did you deny my signs even though you did not encompass them with your knowledge? Or else what were you doing? This, he says, commands the believer to “understand and appreciate the marvels of the creator.” There are, according to Parvaiz, 700 verse in the Koran which encourage Muslims to study nature.
There is much wisdom in the Koran which would help all of us in our struggle to bring the climate crisis under control. The book tells us to live moderate lives, avoid waste and realise that extravagance creates chaos and disorder, as does altering the balance in nature.
One of the scholars who has appreciated Parvaiz’s book says, “It rightly makes the conclusion that the Koran wants believers to study the signs of God in nature and to appreciate the creator by admiring his creations.” Parvaiz says, “This divine message can be interpreted in a better and more understandable form if it is explained with a scientific approach based on reason, logic and rationale.”
So here to me is The Great Partnership, of God and science, the two working together, and the title of a wonderful book by Jonathan Sacks. He was British and a Jewish priest or rabbi who ended his book with these words, “By daily renewing creation, God is daily renewing revelation, our insight into his creative will.” So, all religious leaders, Semitic and Indic, can teach us that we too are created by God and must, therefore, respect all that is created by God’s will.
The views expressed are personal