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Art, Religion and the Climate Crisis – Part I

In a secular world the ego is God.

I originally wanted to put a picture of Malcom X praying in Egypt in 1964 but could not find one with a clear open licence

Religious men first activists second

As some of you might know, I love reading  biographies and  autobiographies, especially of men and women who have shown leadership in our world. Recently, I have given particular attention to the civil rights movement and read the autobiographies of Malcolm X and Dr Martin Luther King Jr.

What struck me was that these both men tend to be mostly known for their activism but in a secular world we omit that their activism came from their faith. They were first and foremost religious men, then activists. Their faith gave a quality to their actions, an unreasonableness, a power as they gave their life to something bigger than themselves: God. As they let God guide them, their voice  reached the heart of people.

I believe that their religiousness was a key element to the success of their efforts.

I originally wanted to put a picture of Martin Luther King Jr praying in 1965 Selma but could not find one with a clear open licence

In a secular world the ego is God

Today we are faced with the climate crisis. Yet it is taking place in a secular cultural context, where there is no God. Instead, in this secular world, the ego becomes God: what that little voice inside tells you you want, feel, and think is the most important reality. We are then driven by the concerns of the ego, what one wants for oneself, for its comfort and survival. 

But the ego can never rise up to the challenge of the climate crisis, because this  crisis is so big, it is so large it encompasses all of humanity and all of living life. This is so big that the concerns of the ego can not give forth the type of action that is required to face it. If all you believe in is the ego and human being, when human beings fail then you have nothing else to fall back upon to get you up.

The reign of the ego is a byproduct of the secular libertarian/liberal western world because it failed to understand that the ego mind would just use reason as an instrument to justify it’s way of thinking and action.

“Reason, devoid of the purifying power of faith, can never free itself from distortions and rationalization” Dr Martin Luther King Jr.

The ego has its limits and we cannot rely on the ego to get ourselves out of the climate crisis. 

Climate crisis: a religious problem

The climate crisis is therefore not a climate problem or a political problem so much as a religious one. I weigh my words when I use the word religion and not spiritual, because I would argue that spirituality is in the realm of the individual whereas religion is in the realm of the collective – and what is the climate crisis then a collective problem?  It is our fascination with individualism that leads us into this dead end because we need to go beyond our individuality and embrace our interdependent nature which spirituality cannot provide, only religion.

Mecca, unsplash photography by Ömer F.Arslan

As the climate crisis can be summarized as a global political collective action problem, one needs to inquire about what gives our actions? The answer: our ideologies, our religions.

We have been so traumatized by religion because for so long it has been tainted with dogma. And that fear is valid: we have caused great atrocities in the name of God and religions. That unshakable faith can be very scary, especially as it becomes almost a blind, unstoppable force.

That is obviously not what I hope for humanity. Indeed to complement faith certain values of liberal ideology are essential.

“Of course there is one phrase of liberalism that I hope to cherish always: its devotion to the search for truth, its insistence on an open and analytical mind, its refusal to abandon the best light of reason.” Dr Martin Luther King Jr

This is where the ability to inquire and question is essential as it is the guardian against dogmatism. At the same time questioning without faith for the sake of questioning sake can become a destructive force. Questioning otherwise loses  its purpose which is to serve faith in being closer to the truth.

Faith without questioning becomes dogmatism and oppression. Questioning without faith becomes nihilism and narcissism.

In a great crisis you need a great religion

Yet if we can combine the force of unstoppable faith with questioning then an opening is possible: a mature and well religion. It is apparent that both Martin Luther King and Malcom X both had those qualities, and it is the combinations of those two qualities of Faith and questioning in the pursuit of truth that had them be great leaders both spirituallty and in their activism.

Now, if we have established that they were both religious men first, we should look as to what religion actually means. It means to bond and that is exactly what we need in a time of climate crisis. In this crisis what is crucial is that we need to bond with ALL of humanity, with the men and women of different origins and political views, of different religious beliefs and creeds. We need to bond with ALL of life which we depend on. As the climate crisis binds us to face the fact that we are ONE.

Bonding with one another is crucial. Therefore religion is the key ingredient that will bind us and give birth to the appropriate actions that are needed in the climate crisis. 

By Sylvie Shiwei Barbier

Sylvie Shiwei Barbier is an Artist and Co-founder of Life Itself