Category - Economic justice

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Learning from a great humanitarian…
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Towards Muslim Engagement with Pope Francis’ Encyclical Laudato Si
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Pope Francis Changes the Conversation on Climate Change
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The human right to water
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Our social commons: two climate challenges
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Religion runs through the rate cut
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Religious Freedom: The Indispensable Work of Brian Grim

Learning from a great humanitarian…

Mother Teresa, canonized today, will always be remembered for her untiring service of the destitute, marginalized and abandoned. Becky Samuel Shah (in her article mentioned below) highlights Mother Teresa’s profound understanding of the spiritual and material aspects of human poverty and human need. In the words of Pope Francis, Mother Teresa “bowed down before those who were spent, left to die on the side of the road, seeing in them their God-given dignity”. In doing so, she taught us the essence of dignity, charity and justice and offered precious insights into the nature of integral human development.

The other aspect of Mother Teresa’s life that was celebrated today was her prophetic courage in speaking truth to power. As further noted today by Pope Francis, Mother Teresa “made her voice heard before the powers of this world, so that they might recognize their guilt for the crime – the crimes! – of poverty they created.” Her fight against poverty was coupled to her fight for peace. In an account shared this week via the Under Caesar’s Sword facebook page, a priest friend of Mother Teresa recalls her concern over the long term suffering and destabilizing impact of war:

“Working at her side as the West prepared for war with Saddam Hussein, I saw her dread as she glimpsed the future of Middle Eastern Christianity… She understood the immediate urgency of the present situation, but she also had a dreadful fear, and a premonition about how the Middle East was to unravel over the next 25 years and fall into chaos.”

Mother Teresa’s concern led her to undertake concrete actions and advocacy on behalf of the most vulnerable. Today is a good day to examine our consciences and ask ourselves what we have learned over the past quarter of a century. Have those who advocated for invading Iraq – ignoring the pleas of Mother Teresa on the eve of the Gulf War and those of John Paul II in 2003 – ever admitted and taken responsibility for the direct and indirect consequences of those decisions? What about their successors in positions of influence? Do we do enough to assist persecuted Christian and other minorities? In our own communities, have we considered seriously Mother Teresa’s message about the biggest threat to world peace? In the face of so much injustice, persecution and innocent suffering, what “small things with great love” would Mother Teresa be doing if she were still alive today?

Towards Muslim Engagement with Pope Francis’ Encyclical Laudato Si

Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si, Latin for “Praise Be”, was released Thursday, June 18, which was also the first day of Ramadan for many Muslims. Ramadan is a month of fasting that fosters growth in God-consciousness and compassion for the needy. While fasting for Ramadan, I have been devoting time to reading Laudato Si, and find much there that fills me with great hope. Although Pope Francis leads the world’s Roman Catholics, his message is meant for all; while the trends in ecological destruction are grim, the document resounds with a positive ethic of compassion, justice, and spiritual awakening. Our unsustainable course towards catastrophic climate change demands urgent individual and collective changes in consciousness and behavior. As the highest profile religious appeal for addressing the greatest collective action challenge of our time, Laudato Si is a potentially game-changing step.

Important themes of Laudato Si will resonate with many Muslims. Praise is central to how nature and the cosmos are presented in the Islamic tradition, with humanity as part of nature’s fabric, in a position of stewardship. As Joseph Lumbard has described in “An Islamic Response to Pope Francis’ Encyclical”:

“Among the world scriptures, the Quran provides a unique resource for building a new ecological paradigm. Grounded in the Abrahamic tradition, it presents a harmonious view of nature reminiscent of the Far East. In the Quran, “whatsoever is the heavens and on the earth glorifies God” (59:1; 61:1; 62:1; 64:1). “The stars and the trees prostrate” (55:6), “the thunder hymns His praise” (13:13), and “unto God prostrates whosoever is in the heavens and whosoever is on the earth, the sun, the moon, the stars, the mountains, the trees, and the beasts” (22:18). In these and many other verses, the whole of creation is presented as a Divine symphony, for “there is no thing, save that it hymns His praise, though you do not understand their praise. Truly He is Clement, Forgiving” (Q 17:44).”.

Love is mentioned over 70 times in Laudato Si. Highlighting love is more likely to inspire change than an approach focused purely on cost benefit calculations. A Common Word Between Us, the path-breaking, authoritative Islamic teaching to promote cooperation between Muslims and Christians for the common good, centers on the commandments of love of God and love of neighbor. Together, these affirmations can support significant civic initiatives for environmental protection across religious and community lines.

This much-needed positive motivation does not mean that we can ignore the costs of inaction. As the Common Word document also asserts, a failure to work together threatens our worldly well-being. Laudato Si points boldly and clearly to the human sources of climate change. This captures an emerging moral consensus that the status quo is a path to disaster. Averting collective catastrophe and thus serving the common good requires collective action at many levels.

Laudato Si emphasizes acute sensitivity to debt, inequality, and poverty, and suggests differentiated responsibilities based on wealth and ability. Compassion and justice require voice for the most vulnerable and marginalized- those often left voiceless, who stand to suffer the most from climate change, while having contributed the least to the problem. The social and environmental dimensions cannot be considered in isolation, but should be treated integrally as a complex joint crisis. These social justice concerns will surely find many receptive Muslim audiences.

Laudato Si also questions consumerism, and challenges us to imagine a different way of living. Driven by human consumption and production, we face staggering loss of biodiversity – the rate of extinction in the 20th century was up to 100 times higher than it would have been without man’s impact, and pollination by bees could be lost within three human generations. Aside from the ethical problem that we are the species causing the loss of so many other species, we are also undermining our own well-being by “sawing off the limb we are sitting on”.

We have just experienced the warmest May on record, after the warmest start to a year on record, and we are headed towards making 2015 the warmest year on record. This March, we reached the 400 parts per million mark of carbon concentration in the atmosphere; 350 ppm is considered safe and 450ppm dangerous. Climate change exacerbates water crises, further straining water-stressed societies in the Middle East, North Africa, South Asia, and elsewhere, placing many people at serious risk. To the ethical and spiritual motivations for changing course, we can add pragmatic worldly self-interest: we are all downstream.

The upcoming international climate summit is one avenue for seeking change. But the problem cannot be treated as a matter for the top-level negotiators only. Without getting into specific policy debates, even if the summit succeeds in binding commitments to decarbonize, civic monitoring and action will still be needed to fulfill those commitments. Irrespective of the outcome of the summit, local initiatives will matter, particularly when linked by information networks and the trust that others are taking responsibility. The complex and changing problems favor a multi-scale approach, which encourages experimental efforts at multiple levels, and helps to assess the costs and benefits of particular strategies.

While technological innovations hold important promise- and investment in renewable energy is needed as part of progressive elimination of fossil fuels- there remains a need for institutions to ensure appropriate use. Diverse social ecological contexts require diverse institutional arrangements. Laudato Si also references the principle of subsidiarity, which promotes local autonomy appropriate to capabilities. Together, these factors suggest that collective actions are needed at many levels to generate the institutions for sustaining our commons.

Muslims can and should engage substantively with Laudato Si. In keeping with stewardship, it is time to make positive changes where possible, to redouble our efforts as civic artisans in our communities, and to build broad solidarity for meaningful national and global commitments for the collective good.

Pope Francis Changes the Conversation on Climate Change

Pope Francis is changing the conversation on climate change from fear to love in his new environmental encyclical, addressed to all people, and one of the highest forms of church teaching for the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics. Francis calls us home, to love our neighbors and our common home, our gift from God. Yes, he calls us to energy conversion, but from energies of despair and denial to God’s sustainable energy of generous love and sharing. Climate change is not about polar bears vs. profits. He challenges both the left and the right, calling us all  in a new direction, beyond fear and paralysis to love and agency, from indifference and greed to global solidarity. The encyclical is not an “ecobummer,” as Francis reminds us that we are “created for love,” and that God’s ” love constantly impels us to find new ways forward,” to build “a civilization of love.”  A positive way out of the ecological impasse? As the encyclical is titled, “Praised be!”

Francis reminds us that we are neither spectators to an environmental train wreck, nor powerless to change course. He repeatedly reminds us of our God-given agency, both our complicity in environmental degradation, but also, more importantly, our ability to change course. He calls, as all Popes do, for all hands on deck, for greater international institutional capacity, greater corporate accountability, and greater local and individual action. This call to action using all our institutions is both a practical and a moral matter. When the challenges are this urgent, we have to use all available tools, and work through, reform, strengthen, expand and improve many institutions:  states, existing and new international institutions, civil society partnerships, more ethically oriented businesses, churches and individuals– all have a role, and no one is off the hook. This wide invitation to act is also a moral matter, as we all are called to use our agency and God-given gifts for the common good.

Pope Francis, as he always does, calls for respectful and effective dialogue among the local, national and international actors. He urges us to listen to and amplify local voices, which can “make all the difference” particularly when international politics are log jammed. Some of the most loving and effective responses to creation care arise at the local level, due to a sense of “responsibility, a strong sense of community, a readiness to protect others, a spirit of creativity and a deep love,” and concern for what we will “leave to our children and grandchildren.”

This creative community love is in the DNA of all effective environmental protection. For example, when I was a toddler growing up in Buffalo, New York, Lake Erie was dead. The massive great lake, one of the largest in the world, was so badly polluted that people could not swim in the lake, huge fish kills were common, and the Cuyahoga River, feeding into the lake, caught fire. Big industries used the lake as a dump. While all were impacted, the poor (who did not create the crisis) were hit hardest, who used the lake for food, drink, and exercise. The rich could opt out of the crisis, through private swim clubs, imported fish and bottled water.  Growing up, my mother told me how mothers concerned about the health risk to their families organized in “Housewives Against Pollution.”  They successfully lobbied for environmental protection measures, which eventually became state law, industry standards, and international law, and the health of the lake rebounded.  When Pope Francis notes that “access to safe drinkable water is a basic and universal human right, since it is essential to human survival” and that community engagement “makes all the difference,” I think of these busy mothers, engaging in politics out of love for their children and communities.

Pope Francis acknowledges the serious self-destruction we have done to our common home and our relationships, but his message is optimistic. He likens environmental protection to falling in love. Our abilities to creatively love, to join in the circle of God’s love, can heal our self-destruction.  In contrast, the public debate on climate change is marked by fear. The latest reports by climate scientists and climate deniers do not mention “love” once. For Pope Francis, love is central to environmental protection; he discusses love 71 times.  Francis reminds us that we are not alone on our journey home. Our Creator does not abandon us, but constantly invites us to join His project of love. We “still have the capacity of collaborating to build our common home.” It is never too late to do the right thing. God still invites us to love, and to come home to respect, protect, and share his bountiful garden. “Praise be!”

The human right to water

Nearly 5 years ago, the UN General Assembly recognized the human right to water and sanitation, and asserted that these are essential prerequisites to the realization of all other rights. March 22 is World Water Day. Consider that 2.6 billion people today do not have access to basic sanitation, and 884 million do not have access to safe drinking water. Without major collective actions,  increasing scarcity in coming years threatens increased violence, disease, poverty, and hunger, according to this AP article on the new World Water Development Report:

“Many underground water reserves are already running low, while rainfall patterns are predicted to become more erratic with climate change. As the world’s population grows to an expected 9 billion by 2050, more groundwater will be needed for farming, industry and personal consumption.

The report predicts global water demand will increase 55 percent by 2050, while reserves dwindle. If current usage trends don’t change, the world will have only 60 percent of the water it needs in 2030, it said.

Having less available water risks catastrophe on many fronts: crops could fail, ecosystems could break down, industries could collapse, disease and poverty could worsen, and violent conflicts over access to water could become more frequent.

“Unless the balance between demand and finite supplies is restored, the world will face an increasingly severe global water deficit,” the annual World Water Development Report said, noting that more efficient use could guarantee enough supply in the future.

The report, released in New Delhi two days before World Water Day, calls on policymakers and communities to rethink water policies, urging more conservation as well as recycling of wastewater as is done in Singapore. Countries may also want to consider raising prices for water, as well as searching for ways to make water-intensive sectors more efficient and less polluting, it said.”

Our social commons: two climate challenges

The growing crises in ecological sustainability and identity politics are straining our social commons. As part of responding to both climate challenges, protect and invest in our social commons.

The doomsday clock has been moved to 3 minutes to midnight. Climate change, fed by carbon emissions, is expected to push us above the 2 degree temperature increase threshold in 30 years, based on current trends in usage of our carbon budget. This manmade crisis creates far-reaching issues of justice. Those best positioned to act unilaterally to protect themselves from climate change harm- in the near term- are the wealthy, who have also been the biggest contributors to the problem. Those most likely to suffer from it are the poor, who did the least to create the problem. Mitigation demands collective action in numerous arenas and at different levels. The scale, complexity, and number of related problems stretch our institutional capacities for addressing them collectively.

Meanwhile, our global identity-politics tensions are heating up, largely but not exclusively from the clash of civilizations narrative and various nationalisms. This latter form of climate change wears and rips at our social fabric, ultimately threatening to widen and escalate conflicts into humanity-encompassing mutual destruction. Public opinion in Europe and the US, particularly after the traumatic Paris attacks in January, has gravitated further towards a clash of civilizations mentality. Identity politics- my side, right or wrong- can be contrasted to principled deliberation about principles. Without redoubled efforts to provide meaningful avenues for addressing injustices, and to counter the identity clash story, a self-fulfilling prophecy will result.

Our social commons— the community space in which we meet and engage with the other to devise answers to our shared problems— is under strain. The best responses to both types of climate change start with invigorating our social commons to generate participatory answers. This means nurturing a more responsible global civics: acknowledging and affirming the humanity of the other through an ethic for mutual obligation, such as the Golden Rule; including religion, not solely for the pragmatics and semantics, but also for the consciousness of the intrinsic worth of nature; appreciating that diverse scales and social ecological settings require a polycentric approach, while supporting the critical functions of central government; and maintaining vigilance against the vigilantes on all sides, cooling identity-based conflict escalations and promoting cooperation for the common good.

Religion runs through the rate cut

The collapse of oil has shocked any number of economies over the last few months. The Russian central bank has scrambled to prop up the ruble, running rates as high as 17% to attract foreign capital. Canada’s own Bank actually cut rates by a quarter point, dropping the Canadian dollar significantly. All these responses look like good old fashioned supply and demand economics, but there is more than a little political theology that runs through these rates.

Oil prices aren’t set to recover quickly. Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal, chairman of Kingdom Holdings, nephew of the late King Abdullah, made it clear that Saudi Arabia will continue to double down on these prices. Saudi Arabia, a country that takes nearly 90 per cent of its budget from oil, remains committed to its levels of production, which is to say its supply. The prince blamed the fall in price on demand. The country will not be the first to blink.

“Eventually there’s no doubt that some countries have to blink and reduce their production…I don’t see Saudi Arabia or OPEC countries blinking,” he said.

Students of religion and history can clearly see at least two countries in the crosshairs of this game of brinkmanship: America, and its boom in fracking, and the rival Shia state of Iran. A fringe benefit has been the near collapse of the Russian ruble.

The list of Saudi grievances is long. Riyadh has been annoyed by American unwillingness, or incapacity, to resolve the Palestinian problem, its détente with Iran and seeming tolerance of Iranian nuclear ambitions. Far more than annoyed, it has been heavily engaged in the civil war in Syria, which has now spilled out and threatens the tenuous remains of the Iraqi government after the American withdrawal. Some have even labelled this a proxy war funded by the oil money of religious zealots around the Persian Gulf, lined up on Sunni/Shia religious lines.

Among the many sides of that war include somewhat famously Iran, its subsidized Shia brigades, and its increasingly unsteady overtures to the Kurds and to the West to protect Shias in the brutal path of destruction ISIL is cutting.

We may never see $100 a barrel again, warned Prince Alwaleed on Jan. 23, a statement that if true will cripple (North) America’s comparatively expensive oil production, and gut the state finances of its religious rival Iran. Maybe that’s a happy coincidence.

The oil politics of the Middle East will always have an Islamic political theology, or maybe more to the point rival theologies, running through it. And that’s a lesson that Governor Stephen Poloz, pun intended, took to the Bank.

Religious Freedom: The Indispensable Work of Brian Grim

Some of the most important arguments for religious freedom come from the work of scholar Brian Grim and his collaborators.  Grim teamed up with sociologist Roger Finke to write The Price of Freedom Denied: Religious Persecution and Conflict in the Twenty-First Century.  One of the most interesting arguments there is that religious freedom is correlated with a whole range of other good things.  They make a strong argument, for instance, that the restriction of religious freedom is correlated with violence.  Now, Grim is making the case that religious freedom is good for business — and hence for economic growth, which in turns encourages stability and peace in a virtuous cycle. He has founded the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation to promote the idea.  Explore the links here to see what he is up to.

© Daniel Philpott The views expressed in this forum are those of the individual contributors and do not necessarily represent those of Daniel Philpott, CCHR, or the University of Notre Dame.