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Spiritual capital across the divide

Green Futures magazine, 25 March 2003:

by Martin Wright, Editor of Green Futures Magazine – taken from the lead editorial article in the March/April 2003 issue of Green Futures

OK, let’s say you’re trying to convince your colleagues that all this sustainable development malarkey might just be worth a shot. Something to be taken seriously – not kicked gently into touch.

What’s the worst thing that can happen?

They cast you as the earnest Vicar, all wringing hands and empty pews. Or worse still, maybe, as some wacky New Ager, hopelessly ethereal, your sandals swaying gently several feet above the ground…

“No, no, no!” you reply. “You’ve got us all wrong. It’s all solid, practical stuff…” and you fall back on those reassuring mantras of pragmatism: hard science, sound economics, a robust business case and the, er, firmest of bottom lines…

But it’s too late. You’ve been pigeonholed as deeply dodgy, and they’ve got the perfect excuse to carry on as normal. So small wonder that sustainable campaigners fight shy of cosying up to the faithful.

Well, guess what? They might just be missing a trick or ten. Because the world’s major faiths have the power to reach the people left unrefreshed by the dust-dry jargon of sustainable development. As several articles in this issue make clear, they can take the environment deep into the inner city – and they can inject a welcome note of passion, of moral authority, into all those muddled, stop-start conversations about relative priorities. A faith perspective cuts right to the chase: you don’t take the sustainable path because it’s consistent with the findings of your stakeholder dialogue, or narrowly emerges as the best option following a tediously thorough cost-benefit exercise. You do it because it’s the right thing – pure and (beautifully simple).

And if that sounds highly dubious in an age where liberal relativism has been the dominant creed, just look where that’s got us. Spin City, where nothing’s what it says it is, and every motive’s slightly suspect.

But it doesn’t have to be an either/or… a push for a more sustainable future that’s rooted in faith is a complement, not a contradiction, to one that springs from a wholly secular starting point. Put the rigorous logic of sustainability next to the ethical imperatives of religion, and then watch the moral and the pragmatic come together in sweet communion.

For the believers, trashing God’s creation is a sin; for the pragmatists destroying the life-support system on which we all depend is criminally unwise. Different spurs, same result. Blessed are the poor, and blessed are the resources on which they depend.

Ah yes, resources. The main faiths control investments amounting to about 10 per cent of the world’s equities. That gives them a mighty lever for change, and it’s one which they are just beginning to wield. An “interfaith investment group” is poised to shift $7 trillion into ethical and environmental funds.

Seven trillion dollars. It gives a whole meaning to spiritual capital. Did somebody mention the bottom line?

Reproduced with kind permission of Martin Wright. © Green Futures

Link to International Interfaith Investment programmed (3iG).

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