am a Christian. So I celebrate Christmas, the birth of Jesus, as the seminal event of my holiday season. I respect the rights of others to hold beliefs different from mine– religious or otherwise. I have the deepest respect for those who consistently give priority to the principles that are common to all of the major religions and enduring philosophies. Conflicts among believers invariably arise from the doctrine, dogma, and rituals that distinguish religions and philosophies rather than the principles that define human decency and goodness.
I am occasionally told that I speak like a preacher or an evangelist for sustainability. I take such remarks as compliments. In a sense, sustainability has become my religion. I was “raised in the church,” as they used to say about kids in churchgoing families. I attended church off and on over the years, mostly when I “raised my kids in church.” I gave up on organized religion when my religion began to interfere with my spirituality. This was about the same time as I began to understand and eventually became committed to the principles of sustainability.
I have found the principles of sustainability to be completely consistent with the core principles of virtually every major religion and enduring philosophy in the world. For example, Jesus said all of the laws of the prophets depended on two commandments. First, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” And, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22: 37-39). The second, the Golden Rule is a core principle of all major religions and enduring philosophies.
Sustainability is the ability to meet the needs of the present without compromising opportunities for the future. The needs of the present include the needs of “all” – not necessarily everything everyone wants but everything everyone actually needs. The first requisite for sustainability is simply the Golden Rule – to do for others as we would have them do for us if we were in their situation and they were in ours. The second requisite for sustainability simply extends the Golden Rule across generations. It requires that we do for those of future generations as we would have them do for us if we were of their generation and they were of ours.
Regarding the first commandment, sustainability is rooted in a belief in some higher order, ultimate reality, or God from which the purpose of human life on earth is derived. Purpose cannot be proven through modern science; it must be accepted as a matter of faith. If there is no higher order, there is no purpose for humanity on earth, and therefore, no rational reason to be concerned about its sustainability. Sustainability is also rooted in love – in the belief in the inherent goodness — of God, humanity, and the whole of creation. If the purpose of humanity is not good but evil, the earth would be better off without us. Souls give purpose to hearts which emerge as intentions and minds which guide the actions of bodies. When we act in ways that meet the needs of all of the present without diminishing opportunities for the future we are expressing our love of God with all our souls, hearts, and minds.
“He came that we might have life and have it more abundantly” (paraphrasing John 10:10). This verse keeps running through my mind this Christmas, at a time when so many people in the U.S. seem desperate for fundamental change – for something more out of life. In this so-called Christian nation, there seems little hope for realizing the opportunity for abundance that was promised by the coming of Jesus. Perhaps we need to see abundance within the context of timeless religious and philosophical principles rather than contemporary economic dogma.
In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said: “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you” (Luke 37-38). Michelangelo put it simply, “As you give, so shall you receive.” We judge and thus are judged, we condemn and thus are condemned, we refuse to forgive and thus are unforgiven, we take rather than give and thus are taken from. We are simply receiving in relation to what we are given – in good measure pressed down, shaken together, and put in our laps. The same measures we use to judge, condemn, deny forgiveness, and take away from others are “measured back to us.”
The timeless principles of human well-being tell us that abundance is not just about jobs, income, or wealth. True abundance comes from faith, hope, love, and peace – from positive human intentions and relationships guided by a belief in the possibility of a life of purpose and meaning. Even our classic Christmas stories, such as Charles Dickens’ Christmas Carol with Ebenezer Scrooge, convey the futility of seeking abundance through taking and hoarding rather than giving and sharing. When we are willing to sacrifice the principles of honesty, fairness, responsibility, compassion, and respect for the sake of jobs, income, wealth, prestige, or power, we are given unemployment, poverty, hatred, and helplessness in return – in full good measure, pressed down. “As you give, so shall you receive.”
We are a deeply divided nation – perhaps more divided than at any time since the Civil War. As Lincoln said at that time, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” We are as divided on the issue of sustainability as we are on many other matters. Some see it as a national or global conspiracy to deprive them of economic opportunities. Others see it as a necessary sacrifice to keep the planet livable for humanity. Too few seem to see it as an opportunity for a more abundant life, a new reason to respect, trust, forgive, and give. A commitment to sustainability gives us a logical reason to do for others as we would have them do for us, including those of future generations. The wisdom of the ages tells us that only by loving others as ourselves will we be accepted, respected, trusted, forgiven, and receive the abundance of life in return – in good measure, shaken down.
I do not write these things as one who has accomplished the mission of sustainable living but as one who is continually striving and frequently failing. That said, I feel a sense of contentment in the core of my being because I am confident in my purpose. I am confident the mission of sustainability is completely consistent with the message of Christmas and the wisdom of the ages that guides us toward the positive possibilities of abundant living.