Fostering Dialogue Between Science and Religion

The Sisters of the Good Samaritan have entered into an auspice agreement with the Faith Ecology Network (FEN), a sponsorship that will support the continued mission of strengthening interfaith dialogue between science and religion.

In a time where many consider science and religion to be on opposite ends of the spectrum, FEN offers a forum for the two disciplines to learn from the other and engage in respectful dialogue.

The Faith Ecology Network started in 2003, when the Columban Centre for Peace Ecology and Justice – part of the Columban Mission Institute – organised an event, themed around ‘wonder’ and the ‘will to care’. A number of faith traditions attended and engaged in the inaugural seminar and since this time, FEN’s vision of multiple faith traditions sharing their insights in response to scientific dialogue has continued.

The Columban Mission Institute identified a need for a more formal structure to the network and engaged with Anne Lanyon to take on the assignment of Coordinator of the Faith Ecology Network, a role she proudly continues to carry out today.

“The model that FEN has always used when getting people together is to have scientific input,” says Anne.

“Each of our events has followed the model of an ecological scientist introducing a topic, in a respectful and professional way, followed by a period of response from different faith perspectives – including indigenous perspectives.”

FEN is an Australian hub, which serves to connect people of diverse faith traditions and those with no faith traditions – including Catholic, Baha’i, Anglican, Uniting Church, Salvation Army, Baptist, Hindu, Jewish, Brahma Kumaris, Muslims, Aboriginal, scientists, climate scientist, ecologists, and others.

“It is very much about bringing them all together and learning from each other.”

Following the closure of the Columban Mission Institute, in 2017, a small group of FEN members – the Core Companioning Group – continued the mission of the network and went in search of a new sponsor, one that would share the same values and vision of supporting interfaith dialogue.

After a brief period of support by the Australian Catholic University, Anne connected with Good Samaritan Sister Catherine McCahill to discuss the possibility of the Sisters of the Good Samaritan auspicing the network.

Catherine has always held an interest in interreligious dialogue and joined FEN in 2013, after attending one of their public events.

“I really liked what I experienced,” says Catherine. “It’s broader than Christianity and I think sometimes we get caught in a one world view, that comes out of our tradition and we need to expand it – for all traditions.”

The sponsorship provides FEN with insurance coverage for events, assistance with finance and banking, where donations are collected, and human resources, should FEN wish to employ anyone on a part-time or casual basis.

Anne highlights how important the auspicing has been to the network, helping them hold their focus on connecting, learning and creating dialogue.

“We don’t have the capacity to become an incorporated body,” says Anne. “We are a network, focused on the good of all of God’s creation and this sponsorship has allowed us to maintain that focus.”

Catherine says the partnership has been a natural fit for the Good Samaritans, with it being a faith based organisation that encourages open interfaith dialogue around one of the Good Samaritan’s key focus areas – ecological conversion.

“I think real dialogue between religions happens around projects and something that has some central meaning for them,” says Catherine. “This is one project where we have passion, it extends beyond dialogue.”

FEN and congregation share the same concerns on climate change and human impact on the planet, and believe ‘in the importance of people of faith speaking publicly to influence public environmental opinion’.

My personal view is, saying it simply, I think the Earth is a prophet now,” says Anne. “The Earth is speaking to us and we must listen, but do we even know how to listen? We need to start that learning now.”

In 2020, the Faith Ecology Network will be hosting two public events to coincide with World Environment Day, an Interfaith Prayer Vigil in a public place in Sydney and a Public Interfaith Participatory Forum, featuring two expert ecology and scientific speakers with responses from faith traditions.

They are calling out to current members, and those people interested in joining the network, to assist and participate in these events.

For more information, or to join the Faith Ecology Network, visit https://www.faithecology.net.au or email faithecology@gmail.com.

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Report on " Sacred Earth: Original Blessings, Common Home Conference."

FEN as a network of networks appreciates this report on a recent conference posted on his blog site by Ben-Zion Weiss.

Overall by focusing on the sacredness of the Earth, the conference was an affirmation of the Jewish Tradition, because the ancient Hebrew tribes considered the Earth as sacred. It was from the Earth that we humans were created through the Divine Breath of YHWH. When this name is spoken without any vowels it is the sound of the breath. When God created Adam, he showed him all the trees of the Garden of Eden and said to him: See my works, how lovely they are, how fine they are. All I have created, I created for you. Take care not to corrupt and destroy my universe, for if you destroy it, no one will come after you to put it right. (Ecclesiastes Rabbah 7) (from Faith Ecology Network website: http://www.arcworld.org/faiths.asp?pageID=81) The Jewish Perspective is rooted in the relationship between Adam and Adamah, as between Earth and earthling.

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Inspiring Earth Ethics – FEN at the Australian Earth Laws Alliance Conference

I was lucky enough to be able to do a short presentation about FEN at the Inspiring Earth Ethics: Linking Values and Action Conference which was held in Brisbane on November 23 – 24, 2017.
The key question, “How do we inspire and build Earth ethics in Australian society?” is one which probably many ordinary people ask themselves in different ways, knowing that the dominant discourse in public life is ignoring it even as the natural world suffers.

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Environment and Sustainability Identified as Key Australian Spiritual and Material Issue

On February 22, 2017, the Australian Partnership of Religious Organisations (APRO) hosted a national interfaith forum at Parliament House, New South Wales. In roundtable discussions consisting of people from various Christian denominations, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs and Bahai’i, people identified the natural environment and sustainability as a key issue facing the spiritual and material health of Australia. They agreed that religions have to be part of the learning, the sharing of a variety of insights and of the much-needed action.

The participants from a range of religious traditions talked about the religious values that can help address some of the problems. They agreed that God is in everything, and that we are all interconnected, including inter-generationally. We need spiritual reformation to develop an ethic of enough to overcome greed, apathy and the consumer culture.  The emphasis placed on economic growth leads to waste, including of energy. We need to me more aware of where our food comes from and the impact of food production, including of meat.

The group made recommendations to government, to faith communities and to individuals.

To government:

There is a crisis.

Both knowledge and action are required.

Governments need to see faith communities as a resource and consult them on the many issues which are part of the crisis, climate change, loss of biodiversity, the dying Great Barrier Reef, water, food production, renewable energy, fossil fuel use and renewable energy.

If population growth is to be addressed, then gender equity and women’s education is crucial.

To faith communities:

Each religion should re-read its religious texts in light of scientific knowledge and ecological concerns.

Religion can be in dialogue with scientists regarding faith values and scientific knowledge about climate change.

The Faith Ecology Network provides a natural space for doing things together.

To individuals:

Humans have the capacity to care. Fulfilling our human role involves responsibility to act.

People of faith can be involved as environmental educators with others in the wider community.

For the full report on the APRO Forum see https://assembly.uca.org.au/rof/rof-news/item/2578-religious-values-and-the-value-of-religion-apro-forum

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Prayer Vigil

The 22nd May is recognised as the United Nations International Day for Biological Diversity and was chosen as a significant day for the Faith Ecology Network to meet together in prayer and reflection on damage to Earth’s systems, the extinction of species and the need for change.
Gathering at the Sydney Town Hall as a display of public witness, representatives from nine different Faith communities committed to their Faith traditions and to caring for the earth. At 4.30pm, this space was busy with commuters and passer-by’s with many stopping to listen and absorb the peaceful and contemplative atmosphere that was created.

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Engaging in science-religion dialogue

MUSINGS OF A LEADER, The Good Oil, April 18, 2017

Engaging in science-religion dialogue

Science and religion are separate and distinct disciplines, but surely we must learn from the engagement of one discipline with the other, writes Good Samaritan Sister Clare Condon.

BY Clare Condon SGS*

“There is naivety in just saying there’s no God,” the eminent physicist, Professor Brian Cox, said in an interview with The Telegraph back in 2014. Brian Cox seems to be agnostic about the existence of God, but he does not dismiss it outright. In the same interview, he also said that profound questions about cosmology and human existence “have not been discussed widely; they need novelists and artists and philosophers and theologians and physicists to discuss them”.

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Gloucester Sustainable Futures Convention 2017

Faith Ecology Network Foray to Gloucester
By Anne Lanyon

I travelled to Gloucester in the inland midcoastal area of New South Wales for the Sustainable Futures Convention 2017. It was a local community based initiative which arose after their struggle against AGL’s attempts to open coal-seam-gas mining in the area. It seems that after the groundswell of opposition to CSG, community activism for sustainable futures for renewable energy, sustainable farming and other local initiatives are strong in the region, though the threat from mining still continues. The Rocky Hill Coal project is for an open cut coal mine which, if it goes ahead will operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week. www.communityrun.org/petitions/save-gloucester-from-yet-another-open-cut-coal-mine

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Is Sustainable Tourism an oxymoron?

The United Nations has declared 2017 as the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development.
The UN states that tourism, as one of the largest and fastest-growing socio-economic sectors of our times, can stimulate economic growth, creating jobs and business opportunities that can help people escape poverty and improve their livelihoods.

But is Sustainable Tourism an oxymoron?

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Firstly, consider some ecological impacts from tourism: carbon emissions from transport especially by air; pristine wilderness that is no longer so pristine once it is on the tourist map. Secondly, let's think about the impact on culture: do many tourists actually gain a real understanding of a new country and its people. Finally, think about the actual economic benefit for many local people: does a resort buy local food and employ local people? Was a local person coerced into selling their land to a developer for a lot less than it is really worth? 

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Laudato Si Online Conference

During Laudato Si’ Week (June 13-17, 2016), prominent speakers from different faiths and backgrounds dialogued about the crisis affecting our common home and reflected on the Pope’s Laudato Si’ message on occasion of its first anniversary.  

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Meditation and the Environment

The Environment Meditatio held in Sydney 22-24 April was a ‘transformative’ experience for the 350 people who attended. Bringing together significant speakers from the various disciplines of theology, philosophy, science and spirituality, it was both a sobering reminder of the ecological crisis we currently face and an inspiring call to action. Two FEN members, Mona Javam and James O'Brien, share their thoughts

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