Monday, June 23, 2008


On the fourth Sunday of every month my Quaker Meeting organises for someone, usually a member, to give us a brief talk on a topic which obviously is of interest to the speaker and of interest to others.

This past Sunday I gave the talk and here it is in textual form:

Let me start by saying that I do not intend to talk about humanity’s destructive impact on the rest of creation and the particular things that we can do about it. Although such things are important I want to focus instead on what seems to me to be at the root of the problem.

Ever since my childhood, during which I grew up on a dairy farm in KZN, I have always been very conscious of the rest of creation and of our dependence on it.

As I have grown older this consciousness has been expanded through gathering more and more bits of knowledge.

This has been particularly so in recent years as humankind’s unthinking destruction of the rest of creation has become more public and thus more environmental knowledge, particularly about environmental destruction, has been absorbed by me.

A recent knowledge gathering event left me particularly disturbed about the possible future of life on earth as we know it. This came from attending the SAFCEI AGM and Conference in April. Much of what I learnt there was about humankind’s persistent and ever increasing destruction of the environment right here in South Africa.

As I struggled with this knowledge often discussing the whole issue with others the following understandings begun to emerge into my consciousness and I would like to share them with you.

Firstly the rest of creation is responding appropriately to what humanity is doing to our planet. It can do no other.

Secondly the environmental problems being generated by human beings are so complex, so vast and so overwhelming that I am sure that the very best thing that we can do is to turn in to the Light, humbly seeking its guidance on actions that we can each take in respect of this destruction. The Light knows what is right for us individually even if we do not.

For Friends this is nothing new it is how we understand that we need to live our lives anyway. It is therefore not a strange or unusual approach to all matters that deeply concern us. It is just that now we need to recognise the severity of the ongoing environmental destruction by ourselves and actively seek to include it in our prayers for guidance from the Light.

Thirdly the main reason why I think that humanity has got itself into this dreadful pickle is that Western Culture has triumphed over the other cultures on earth. Now all of humankind is striving, through the same means as the West used, to achieve the same levels of material wealth as those reached in the West.

The striving is not a problem it is the means that are the problem. Why is this?

Historically and up until this point in time the West’s attitude to the rest of creation has been fundamentally and arrogantly exploitative rather than humbly cooperative. We have seen ourselves as somehow above the rest of creation which we perceive as being there for us to exploit as we please.

The reality is that we are just a part of creation like everything else and are therefore equally subject to its rules and regulations. Where we perhaps differ from the rest of creation is that we have consciousness and can therefore, if we so desire, enter into a conscious relationship with the ‘All’, the ‘Spirit’ the ‘Light’, whatever you might want to call it, and can therefore be guided in a good way in our relating to the rest of creation.

For this to happen however we have each got to humbly seek the guidance of the Light in all our relating with the rest of creation.

For millennia we in the West have not done any such thing as was so clearly perceived by an Amerindian, Chief Seattle [1786-1866] of the Squamish, when he said with respect to the European settlers in Washington State USA:

--- What is the white man without beasts? If all the beasts were gone, men would die from a great loneliness of spirit. For whatever happens to the beasts soon happens to man. All things are connected.

You must teach your children that the ground beneath their feet is the ashes of our grandfathers. So that they will respect the land, tell your children that the earth is rich with the lives of our kin. Teach your children what we have taught our children, that the earth is our mother. Whatever befalls the earth befalls the sons of the earth.

If men spit on the ground, they spit on themselves.

This we know: The earth does not belong to man; man belongs to the earth.

This we know: All things are connected like the blood which unites one family. All things are connected.

Whatever befalls the earth befalls the sons of the earth. Man did not weave the web of life, he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself. --

Saturday, June 14, 2008



The Western way of living with the rest of creation has, for millennia probably, been basically exploitative. Before the industrial revolution, for example, Europeans had used up much of Europe’s tree cover. The Dutch continued this exploitative tradition when they arrived at the Cape. Hout bay was called that by them because of the indigenous forests on its shores, now only the name remains. As we found ways to use things to our advantage we have simply set about doing so with never a thought for the consequences of our actions, if any, for the rest of creation. We have basically seen it as our God given right to do so and we have exercised it. Perhaps because of our brain power we have seen ourselves as Lords over the rest of creation. This is a delusion of grandeur. We are just a part of creation like everything else that has been created and we need to recognise this and to work cooperatively rather than exploitatively with the rest of creation.

An exploitative way of relating to the other often appears to yield gains for the exploiter. The time span during which this can occur depends on the situation. An exploitative relationship with another person might appear to work to the exploiter’s advantage but this will only last until the exploited cottons on to what is happening to them then the relationship will collapse. When we are considering the consequences of the West’s exploitative relationship with the rest of creation we are dealing with much longer time spans during which there appear to be gains for the exploiter.

The industrial revolution was based on the exploitation of fossil fuels, namely coal, to supply energy. The revolution started in England in the mid-eighteenth century but it was only toward the end of the 20th century that we in the West began to become aware of the very serious environmental damage that our use of fossil fuels was causing. During those two hundred years however, on the back of the use of coal for energy, England rose to world dominance only to be superseded in its turn during the 20th century by oil burning America.

The rest of the world in the form of China and India have now woken up to the apparent advantages of a fossil fuel based economy and are pursuing such economies whilst the environmental damage is growing exponentially and the limited supplies of crude oil are being ever more rapidly depleted. The environmental chickens of the West’s exploitative relationship with the rest of creation are rapidly coming home to roost but sadly not soon enough to prevent others from taking up this same disastrous road in search of the apparent benefits that it has to offer.


As I see it the only way out of the environmental mess that we have and are creating is a path grounded in a full acceptance of ourselves as just part of creation and consequently desirous of working cooperatively in every way with the rest of creation, rather than exploitatively.

What does this mean in practice?

I will try to answer this question from my Quaker understanding and experience.

Traditionally, through their individual experience, Quakers have been able to teach with confidence, from one generation to the next, that the there is that of God within every person, also called the ’Light within’ or the ‘Spirit within’ or the ‘Light of Christ within’ and that by consciously seeking to subject oneself to its guidance on how to conduct one’s life one will then be better able to lead a spiritually rewarding life.

So Quakers, and I would guess all spiritually oriented people, are used to seeking to bring the conduct of their lives under the guidance of the Spirit. The trouble is that, up until now, along with the rest of humanity, Quakers in general have not really allowed much space in their consciousness for guidance on environmental matters. This can change of course and given our current environmental situation needs to do so.

Historically Quakers as individuals, and as a community, have been gripped by various social concerns which have then manifested in considered actions to address the issues of concern. What is now needed is that in our seeking for spiritual guidance from the ‘Light within’ we recognise that the rest of nature and how we relate to it is also of vital spiritual concern to us. With this scenario we would actively seek guidance on decision-making for matters environmental.


Because we were born into the midst of a culture which is founded upon an exploitative attitude toward the rest of creation there are many aspects, of conducting what could be regarded as just plain ordinary daily life, which are actually environmentally harmful, so from an environmental perspective by just living we are living in sin.

Accepting that this is so and having developed as a consequence a firm purpose of amendment we can then investigate our way of living to discover those aspects of our daily living which give rise to environmental crimes. The criminal import of these will differ from person to person so this is where we will each need the ‘Light’ to guide us in our amendment actions.

Examples of areas where some immediate amendment is possible, our use of fossil fuels for example and our generation of waste which ends up in municipal land fills, all these can be reduced if we set our minds to doing it.

Such things are just a start on the road to adopting an ecologically sustainable life style which life style will be the one that is being followed by the humans, in any, who survive into the middle of this century.


On thinking about what I can do in the face of the reality of what humanity, as a whole, is doing to our nest, the world we live in, the following seemed to me to be two actions that I could, nay should, take.

Firstly if we humans want to survive into the foreseeable future as a species on this planet we have simply got to live in an ecologically sound and self sustaining manner and the time to start adapting our lives in this direction is right now. Ultimately those who survive will be living in Ecovillages.

Secondly as the bulk of humanity is not living in this way and without pushing by activists will continue to pursue their environmentally disastrous course those of us who are aware of the approaching environmental catastrophe should never cease in our efforts to try to get our fellows to change their direction.