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A Fifth Directive Added to the Global Ethic

Commitment to a Culture of Sustainability and Care for the Earth

A Fifth Directive Added to the Global Ethic

A TIO Report by Paul Chaffee

Towards a Global Ethic – An Initial Declaration is a cornerstone of the modern interfaith movement. The text was drafted by German theologian Hans Küng at the request of the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions. He was assisted by Daniel Gómez-Ibáñez, Thomas A. Baima, both from the Council, and eventually a host of some 200 religious leaders from the around the world. They gathered a few days prior to Chicago’s 1993 centennial celebration of the 1893 World’s Parliament of Religions. Their task: to study and perhaps endorse the proposed Declaration.

After days of discussion, the leaders could not agree on every detail and decided to subtitle the document “An Initial Declaration,” which the Parliament’s Council endorsed. Doing so has meant that not only is the Global Ethic (as it is commonly known) a foundational resource for all things interfaith. It is also a living set of commitments, subject to change and development in the future. 

The First Four Irrevocable Directives

The Global Ethic which emerged from the 1993 Parliament of the World’s Religions is grounded in two principles: “No new global order without a new global ethic!” and “A fundamental demand: Every human being must be treated humanely.” In this context, it establishes four commitments, called “Irrevocable directives.”

  1. Commitment to a Culture of Non-violence and Respect for Life

  2. Commitment to a Culture of Solidarity and a Just Economic Order

  3. Commitment to a Culture of Tolerance and a Life of Truthfulness

  4. Commitment to a Culture of Equal Rights and Partnership between Men and Women

The document, which begins with a cry from the heart for those who suffer in this world, and the directives it articulates, have helped focus global interfaith dialogue for the 25 years since the 1993 Parliament.

Several years ago, while preparing for the 2018 Parliament held in Toronto this past November, the Council decided to take the Global Ethic the next step. Under the leadership of Myriam Renaud, and taking the same care that preceded the 1993 preparation of the Global Ethic, they organized a conference last January. The conference presenters, scholars of religion and ethics, were grounded in specific religious traditions. They were tasked to explore an issue of their own choosing to add to the original document. Traditions represented were: Catholicism, Sunni Islam, Shi’a Islam, engaged Buddhism, Protestantism, Judaism, African religions, Native American traditions, Chinese philosophy, Hinduism, and Human Rights. Brief responses to each presenter from scholars in the same tradition highlighted intrafaith nuances and differences.

The Fifth Directive

Photo:    US Air Force

The conference’s assembled scholars proposed a fifth directive for the document: Commitment to a Culture of Sustainability and Care for the Earth. In July 2018 the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions formally adopted the added language (see below), and on November 4 it was formally presented to the gathered Parliament community. The plenary session that day was devoted to “Care for Our Earth, Responsibility for our Future,” and dozens of subsequent workshops unpacked related issues.

In considering how appropriate this new development is, one wonders why attention to nature and the Earth didn’t get bigger play back in 1993. Hindsight is so much clearer than foresight! The encouraging reality is that increasing millions in the world today, religious and non-religious alike, have pushed the environment and climate to the top of their concerns. This includes most of the world’s religious, spiritual, indigenous, and secular communities. Last month’s TIO has a dozen articles about religion, spirituality, and climate.

The following text has been added to Towards a Global Ethic – An Initial Declaration.

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The Global Ethic: The Fifth Directive

5. Commitment to a Culture of Sustainability and Care for the Earth.

Numberless men and women of all regions and religions strive to lead lives in a spirit of mutual harmony, interdependence, and respect for the Earth, its living beings and ecosystems.

Photo:    Wikipedia

Photo: Wikipedia

Nevertheless, in most parts of the world, pollution contaminates the soil, air and water; deforestation and over-reliance on fossil fuels contribute to climate change; habitats are destroyed and species are fished or hunted to extinction. Over-exploitation and unjust use of natural resources increases conflict and poverty among people and harms other forms of life. Too often, the poorest populations, though they have the smallest impact, bear the brunt of the damage done to the planet’s atmosphere, land and oceans.

a) In the religious, spiritual, and cultural traditions of humankind we find the directive: You shall not be greedy! Or in positive terms: Remember the good of all! Let us reflect anew on the consequences of this directive: We should help provide – to the best of our ability – for the needs and well-being of others, including of today’s and tomorrow’s children. The Earth, with its finite resources, is shared by our one human family. It sustains us and many forms of life, and calls for our respect and care. Many religious, spiritual, and cultural traditions place us within the interdependent web of life; at the same time, they accord us a distinctive role and affirm that our gifts of knowledge and of craft place upon us the obligation to use these gifts wisely to foster the common good.

b) All of us have the responsibility to minimize, as much as we can, our impact on the Earth, to refrain from treating living beings and the environment as mere things for personal use and enjoyment, and to consider the effects of our actions on future generations. Caring and prudent use of resources is based on fairness in consumption and takes into account limits on what ecosystems can bear. Wherever heedless domination by human beings over the Earth and other living beings is taught, wherever abuse of the environment is tolerated, and wherever development surpasses sustainable limits, we have the duty to speak up, to change our practices, and to moderate our lifestyles.

Photo:    Pixabay

Photo: Pixabay

c) Young people should be encouraged to appreciate that a good life is not a life of outsized consumption or amassing material possessions. A good life strikes a balance between one’s needs, the needs of others, and the health of the planet. Education about the environment and sustainable living should become part of the school curricula in every country of the world.

d) To be authentically human in the spirit of our religious, spiritual, and cultural traditions, means the following: Our relationship with each other and with the larger living world should be based on respect, care and gratitude. All traditions teach that the Earth is a source of wonder and wisdom. Its vitality, diversity, and beauty are held in trust for everyone including those who will come after us. The global environmental crisis is urgent and is deepening. The planet and its countless forms of life are in danger. Time is running out. We must act with love and compassion, and for justice and fairness – for the flourishing of the whole Earth community.


This report is based in part on Myriam Renaud’s discussion on the Parliament’s website. Go here for the complete, current 13-page declaration.

Header Photo: Pexels