The Words of Reverend Chung Hwan Kwak

Health and Environment: Global Partners for Global Solutions

Chung Hwan Kwak
April 17, 2000
Interreligious and International Federation for World Peace

Distinguished excellencies and representatives of the United Nations, the governments of Indonesia and Uganda, and World Information Transfer. Good afternoon.

Let me begin by congratulating Dr. Christine Durbak, our Chair, Dr. Bernard Goldstein, Co-Chair, Mr. Taj Hamad, Co-Chair, the sponsors, and all those who have worked so hard to put together this Ninth International Conference on "Health and Environment: Global Partners for Global Solutions." You have identified critical issues that demand our most serious attention, particularly in the search for "solutions for the new millennium."

It is both an honor and a privilege to address you today on this most important theme. I am particularly pleased that you have seen fit to include, as a major component of this conference, the voices of religious and spiritual leaders. I respect and admire the wisdom of this decision.

As Chairman of the Interreligious and International Federation for World Peace, I wholeheartedly support any effort which seeks to integrate the insights and spiritual resources of the world's great religions into any forum aimed at finding solutions to global problems. At its Inaugural Assembly, on February 6, 1999, IIFWP's Founder, the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, stated the following: "The time has come when cooperative and mutually supportive relationships among the world's statesmen and religious leaders are desperately needed....Since the root of human problems is not merely political, it follows that social and political solutions alone will always be insufficient. While most societies are politically governed, religion lies at the root of most national and cultural identities."

Too often, in the past, religious perspectives have been sidelined or marginalized from deliberations related to public policy. Religious voices have been marginalized for two primary reasons, I believe. First of all, religions themselves, through the actions of believers, have at times disqualified themselves. When believers of one tradition are hostile and disrespectful of believers of other traditions, they thereby proclaim themselves unsuited for participation in the public forum where conscientious persons gather to seek solutions to problems. That is, it has been the history of sectarian intolerance and narrowness which has caused many to exclude religious voices from public discourse.

But it has not only been the failure of believers to live up to the higher ideals of our respective traditions. There has also been a bias against religious voices that grew out of the Western Enlightenment and the rise of scientific rationality. We can say that there has been a kind of scientific arrogance which presumed that through the natural and social sciences, all problems could be systematically solved. In the process, secularist absolutism "threw the baby [of religion] out with the bathwater." History, however, has proved such an absolute faith in science to be naive. And, among the areas where this is perhaps most apparent are health and the environment.

In both areas----health and environment----we are pushed toward the deeper questions of meaning that take us beyond scientific explanations alone.


In recent decades the area of healthcare has been revolutionized by questions of a moral and religious nature. The fields of medical ethics and bioethics have become central to the training of not only moral philosophers and theologians, but health care professionals as well.

Most prominent are topics such as abortion and euthanasia, for each raises the issue of the value of human life, and the legitimacy of interventions which terminate human life. The question of the value of human life is one which science alone cannot answer. Matters of life, death and the quality of life are not merely scientific questions.

For this reason, many health care institutions have created councils of ethical advisors which include informed religious leaders and scholars of religion. These persons can offer moral perspectives rooted in age-old traditions that are revered by millions of adherents around the world.

Religious perspectives do not replace scientific objectivity in the diagnosis of the causes of disease. For the most part, advances in the sciences and technology have been of universal value to humanity. What religious perspectives offer, however, are the insights into the value of life and the sacredness of the human being. That is, a religious perspective can offer a transcendental point of view, one which rises above the analysis of objective facts.

Religion may not provide a cure for cancer or AID's, but it can provide norms and guidelines relevant to the way in which we treat a cancer victim or an AID's victim.

In addition to providing moral guidelines, religion also functions frequently in the healing process itself. Just as healing is often brought about through drug treatment, surgery and therapy, there are numerous instances where extra-scientific factors have been instrumental in the healing process. Certainly we have heard, or know persons who have undergone some form of "faith healing" or a healing that can only be described as either miraculous or mysterious.

But, not all religiously-induced healings are so dramatic. There are also many non-Western and traditional healing methods. Many of these methods have religious or spiritual dimensions and are enjoying quite a renaissance in recent decades, particularly at a time when many question the absolute authority of conventional allopathic, Western medicine. Traditions such as acupuncture, holistic medicine, naturopathic medicine, massage therapy, etc. are generally much more open to the spiritual dimension of the human being. I might mention here that at the University of Bridgeport, where I serve on the Board of Trustees, we are developing a world class program in alternative medicine.

If we are to provide solutions to global problems in healthcare there needs to be a greater integration of Western and Eastern approaches to healing. Likewise, we also need to attend to the relationship between disease and lifestyle. In many cases, health problems are linked to unfortunate lifestyle choices. We can mention here, for example, the link between smoking and cancer, the link between promiscuity and sexually transmitted diseases, the link between disease and overindulgence in alcohol, food, drugs, etc. Conversely, one can find positive correlations between the adoption of certain religious lifestyles and good health and longevity.


As in the area of healthcare, concerns about public policies and attitudes that affect the environment have pushed beyond science, politics, economics, and quality of life to spiritual and religious concerns. Of course, many areas of science are in serious dialogue with religion. Certainly theories of the origin of the universe itself, and the origin of life in our solar system have theological dimensions. The same holds true for debates within the biological sciences about the Darwinian theory of evolution, or about developments in biotechnology and genetic engineering.

Oftentimes we see religion caricatured as backward, superstitious and anti-rational.

Unfortunately, many religious believers, give legitimacy to the caricature. However, at the same time, many believers, from all traditions, have much to contribute to these conversations. It is unfortunate that serious debate about important matters is frequently reduced to polemics, as evidenced in debates between creationists and Darwinists.

Lynn White ["Historical Roots of our Ecological Crisis" 1967 in Science] argued some years ago that the root of the environmental crisis was religious, and specifically the Judeo-Christian, anthropocentric idea of human mastery or dominion over nature. The German sociologist, Max Weber, also has suggested that Protestantism gave rise to a scientific rationality which "disenchanted" the world, that is, robbed the world of its sacred and spiritual dimension.

It may very well be correct that religion, perhaps more through its passivity to the problem and its failure to address the problem of human greed, avarice, and selfishness, has been at fault in the rise of the environmental crisis. At the same time, however, religion may be necessary if we are to provide a comprehensive solution. It is religion, after all, which opens up the sacred dimension of ordinary reality. I my own estimation an environmental consciousness which is rooted in a profound appreciation for the miracle of life has more power than simply an argument based on survival alone. When we begin to see the earth and the universe as a sacred creation and gift, we enter into a religious consciousness.

Let me offer a few passages from various sacred texts to illustrate the way in which religion, properly understood, supports a respectful, caring and responsible attitude toward the environment:

"The earth is the Lord's and the fulness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein." Psalm 24.1

"Even in a single leaf of a tree, or a tender blade of grass, the awe-inspiring Deity manifests itself." Shinto, Urabe-no-Kanekune

"As a mother with her own life guards the life of her own child, let all-embracing thoughts for all that lives be thine." Buddhism, Khuddaka Patha, Metta Sutta

"One going to take a pointed stick to pinch a baby bird should first try it on himself to feel how it hurts." African Traditional Religion; Yoruba Proverb

"There is a type of man whose aim everywhere is to spread mischief through the earth and destroy crops and cattle. But God loves not mischief." Qur'an 2.205

"The mode of living which is founded upon a total harmlessness toward all creatures or [in cases of necessity] upon a minimum of such harm, is the highest morality." Mahabharata, Shanti Parva, 262.5-6 (Hinduism)

"The wolf shall dwell with the lamb and the leopard shall lie down with the kid, and the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall feed; their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The sucking child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand in the adder's den. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea." Isaiah 11:6-9

"God's hand has touched even every small blade of grass which grows in the field.....All creatures we see contain God's deep heart and tell the story of God's deep love." Sun Myung Moon, 6/28/59

As these passages suggest, religion is no enemy of the earth. If believers of all traditions were to live according to their respective scriptures, we would witness a significant change of attitude toward all created things. For all thing represent the handiwork of a loving Creator, God. In my own tradition, each year we celebrate the "Day of All Things." On this day we rise early to give grateful praise to God for every thing which has been created, from the atoms to the galaxies, from the amoebae to the Nobel prize winner. For the beauty of the natural world, for the food we eat, for the animals and plant life.

It is true that many religions have taught that our birthright is to have dominion of the earth. The true meaning of dominion, however, is to take responsibility and to care for the earth and all things. To respectfully and lovingly relate to nature. To see in each thing, an expression of God's love and goodness.

No religion encourages abuse, self-centered manipulation, and especially not the sacrifice of future generations for the sake of one's own. Religions teach the opposite, namely, to live for the sake of others, to sacrifice for the sake of our children, to share equally the fruits of God's creation. Any system which sacrifices the future for the sake of the present; any person who lives for the sake of himself or herself at the expense of others, is not living according to God's ideal. The environmental crisis is rooted in selfishness. If we learn to live for the sake of others, we can solve the environmental crisis.

I would like to mention three areas where the organizations founded by the Rev. Moon, and which I have been directly involved, have been instrumental in promoting true stewardship and care for the earth. First of all, through the work of the World University Federation and the ______________, we have sponsored a series of conferences and fact-finding tours to the Pantanal region of South America, an area that includes parts of northwestern Brazil, Paraguay and Bolivia (?). These academic conferences and tours for environmental scientists and tours are aimed at finding ways to protect and preserve one of the world's last remaining, unspoiled wetlands.

Secondly, through a variety of ocean enterprises, we has initiated efforts to find food sources that can solve world hunger without using up precious land and food resources. In particular we have developed a high-protein fish powder product, which we have been distributing in several countries through the work of the International Relief Friendship Foundation. We are currently developing a way to harvest krill as another means of providing an inexpensive source of nutrition and protein for victims of hunger. Responsible fishing programs offer an alternative to the West's over-reliance on beef as a source of protein; a reliance which places great demands on natural resources.

Thirdly, we have been pioneering efforts to develop alternatives to the current trend which requires most people to live in large urban environments, out of touch with the natural world. Many children throughout the world grow up with little first hand experience of the beauty of nature. This trend, seemingly irreversible since the industrial revolution, may be changed now that we enter a post-industrial era. I have spoken to this issue during the Habitat II conference in Istanbul in 1996.

Fourthly, through ongoing interfaith initiatives, we have gathered scholars of religion and religious leaders from all faiths to discuss the environmental crisis and the way in which religion might contribute to a solution. Several publications have resulted from these deliberations. I would like to call your attention to this issue of Dialogue and Alliance with essays on "Religion and the Environment." A volume from the conference series, "God: The Contemporary Discussion" (Nairobi, Kenya 1991), and the volume World Scripture: An Anthology of Sacred Texts" published by the International Religious Foundation, and quoted earlier. Finally, in our Religious Youth Service projects around the world we educate the international youth volunteers on the importance of taking care of the environment.

These but a few examples of ways in which responsible religious activism can contribute to solutions to the present environmental crisis. I know that similar initiatives are multiplying in many places.


Based on my own religious tradition's teaching, known as Divine Principle, God's purpose in creating the earth and human beings is to establish a realm of love, peace and joy. We may call this ideal, the Kingdom of God, or heaven. Certainly the ideals of human health, and a beautiful and sustaining environment are central to this purpose.

In essence there are three basic human desires rooted in God's principle of creation. These are the desire to flourish as a creative and happy individual, rightly related to God; the desire to be rightly related to others, particularly in the family; and the desire to be rightly related to the things of the world or the cosmos. We can call these three desires the three blessings, God's gifts to humanity.

I believe that all religions affirm these desires and offer guidelines for believers to assist them in fulfilling these God-given desires. The ideals of health and a clean environment are constitutive of these basis desires. There should indeed by a serious collaboration among religious leaders, scientists, various NGOs and governmental representatives to effectively bring about solutions to pressing problems. Clearly the religions have a most important role to play.

Thank you for your kind attention.

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