Gerry Barney in his book Threshold 2000

Critical Issues and Spiritual Values for a Global Age explores how shared ethical principles can help address the critical issues of our time (pages 120-122).

Addressing the Critical Issues

Reflecting on the shared ethical principles expressed in the Gloabl Ethic sets the critical issues of our time in stark relief: disintegrating community, unrelenting demand on the Earth’s limited resources, aggravated injustice, growing divisions between rich and poor, spiritual indirection. At the same time, if we address these agonies from the perspective of shared moral commitments, we can find hope. That endeavour can be described in the following ways:

Building Community in Diversity
Diversity is a hallmark of our contemporary experience. Today every metropolitan center is home to a striking variety of cultures, ethnic and national groups, and religions. Never before has the encounter between people from different paths and perspectives been so widespread, touching individuals and communities everywhere, enriching the tapestry of our lives together, and recasting the dynamics of our world. When such encounters take place in an atmosphere of respect and mutuality, then new understanding and cooperation can emerge. More evident at present, however, are the tensions, hostilities, and even violence that arise from misunderstanding, fear and hatred of those who are different. The urgent task is to embrace human diversity in such a way that we no longer erect barriers out of differences but, by understanding and appreciating them, build bridges to harmonious, vibrant community.

Commitment to Sustainability
The issue of sustainability addresses the relationship of basic human needs to the continued viability of the Earth. Today the human family numbers nearly six billion. If our present rate of population growth and resource consumption continues, we are lilkely to approach and then exceed the limits of the earth’s ability to support us. Economic analysis suggests that to meet even the basic needs of so many would require a huge increase in agriculture and industry, prompting thoughtful persons to ask whether the earth can possibly sustain such demands. For example, levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide have risen dramatically; one-half of all land has already been transformed for human use; and one-half of all accessible fresh water has been claimed to meet current human needs. As a result, one of every eight plant varieties and ever-greater numbers of animal species are at risk of extinction, a prospect that further imperils the planet and its human community. The challenge is to find sustainable ways to peacefully meet the needs of all people while preserving the integrity of the whole community of life on earth.

Striving for Justice
Currently, four-fifths of the world’s people live on one dollar (US), five rand (South Africa), or fifty rupees (India) per day or less. Wrenching poverty, exacerbated by systematic injustice and inequitable distribution of resources, gives rise to disease, crime, violence, and hopelessness. Current trends towards globalisation and modern models of ‘development’, which are rarely community oriented, have often increased hardship and privation for millions of people. Injustice of this kind and scope poisons the familial, social and spiritual life of us all. It is imperative, from both an idealistic and a pragmatic point of view, that the sufferings of a majority of the human commnunity be alleviatd through urgent economic, political and social reform.

Solidarity and Service
The division of the world into rich and poor, north and south, empowered and disenfranchised, privileged and exploited, is growing. These divisions feed, and then feed upon, a pervasive alienation. If we are unaware of our fundamental connection to one another, we will not choose to work for justice,and therefore will find no peace. The remedy is to identify compassionately with others – with their joys and sorrows, their sufferings and struggles, and their essential human needs. Such solidariy is the root of human justice and the wellspring of service. In rediscovering our shared humanness and in serving one another, we emerge from estrangement into community.

Seeking Spiritual Grounding
Without spiritual grounding, visions of a far better world cannot be realised. In an age of profound spiritual yearning, the religious and spiritual traditions of the world offer wisdom

to move beyond our narrow self-interest, and to build community in the spirit of hospitality;

to recognise the interdependence of all life and the systems that support it, and to choose sustainable ways of living;

to see that the needs of others make a claim on our lives and to strive for justice and peace;

to remember our place in the human family and to find compassion that must be expressed in service;

to deepen spiritual awareness as the wellspring of personal transformation and to embrace the whole human community.

Creative Engagement

When reflecting on the future of the human community, one must consider the world’s most powerful institutions – instititutions, whose policies, for better and for worse, influence every aspect of life on the planet. Clearly, the critical issues facing the world today present an acute ethical challenge to these institutions.

What is urgently needed is a new opening to creative engagement among the guiding institutions – an active, attentive, and inventive collaboration, rooted in shared moral pinciples and expressed in mutually sustained programs on behalf of the peoples of the twenty-first century.

For more, read Threshold 2000: Critical Issues and Spiritual Values for a Global Age, by Gerald O Barney, published by the Millennium Institute for the Parliament of the World’s Religions, Cape Town 1999. Available from Co-Nexus Press.