Sustainable development is an everyday concern in Alaska, where we constantly strive to hold a balance between forward-moving development and the immeasurable value of our state's spectacular natural beauty and abundant wildlife.
Alaskans are not unique in that challenge. The U.S. Department of Energy describes sustainable development as "a strategy by which communities seek economic development approaches that also benefit the local environment and quality of life."
It has allowed many communities to discover that traditional approaches to planning and development "are creating, rather than solving societal and environmental problems. Sustainable development offers real, lasting solutions that will strengthen our future."
This concept also has global attention, as was evidenced by the United Nations World Summit on Sustainable Development, held in Johannesburg, South Africa, from Aug. 26 to Sept. 4., and religion is a necessary factor in that equation, without which balance will never be found.
Slid off-center into fanaticism, religion wields a destructive impact on the stability and progress of the world -- its bigotry a major obstacle to peace and well-being, its communities nothing more than channels for the delivery of goods and services to carry out development policies and programs. Perverted, its power pits neighbor against neighbor, rousing hatred and strife, destabilizing, rather than steadying the world.
But allowed its constructive role, religion is capable of creating a peaceful and prosperous global order, bringing about a world where all peoples and nations can live together in peace and harmony, where humankind is a single family and Earth is homeland.
"Religion must be the source of fellowship, the cause of unity and the nearness of God to man," according to Baha'i Scriptures, which also affirm that religion "is the source of illumination, the cause of development and the animating impulse of all human advancement" and "has been the basis of all civilization and progress in the history of mankind."
For a majority of the planet's inhabitants, religion provides meaning and hope, inspires sacrifice, change and long-term commitment in its followers.
In fact, it is unthinkable that a peace and prosperity, which nourishes diversity of cultures and nations, could be established and sustained without the direction and support of the world's great religions.
Given the historical effects of religious fanaticism, it is understandable that the role of religion in sustainable development should be suspect.
However, the immeasurable good that religions have done and continue to do in the world, as well as the far-reaching contributions they make toward establishing a peaceful, prosperous and sustainable global order cannot be denied.
The burden of proof weighs on the world's religions.
Followers, but more so, religious leaders must show themselves worthy partners in the construction of a sustainable world civilization. That requires a conscientious and untiring effort to rid religion of the shadow of bigotry and superstition from within faith traditions.
It requires an acceptance of the freedom of conscience for all people and a putting aside of religious exclusivity. And, it demands that religious leaders prove themselves worthy of participation by excluding prejudice, bigotry and violence.
The longer religion is uninvolved and until fanaticism is renounced, the longer humanity will suffer the pains of injustice and disunity, leaving peace and prosperity disappointing illusions.
And as religion's leaders unite against hatred, exclusivity, oppression of conscience, violations of human rights, denial of equality, opposition to science and glorification of materialism, violence and terrorism, followers also must act.
The transformation of their lives by the cloak of sacrifice for and service to the well-being of others will prove a valuable contribution toward the long-promised reign of peace and justice on Earth.
Paul Gray is a member of Baha'i Faith. Sunday devotions at the Ridgeway Baha'i Center on Knight Drive in Ridgeway, are at 11 a.m. Children's class is at 11:30 a.m.
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