What are the problems and issues facing our planet now? Breakdown of society? Environmental destruction? Population explosion? Fragmentation of families? These are very big issues that need addressing now.

The Prince of Wales thinks that all of these are simply outward symptoms of a deep inner problem: our society’s loss of soul. In a wide-ranging theologically centred speech entitled “Islam and the Environment” to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies, he looked at issues such as these and many more with a central hypothesis: There is a growing rift between humanity and nature, and we can’t solve our other problems without healing that rift.

No sense of belonging

I can’t help looking at our society and thinking he is right. In Western culture (which now encircles the globe) we appear to have lost a unified view of the world, and so often seem to see things around us as superficial, to be manipulated to our own benefit as we see fit. We have lost a sense of being part of it all, of belonging and of being responsible.

Because of where the prince gave the speech (which you can read in full here) there are a lot of references to how Islam stands on these issues. He will, of course, be heavily criticised (again) for finding good things to say about Islam, and probably for even being at the event in the first place (he is Patron of the centre), but the prince has a life-long history of trying to find ways of increasing the cohesion of our society by giving minorities the confidence to participate.

A posh pagan tree hugger?

It has been fashionable for a very long time to call the Prince a barking mad nutter, to dismiss him as a posh tree hugger and to answer everything he says with the argument “yes, but you are very very rich”. This mindless criticism makes the newspapers happy and also neatly sidesteps giving rational thought to his arguments. And there are rational criticisms which ought to be heard, but generally they will be drowned out by general egg-throwing.

This speech ranges over theology, science, economics, philosophy and ecology. It will be criticised by Christians and Conservatives as being Islamic or Pagan or New Age, it will be criticised by environmentalists for making their cause religious, it will be criticised by most faiths for trying to treat all faith as expressions of the same thing, it will be criticised by scientists for attempting to return us to a dark age of mysticism and myths, by industrialists for wanting to end the structures that bring us prosperity, by royalists for continuing to bring royalty into disrepute. Basically, it will be liked by very few. But you ought to read it anyway.

The inconvenient truth

He says “The inconvenient truth is that we share this planet with the rest of creation for a very good reason – and that is, we cannot exist on our own without the intricately balanced web of life around us.” So often scientists can seem to be reducing everything, religious people can seem to be bashing everything (or quite often each other) and everyone seems to be selling everything – for a price you and the planet can’t really afford. It’s time to stop looking down and to gaze in awe at the stars again.

He may be a dreamer – but we live in an age that seems horribly short of dreamers.