Today’s surfing led me to The New Atlantis, which is published by the Ethics and Public Policy Center, and which calls itself “A Journal of Technology and Society.” An article by Joel Garreau, entitled “Environmentalism as Religion” caught my attention, and it’s worthy of yours as well.
Garreau notes that as traditional religion’s role in the life of the West has diminished, people attempt to fill the vacuum in various ways, one form of which is what the article calls “ecotheology.” Manifestations of this can be seen in a variety of contemporary Christian settings:
Christianity has begun to accept environmentalism. Theologians now speak routinely of “stewardship” — a doctrine of human responsibility for the natural world that unites interpretations of Biblical passages with contemporary teachings about social justice.
[…]Over the following two decades, John Paul repeatedly addressed in passionate terms the moral obligation “to care for all of Creation” and argued that “respect for life and for the dignity of the human person extends also to the rest of Creation, which is called to join man in praising God.” His successor, Benedict XVI, has also spoken about the environment, albeit less stirringly.
American Protestantism, too, has gone green. Numerous congregations are constructing “green churches” — choosing to glorify God not by erecting soaring sanctuaries but by building more energy-efficient houses of worship. In some denominations, programs for recycling or carpooling seem as common as food drives. Church-sponsored Earth Day celebrations are widespread.
Even some evangelicals are turning toward environmentalism.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, of course, and there’s nothing wrong with wanting a cleaner world. But as Garreau observes, the religious characteristics of the environmental movement (even outside the churches) are readily apparent. He nods to the definitions of religion offered by philosophers William James and William P. Alston, and then reminds us:
As climate change literally transforms the heavens above us, faith-based environmentalism increasingly sports saints, sins, prophets, predictions, heretics, demons, sacraments, and rituals. Chief among its holy men is Al Gore — who, according to his supporters, was crucified in the 2000 election, then rose from the political dead and ascended to heaven twice — not only as a Nobel deity, but an Academy Awards angel. He speaks of “Creation care” and cites the Bible in hopes of appealing to evangelicals.
This, in turn is accompanied by what Garreau calls “Carbon Calvinism”, where
Fire and brimstone, too, are much in vogue — accompanied by an unmistakable whiff of authoritarianism: “A professor writing in the Medical Journal of Australia calls on the Australian government to impose a carbon charge of $5,000 on every birth, annual carbon fees of $800 per child and provide a carbon credit for sterilization,” writes Braden R. Allenby, an Arizona State University professor of environmental engineering, ethics, and law. An “article in the New Scientist suggests that the problem with obesity is the additional carbon load it imposes on the environment; others that a major social cost of divorce is the additional carbon burden resulting from splitting up families.”
A point that struck me as interesting was that partisans both Right and Left are known to use the environmentalism-as-religion idea disparagingly, in both cases because these particular partisans disdain religion’s insistence on something beyond rationalism. Garreau goes on to talk to both James Lovelock, creator of the “Gaia hypothesis“, and Bjorn Lomborg, who offers heterodox positions on climate change (arguing for example that there are more pressing issues), and finds that they both share, among other things, a faith in democratic, non-authoritarian solutions.
He goes on to pose some interesting questions about how the greener churches and the devout Greens may impact public policy. It’s an interesting article, and worth a read.