Friday, July 21, 2006

How Religion Will Save the Planet

From the brand new August 2006 edition of National Geographic:

"Environmentalism has often been a somewhat grim business. (There is, after all, plenty to be grim about.) But a convivial environmentalism, one that asks us to figure out what we really want out of life, offers profound possibilities.

Perhaps the most important of those possibilities is a new link with communities of faith in this country. Though they don't always live up to their ideals, churches and synagogues and mosques are among the few institutions that can posit some idea for human existence other than accumulation. They understand that it's not just, as Bill Clinton's campaign asserted, "the economy, stupid." Their political help is crucial for making the necessary legislative change -- maybe the best news of the year was that some 90 prominent evangelical leaders broke ranks with Pat Robertson and his ilk to announce that they wanted to fight global warming, and fight it with their particular set of tools. "This is God's world," they said, which is a shocking idea for a culture that's come to think of everything as ours.

It's precisely this ability of religious leaders of all stripes to see individuals as part of something larger than themselves that's so important. And also their commitment to taking care of the needy, because of course there are lots of people in the world who aren't rich. If we can't help them figure out some path to dignity other than our hyper-individualism, the math of global warming will never work."

-- Bill McKibben, environmental activist, essayist and author of the best-seller The End of Nature



kr pdx said...

This is the website for the 2001 Bishops' Pastoral letter: "The Columbia River Watershed: Caring for Creation and the Common Good."

The listening effort was 1997-1999, the letter (it is VERY LONG) was released in 2001. The website is different than last time I viewed it--hopefuly because people are finally showing increased interest.


Second comment: I eat organic and am an environmentalist (voter/recycler/public transportation activist) because I am pro-life/Catholic.

kr pdx said...

and here's an article about "emergents," which I guess is a young people's movement inside evangelicism (this article will only be free-access until the end of Sunday, PST):

(Future Geek should be especially relieved ;). )

little-cicero said...

Very good point in saying that this is God's world, not ours. Possessiveness may have already become too engrained in our psyches to keep that fact in mind. We ought perhaps to treat the world as if God were an old friend asking us to watch his house while he's on vacation- don't have any wild house parties and don't rip the copper pipes out of the floor and sell them for scrap. The world is for us to use and enjoy, but we are to pick the fruits of the earth- not pull out the fruit trees! I guess before we can have a reasonable discussion about the environment, we have to make clear to humanity that this world is not ours to abuse. We're just watching it while God away in heaven.

Andy said...

I was hoping some of my non-religious friends would take umbrage at the suggestion that without religion there is more of a challenge to subscribe to the idea of belonging to a world that is larger than ourselves. I'm not entirely sure that's true, though I totally understand the writer's point, and I also think he's right that it's going to take a concerted effort from faith communities in order to counter the powerful business interests that are currently hindering government action in this area.

Furthermore, the communities that tend to be the worst for the environment -- the sprawling, 4000 sq ft McMansion exurbs with their decentralized planning, minivans and SUV's, the place where the cult of consumerism has reached a feverish fanaticism -- are also the mega-church communities, i.e., the "base" of the Republican party. And there are actual evangelicals (of the Left Behind/Tim LaHaye variety) who actually believe that the faster we exploit our planet and ruin it, the faster we usher in the second coming. Scary!!!!

kr pdx said...

Certainly there are religious people who take very different lessons from the Bible than the two I've contributed today. Future Geek has been poking around at this idea over at his blog recently, specifically about Rapturists.

It never occured to me that your quoted blurb was suggesting that non-religious environmentalists were somehow doing it wrong ... but perhaps that's because environmentalism is more or less an estabished religion here.

Clearly, though, religious people don't have a monopoly on community-building; why should non-religious people be offended if we finally turn "love your neighbor" outwards the way (I'd say) Jesus wanted us to? "To all the world"?

Andy said...

I don't think the implication was that nonreligious people are "doing it wrong," but rather asking the question, what exactly is it that motivates a non-religious person to self-sacrifice on behalf of greater good? And, what defines greater good for someone who doesn't believe in God?

kr pdx said...

SUVs/consumerism: I wish I could remember who wrote it ... I heard (pieces of) a brilliant interview on NPR with a guy who published a book ... a year or two ago? ... about how WASP-ism inherently kills itself ... the part that encourages consumerism/status-gathering is very much fundamentally at odds with the intellectual Protestant (and Catholic, but it doesn't apply) priority of caring for the poor/social justice (and presumably being a steward of God's creation, but I can't remember if he talked about that).

To be a really "good" WASP, you have to commit more to the Charity/Justice side ... which leads to deep guilt over the accumulation side ...

He had some analysis of actual families who were "losing" members as they stepped out of the cycle over the history of America.

Anyhow, McMansions et al are certainly disturbing. Hopefully the realtively young religions of the Evangelicals and Rapturists cycle through the accumulation stage faster than the Catholics and mainline Protestants did. The cycle seems to be gaining momentum anyhow.

kr pdx said...

"What motivates a non-religious person?"

Global warming seems to be motivating a number of them ;).

Seriously, though:

science (global warming, ocean death, freshwater death),

or a personal observation of human-caused habitat destruction, especially in a beloved place,

or concerns about the poisons one's children are ingesting with their "food" (which easily through only the most minor empathy leads to concerns about what others' children are eating ... and what farmworkers' children are exposed to ... etc etc up to California condors) ...

I can go on. But I'm being a blog-hog, so I'll stop.

(You happened to hit on my favorite topic to evangelize--to evangelize "my" side, I mean ... it's true that conservative religious people are only starting to realize the world/life might be finite. Many traditionally respected it (stewards blah blah blah), but the thought that it might actually be killable ... well, that's pretty new.)

Future Geek said...

What motivates non religious people to commit self sacrifice and what not....

A good post over at biblioblography.

I think you can explain morality through evolution. I think we have instincts for morality that have evolved over millions of years, from our time as a monkey.

Think about it. Cooperation is a valuable survival trait - and when humans started talking to each other and transmitting ideas to one another, cooperation became even more important than before - now people could tell others where the food was, etc. If you look at other creatures, many of them engage in what we would call "moral" behavior.

I think it's hardwired into us to work together, love each other, and cooperate. For most of our history we lived in small traveling groups of hunter/gatherers, related by familial bonds. It's only been in the most recent history that humans have lived together in large groups under "mighty leaders" who coerce us to do their will. This new situation goes against our nature so much that it has brought us the moral conflicts we face today.

You don't need God to tell you what is right and what is wrong.

Morality is born into you - look at the love a child has for its parents - and the love a mother feels for her child, even though the child is a drain on resources and energy.

Of course, I'm not saying that God didn't wire us that way. I just don't believe that you need some sort of religion to tell you what to do and what to believe.

I've always been a fan of direct mystical experience - and mass marketed religion like that of the dominionists and evangelicals is merely a warped, fallible human interpretation of divinity - which is why it has overseen so many atrocities.

When it comes to the environment, cold calculated self interest could be a motivator as well. The mass extinction on this planet will fuck with everyone, even rich Americans. We are already seeing the effects in our lives, and our children will see atrocities that we haven't imagined yet. If technology continues on the path its following, these atrocities will be televised and burned into their consciousness, just like 9/11 - replayed over and over again because no one can stop watching and there's advertising to sell.

But I digress.

kr pdx said...

"If technology continues on the path its following, these atrocities will be televised and burned into their consciousness, just like 9/11 - replayed over and over again because no one can stop watching and there's advertising to sell"

(so much for inherent morality ;) )

But, yes--if community-thinking wasn't natural, we wouldn't have so many religious people, eh?