FOR SOME individuals and societies, the role of religion seems increasingly to be filled by environmentalism. It has become "the religion of choice for urban . . .
. . . atheists," according to Michael Crichton, the late science fiction writer (and climate change skeptic). In a widely quoted 2003 speech, Crichton outlined the ways that environmentalism "remaps" Judeo-Christian beliefs.
There's an initial Eden, a paradise, a state of grace and unity with nature, there's a fall from grace into a state of pollution as a result of eating from the tree of knowledge, and as a result of our actions there is a judgment day coming for us all. We are all energy sinners, doomed to die, unless we seek salvation, which is now called sustainability. Sustainability is salvation in the church of the environment. Just as organic food is its communion, that pesticide-free wafer that the right people with the right beliefs, imbibe.
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In his seminal essay "The Historical Roots of Our Ecologic Crisis," published in Science magazine in 1967, historian Lynn Townsend White, Jr. argues that . . . Biblical precepts made Christianity, "especially in its Western form," the "most anthropocentric religion the world has seen." . . .
. . . . Christianity, writes White, "bears a huge burden of guilt" for the destruction of the environment.
. . . . "Since the roots of our trouble are so largely religious, the remedy must also be essentially religious." And so White suggests as a model Saint Francis, "the greatest spiritual revolutionary in Western history." Francis should have been burned as a heretic, White writes, for trying "to substitute the idea of the equality of all creatures, including man, for the idea of man's limitless role in creation." . . .
. . . . One of the most serious critiques of White's thesis appears in theologian Richard John Neuhaus's 1971 book In Defense of People, a broad indictment of the rise of the . . . "theology of ecology." . . .
Other Christian writers joined Neuhaus in condemning the eco-movement's attempt to subvert or supplant their religion. "We too want to clean up pollution in nature," Christianity Today demurred, "but not by polluting men's souls with a revived paganism." The Jesuit magazine America called environmentalism "an American heresy." . . .
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[The] ecological movement can increasingly be seen as something of a religion in and of itself. . . .
Freeman Dyson, the brilliant and contrarian octogenarian physicist, agrees. In a 2008 essay in the New York Review of Books, he described environmentalism as "a worldwide secular religion" that has "replaced socialism as the leading secular religion." . . .
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. . . . 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. . . .
Selling indulgences is out of fashion these days. But you can now assuage your guilt by buying carbon offsets. Fire and brimstone, too, are much in vogue -- accompanied by the unmistakeable whiff of authoritarianism . . . .
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In the 1960s, a British chemist working with the American space program had a flash of insight. Planet Earth, James Lovelock realized, behaves like one complex, living system of which we humans are, in effect, some of its parts. The physical components of the earth, from its atmosphere to its oceans, closely integrate with all of its living organisms to maintain climatic chemistry in a self-regulating balance ideal for the maintenance and propagation of life.
. . . . He named this vast planetary organism after the Greek goddess who personified the earth -- Gaia -- and described "Her" as "alive."
. . . . For both good and ill, Lovelock not only gave the planet a persona, he created one for himself, becoming "the closest thing we have to an Old Testament prophet, though his deity is not Jehovah but Gaia," as the Sunday Times recently noted.
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Of environmentalism increasingly being faith-based, Lovelock says, "I would agree with you wholeheartedly. I look at humans as probably having an evolutionary desire to have ideology, to justify their actions. Green thinking is like Christian or Muslim religions -- it's another ideology."
(Joel Garreau, "Environmentalism as Religion," The New Atlantis, Summer 2010)