Thursday, August 20, 2009
So are the world's religious traditions — which define and shape the fundamental mythologies humans live by — a help or a hindrance in the fight to save the Earth? Two prominent scholars, who have studied the subject in depth, have different views. John Grim, co-coordinator of Yale University's Forum on Religion and Ecology, is optimistic. Bron Taylor, editor of the Encyclopedia of Religion and Nature and a professor of environmental studies at the University of Florida, is considerably less so.There are two major points I want to make out of this. In the first pace, you can be assured that a "movement" is becoming a religion when it decides to attack religion.
"Individuals who have been working with environmental issues for decades — both scientists and those working at it from a policy angle — are asking why we haven't seen a transformation in the larger populace," Grim said. "Although people identify themselves as environmentally concerned, this often doesn't show up (in changed behavior such as) reduced consumption or energy use. Some deeper motivation is needed to make the turn. Religions can play a role in terms of this transformation of consciousness."
“There is reason to believe that religion is a significant and negative variable contributing to the degradation of ecosystems globally," said Taylor. "I'm as yet unconvinced that these traditions can be changed enough, and rapidly enough, to ameliorate the current rapid decline in the genetic and species variety of the planet."
The underlying issue was probably best defined by poet and essayist Robert Bly, who has been writing about man's ravenous relationship with the environment for decades. "We're still living a mythology of abundance," he said in a recent interview. "Now it turns out we have found out the limits of the world's resources, so we need a different mythology — a mythology of preservation."
That will require the major faith traditions to shift their focus, at least in part, from the hereafter to the here-and-now. The notion that man is uniquely made in God's image and thus set apart from nature will have to be abandoned. For all its disputes with Darwinism, religion will have to evolve.
One tends to attack their competitors. So, either religion is less than religion, or these particular environmentalists are starting to think of themselves in religious terms. Now, in this case, it seems obvious, simply by the language they are using that it is the later. And what is truly dastardly is what a very low view they have of religion. It is a means to an end with no real value of its own.
Which brings me to the second point. Consider this phrase: "...a mythology of abundance...." It is not a mythology, it is a faith and it is not a faith in the things of this world, but a faith in things eternal. And the approach taken by this article sounds a deep warning for those that seek environmental action from religion motivation. Because of the philosophy sounded here strikes me a bit like a single man walking around trying to "witness" to prostitutes. It is ministry with a terrible and strong temptation attached.
There is little question I seek to be a good steward of the environment, it is how I make my living. But as Christians we need to find a very unique paradigm for how we go about it. The common understanding of environmental action is simply too deeply inculcated with this kind of quasi-religious, no hope sort of thought to every be adequate for a God-motivated approach to creation stewardship.
I'm not at all sure we have even figured out, or can for that matter, what is good and bad - At least on the large scale. (I think we can agree that litter is bad and putting poison into the water is too!) I think Christians needs to tread lightly and slowly here else we find ourselves in territory we never intended to tread.