CRACKS IN THE ICE
As a child, in an American blue collar family I was exposed to the frequent use of common, often colorful sayings. Two that I remember establish the dimensions of the impact of the response of religions and theologies to Earth in crisis. Someone was either ‘a day late and a dollar short,’ or ‘better late than never’ (it seems that both frequently applied to me, especially during my teens). These two sayings appear to set the boundaries of the response of religions and theologies to environmental crisis and establish the polar tensions acting on those responses.
In 1967 historian Lynn White published a much acclaimed and much abused article stating, essentially, that the roots of our ‘ecologic crisis’ were found in the fundamentally exploitive nature of Judeo-Christian theology. While studying at
‘A Day Late and a Dollar Short’
The academic speculation gave way to praxis, the doing of things, as church after church launched Earth-friendly projects to reduce energy consumption, replace Styrofoam cups with pottery, xeriscape the church grounds, and dozens of other well-intended eco-friendly actions. Stiffly resistant denominational hierarchies slowly began, in the light of new information about Earth in crisis and pressure from the pews, to develop and publish denominational position on environmental issues. Even the usually resistant Roman Curia weighed-in to tell the world that pollution is a sin. Religious groups now study ‘God’s Gift of Water’ and ‘Protecting and Healing Rivers’ under the guidance of Psalm 24:1 (KJV). Academics, even less likely to change than the Curia began, sometimes painfully, to develop theological foundations from ancient texts. These newly discovered threads were sometimes woven together with newly discovered ‘truths’ into social and cultural fabrics such as ecofeminism. Everybody (except the most conservative Christians) seemed to buy-in and stake out turf and conservative religionists have lately started to come around. As I have said elsewhere “The growing interest in the relationship between religion and ecology is nowhere more apparent than the recent efforts of
All of this time, however, Earth has been warming and people are talking of ‘tipping points’ . The ice is cracking and melting. Even the most optimistic scientific prognosticator is less and less optimistic with each day that passes without significant action from the governments of the world. An increasingly strong case can now be made for catastrophes of such magnitude that the collapse of societies may be anticipated. It is increasingly apparent that for all that we have hoped, for all the new paradigms and the carefully (and sometimes carelessly) woven theologies, it may be too late.
I explored this concern in ‘Creation Spirituality as a Post-Apocalyptic Paradigm’. In the article I pointed out that we live in possibly fatally challenging times in which:
“Three factors have come together to fashion, in our time, a crisis with potentially staggering dimensions. For the first time in history our weapons have grown in number and capacity so that humanity is now capable of near total destruction. The second factor of grave concern is the rapidly changing environmental condition of Earth. Humanity has so severely damaged natural systems that recovery is most likely impossible. We are now only on the outer edge of an ecocaust of staggering proportions. The Ecozoic Era had a relatively gentle birth as a concept in the latter part of the last century but it will have a very difficult adolescence in the coming Dark Age. The third factor in this tragic trinity is religion.”
‘Better Late Than Never’
As the ice continues to crack, so will democratic institutions. As the waters rise, so will authoritarian forms of governance. They will offer hope, as they have done in the past. There will be declarations and protestations but the authorities of organized religion will, as they have in the past, join with the authorities in government and hold as tightly to the reins of power as they can. Authoritarian governments relate to organized religion in several ways. All of these ways involve command and control. As collapse progresses and democratic governments metamorphosed into authoritarian forms we will, most likely, also see the establishment of state religions (where they don’t already exist). In the years between 2000-2008 the
Would no response from religion have been better than being late and short? No. The response has, at least, provided some foundation for a potential recovery following collapse. Has enough of a foundation been laid to carry a green theme through the coming collapse and into an undefinable future? That is hard to tell. Authoritarian governments have in the past incorporated strong ‘green’ themes. One notorious example of such incorporation was what Staudenmaier refers to as the powerfully antisemitic and brutal ‘Green Wing’ of the Nazi Party. According to Staudenmaier, the “The National Socialist ‘religion of nature’…was a volatile admixture of primeval nature mysticism, pseudoscientific ecology, irrationalist anti-humanism, and a mythology of racial salvation through a return to the land.” This movement of ‘Blood and Soil’ did indeed contribute to the shedding of much blood on German and other soil. This is not to imply that environmental advocates could work easily with authoritarian, even fascist governments as collapse progresses. In the
One final thought, all governments require control. While consent of the governed might be the basis of democratic government, command and control is the essence of authoritarian governments and the hidden heart of organized, institutional religion. In the
This note is a comment on the belated response of religions and theologies to Earth in Crisis. The work undertaken in the field of ecotheology should, however, indeed must continue. As an institution, religion has many tragic failings but its response to the world environmental crisis isn’t one of them, it is simply late; no more belated, however, than any other institution of society and a bit ahead of some. Depending on the length and ‘depth’ of societal collapse, the work in ecotheology, if it survives, may provide a partial foundation for recovery. We have all been a day late and a dollar short and now we will pay the price. How much we can salvage for the future remains the question.
“And this new century will not grow very old before we enter an age of chaos and collapse that will dwarf all the dark ages in our past.”
Please cite this manuscript as follows:
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 White, L.T., Jr. 1967. The historical roots of our ecologic crisis. Science 155(3767):1203-1207.
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 Ruether, R.R. 2007. Ecofeminist philosophy, theology, and ethics: A comparative view. Pp 77-93. In
 Term first used by Thomas Berry.
 Fox, M. 2000. Original Blessing: A Primer in Creation Spirituality Presented in Four Paths, Twenty-Six Themes, and Two Questions
 Baugh, T. 2007. The greening of religion and theology in the West. The Green Institute. http://www.greeninstitute.net/?q=node/11
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 ‘Ecocaust’ is a term reportedly coined by author Mark Budz in his book Clade (Bantam Books).
 Term first used by Thomas Berry.
 Barnett, V.J. 1998. For the soul of the people: Protestant protest under Hitler.
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