GREEN INFLUENCES
ON THE ‘GREENING’ OF RELIGION IN THE WEST

A Preliminary
Exploration

by
Tom Baugh

Abstract: This note discusses several aspects of the roles played by ‘Green’ sociopolitical movements in the dialogue leading to the ‘greening’ of mainline religions in the West. Those influences were directly and indirectly instrumental in encouraging reevaluations of existing theological models and religious praxis in response to environmental crisis.

Introduction

If one reviews the literature on the ‘greening’ (Taylor 204, p. 992) of religion and theology in the West, it becomes rapidly obvious that the Green[1] sociopolitical movements may have contributed to raising awareness of the roles of religion and theology in responding to environmental crisis.

Religion is a component of all cultures and frequently the guiding and controlling component (Tucker and Grim, 2007, p. 15) through which societies legitimize themselves (Berger 1990). Although not always obvious, religion is generally pervasive throughout cultures and is often the unifying principle of a society (Marsden 2001, p 3). Religions have played a substantial role in formulating views of nature and defining relationships of the roles of humanity in nature (Tucker and Grim 1994, p. ), thus linking religious life and natural systems (Sullivan 2002, p. xi). Tucker and Grimm (2007, p. 15) state that, “…many people recognize that religions, as enduring shapers of culture and values, can make seminal contributions to the rethinking of our current environmental impasse” and Tucker (2003, p. 11) maintains that religions have entered their “ecological Phase.” Oelschlaeger (1994, p. 61) states that “Religion is vital to environmentalism conceived as a social movement that might transform society’s relations to nature,..”. The 1970s witnessed the beginning of a spiritual revival (Armstrong (2006, p. xvi) and part of this revival was the greening of religion and theology (Baugh 2007). Baugh (2007) further suggests that this focus will continue as an irreversible theme of theological inquiry and religious life working in conjunction with the sciences and other aspects of culture. In this regard, Wilson (2006, p. 3) calls for growing cooperation between science and religion in addressing environmental issues.

The dawning of the Age of Aquarius in the 1960’s and 1970’s, the influence of Paganism, so-called ‘new religions’ or even those referred to as ‘New Age’ religions, and the interest in Native American religious and spiritual practices (Taylor 2004, p. 996) had significant appeal to those involved in the Green sociopolitical movements. These spiritual awakenings played a significant role in informing and energizing the mainline Christian denominations in the West and, increasingly religions world wide. The growing interest in the relationship between religion and ecology is apparent throughout Christian religious movements from conservative evangelical Christians[2] through the mainline Christian religions [3] to religions worldwide[4], including professional organizations and societies[5] and academic institutions[6].

The question raised here is what, if any, influences might the Green sociopolitical movements have had on the recognition by Christian and allied religions in the West. To some extent, Oelschlaeger (1994, p. 171-183) alludes to these influences, in a broad sense, in his analysis of what he refers to as ‘Alternative Creation Stories.’ He places radical feminist ecotheology, Wicca, goddess feminism, Native American faiths, and Deep Ecology in this category. Ludwig (2001, p. 493) points out that many today experience their sense of the sacred through involvement with nature-oriented religions such as Wicca and Neo-Paganism. Fisher (2002, p. 447) links much of the energy and movement with these religious expressions to responses to the increasingly obvious nature of worldwide environmental impacts. [7] Molloy (2005, p. 546) asks if a new religion might be manifesting focused on the growing environmental awareness. Molloy (p. 547) calls this new movement ‘Naturism’ and feels that it has “interesting parallels with traditional religion,” with a definite spirituality focusing on the unity among the community of life and with the fullness of the universe.

There is at least one additional root to the developments identified as ‘Alternatives’ by Oelschlaeger (1994) and ‘Naturism’ by Molloy (2005).
These roots lie in religious threads expressed, in religious and nonreligious ways, through the Green sociopolitical movements.

The Green Party of the United States and related green movements [8] are organized around ten primary values or principles[9]. Among these is the principle of ecological wisdom that states, in part, “Human societies must operate with the understanding that we are part of nature, not separate from nature.” The term ‘ecological wisdom,’ first introduced by Naess (1973), was rapidly adopted by the Green sociopolitical movement, and became one of the original Four Pillars of the Green Party. Although that number has increased to ten principles (or values), and all are held to be coequals, ecological wisdom is often considered a central pillar (Baugh 2006, p. 10), so central, in fact, that Rensenbrink (2003/2004, p. 3) raises concern about what he perceives as a possible lowering of the rank of ecological wisdom. In this regard, Baugh (2006, p.10) cautions that failing to remember the central role of the principle of ecological wisdom may relegate the Green Party to run the risk of ‘sameness,’ with other political parties.

That the green sociopolitical movements and the Green Party were a presence in the enlightenment of mainline religion is nowhere more obvious than in the presence and praxis of Charlene Spretnak working, primarily through the ecofeminist project (1994). This is especially apparent in her book ‘The Spiritual Dimension of Green Politics’ (1986). Spretnak (1986, p. 65) says that a “religion-based movement for social change is beginning to flourish that is completely in keeping with Green principles.” The impacts of the ecofeminist project on theology, religion, ethics, and philosophy should now be obvious without attribution. On the other side of the coin social ecologist Murray Bookchin, replies in critique that, “If the biggest "hole" in the Green movement is the need for a "sustainable religion," as Spretnak would have us believe, then we have created a donut rather than a movement.” Bookchin (2003) asked, “…will ecology groups and the Greens turn the entire ecology movement into a starry-eyed religion decorated by gods, goddesses, woodsprites, and organized around sedating rituals that reduce militant activist groups to self-indulgent encounter groups?” He claimed that, “A Supernature, peopled by "earth-based" deities, must be replaced by a healthy naturalism in which, as a movement, we will re-establish our severed ties with nature by naturalistic means and heal our terribly wounded society by social means.” In fact, as noted above with Malloy (205,p. 547) numerous members of the Green sociopolitical movements engage in the very religious and spiritual practices derided by Bookchin (Baugh 2006, p.10).

In summary, we can make the preliminary claim that the Green sociopolitical movements have contributed through innovation and adaptation (such as unique contribution to the ecofeminist project), adoption (ecological wisdom), and propagation (general praxis) to the increasing awareness of the general as well as the religious and theological aspects of culture[10] .

References

Armstrong, K. 2006. The great transformation. New York. Anchor Books.

Baugh, T. 2007. The greening of religion and theology. The
Green Institute. http://www.greeninstitute.net/subpages/greening_religion.asp.

Baugh, Tom. 2006. Ecological wisdom and science. Green Pages 10(1):10

Berger, P. 1990. The sacred canopy: Elements of a sociological theory of religion. Doubleday. Garden City, NY.

Bookchin, M. 2003. Reflections: An overview of the roots of social ecology. http://www.social-ecology.org/staticpages/index.php?page=library.

Bookchin, M. 2003. The crisis in the ecology movement. http://www.social-ecology.org/article.php?story=20031117103040125.

Fisher, M.P. 2002. Living religions, 5th ed. New Jersey. Prentice Hall.

Ludwig, T.M. 2001. The sacred paths: Understanding the religions of the world. New Jersey. Prentice Hall.

Malloy, M. 2005. Experiencing the world’s religions: Tradition, challenge, and change. Boston. McGraw Hill.

Marsden, G.M. 2001. Religion and American culture, 2ed. Harcourt College Publishers. Fort Worth, TX, USA 2001. p. 3.

Naess, A. 1973. The Shallow and the Deep, Long-Range Ecology Movement: A Summary. Inquiry 16: 95-100.

Rensenbrink, J. 2003/2004. Are Greens slighting ecology? Green Horizon Quarterly 1(4):3.

Rensenbrink, J. 1999. Against all odds: The green
transformation of American politics. Raymond ME. Leopold Press, Inc.

Spretnak, C. 1994. Critical and constructive contributions of ecofeminism, p. 181-189, In Worldviews and ecology: Religion, philosophy, and the environment. Maryknoll, NY. Orbios Books.

Spretnak, C. 1986. The spiritual dimension of Green politics. Santa Fe, NM. Bear and Company.

Sullivan, L.E. 2002. In Hava Tirosh-Samuelson, Judaism and Ecology: Created world and revealed word. Harvard University Press. Cambridge, MA. p. xi.

Taylor, B. 2004. A green future for religion? Futures
36:991-1008.

Tucker, M.E. 2006. Worldly wonder: Religions enter their ecological phase. Chicago. Open Court.

Tucker, M.E. and J. Grimm. 2007. The Greening of the World’s Religions. Religious Studies News 22(3):15-16.

Tucker, M.E. and J.A. Grimm. 1994. Worldviews and ecology: Religion, Philosophy and the environment. Orbis Books. p.11.

Wilson, E.O. 2006. The Creation: An appeal to save life on earth. W.W. Norton. New York

Please cite this manuscript as follows: Baugh, T. 2007. Green Influences on the 'Greening' of Relligion in the West. http://s26231.gridserver.com/?q=node/13

THE AUTHOR

In addition to 30 years experience in science information, natural resource management, and conservation biology with two federal agencies and one university, Tom Baugh is also a multidisciplinary professional with graduate education and degrees in biology/ecology and religion/theology. In addition to being Science Fellow with the Green Institute, Tom is a member of the American Institute of Biological Sciences, the Society for Conservation Biology, the Forum on Religion and Ecology and the Society for the Study of Religion, Nature, and Culture. In addition, Tom is a member of the World Conservation Union (IUCN) where he serves on the Species Survival Commission and the Commission on Ecosystem Management. Tom’s publications include an entry in the Encyclopedia of Religion and Nature.

 



[1] The term ‘Green’ in this paper refers to those sociopolitical movements beginning with the development of the Values Party in Australia in 1972. This development gave stimulus to the evolution and establishment of the diverse sociopolitical movements broadly identified as Green parties. An analysis of these developments in the United States may be found in Rensenbrink (1999).

[7] I know of no study that attempts to assess the religious beliefs of those formally involved in the Green sociopolitical movements. I do know from personal experience of Greens involved in every one of these movements just as I know of Greens involved in many mainline Christian denominations and ‘allied’ denominations and sects such as Quakers, Unity and Unitarian Universalism.

[8] For additional information on the interactions between the Green Party and green sociopolitical groups and movements see Resenbrink (1999).

[10] The lack of more substantive information on Green religious preferences provides an opportunity for an interesting and worthwhile research project.