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Green Politics Religion


Green Politics
   and Religion    
by Steve Serr

The color ‘green’ has entered our economic, political and social color spectrum. Pressures for change in how we treat our world have begun to cast a decidedly green hue towards areas like industry and politics, and even into our day-to-day world. In the economic sphere, environmental constraints are being levied on industries; in the political sphere, politicians occasionally promote environmental protection (when it serves their constituency). In the social sphere? Well, I now keep a reusable bag to take with me into the grocery store in the pickup, and I am not alone in this.

However, it occurred to me that although I have heard about green economics and green politics, I haven’t heard much about green religion, at least explicitly. Arnie Naess, from the position of deep ecology had some insightful things to suggest about influencing a greenish change in politics and economics, but this got me thinking about religion. The world is spinning into devolution as a consequence of misguided but fundamental human norms. If deep change is necessary in the ‘cornerstones’ that bolster the maintenance of world, then religion cannot be ignored.

After all, is not at least one of religion’s primary functions the education and encouragement of norms in humanity? Moreover, are not these the norms that tenaciously work their way into every aspect of human life, from economic to politics to the social order?

‘Green’ is supposed to represent ecological awareness and the practice of an ecologically sound lifestyle. Naess suggests that are ‘green’ political efforts can influence change by developing a ‘fifth columns’ of ecological awareness and valuation in a kind of uprising within political parties that so not start out ostensibly green in color. What about establishing a green political party? The establishment of a numerically small ‘green party’ may paradoxically have a negative influence on the environmental changes it would espouse because of an erroneous, publically perceived sense of unimportance of the color ‘green’, simply by looking at the numbers and making an equally erroneous extrapolation of ‘green-leaning’ throughout society.

‘Green’ is not against ‘industry’ per se; only against big and environmentally toxic industry. Nor is 'green' against ‘technology’ per se; just that which fails to advance the basic goals of an environmentally healthy world. Soaring human population will continue to fly out of control for a long time before we can see human numbers diminishing. And with this out-of-control human non-stop procreating, our Earth’s health is deteriorating. We have to get this human population to exert minimal harm on the planet. In our frustration to make change happen (and in fear of the future) it is easy to criticize politicians as well as anyone else working within ‘the system’. This is cutting off our nose to spite our face: it is the major power-players in industry, politics and the living world who hold much of the possibility of ever ‘re-greening’ the planet.

But what's this about religion? Why bring that up if indeed, the power players are the suits and ties and bank accounts of the contemporary world? Religion has had an age-old reputation as a norm-building industry. Religion creates and advertises the norms of human society that in turn have carry-over effects throughout vast areas of human life.

Hmmm. A 'green' religion.

I suppose a green religion would be unequivocally 'Earth friendly', meaning ecologically aware, respectful of all of life, working feverishly at a minimum of negative planetary impact given our out-of-the box population explosion. What it would look like? Well, certainly it would have a negative influence on planetary ecology, even if that influence was through of a lack of involvement. Thomas Berry spoke eloquently and rather chidingly about the Christian redemptive mystique which “is little concerned with the natural world. The essential thing is redemption out of the world through a personal savior relationship that transcends all such concerns.” (The Dream of the Earth, Sierra Club Books, 1988) In other words, it is the neglectful disinvolvement with the Earth that is the tragedy. Berry pursued his rather uncomfortable point further:

“While none of our Christian beliefs individually is adequate as an explanation of the alienation we experience in our natural setting, they do in their totality provide a basis for understanding how so much planetary destruction has been possible in our Western tradition. We are radically oriented away from the natural world. It has no rights; it exists for human utility, even if for spiritual utility.”

If 'non-Earthly' and 'Earth-as-human-utility' help point out the ‘non-green’ religions, any number of present religions might easily display various shades of ‘greenlessness’, or green.

In the past, I have spoken critically of religions that de-sanctify the Earth. Perhaps in partial reaction to these religions, I have also chosen to align with other spiritual paths, rather than try to find a healthy way within such religions themselves. However, the development of an ecological, eco-friendly populace does not necessitate coming on like some kind of anti-establishment revolutionary. There is a sneakier, far more effective route when existing political parties form such ideas and efforts from within. In this way, the color green influence the party ‘norms’ such that political decisions start to have an ecologically positive impact on the Earth. The color green, when it appears from within, is no longer considered alien, but are in psychological terms, ‘ego-syntonic’ to the organization in which it appears.

My spirituality is, at least in my own country, by far a numerical minority. Deeply ‘green’ in color - not even a Kelly green... perhaps even a forest green shade - our relatively few numbers may actually trigger the negative consequence of an erroneous public misconception that an Earth-centered approach must not be very important.

Thomas Berry took religions to task, Christianity in particular, for inciting norms that harmfully affected the Earth. Though he chastised his own Christianity, it is not any specific religion per se that is the issue. What is the issue are the religious norms that reduce our Earth to human utility, and elevate holiness to an other-worldly place. What I mean to say is that it is not ‘religion’ which is the issue at all, but the aspects of religion that can have toxic influences. And, since the religions that hold the most adherents today are likely to be the religions holding a majority tomorrow, if we are going to have any influence on the human population’s behavior, it is crucial to accept their reality and work with it.

Green and not-so-green spiritual beliefs become codified and promulgated. Spiritual beliefs and the religions that espouse them have a deep impact on the behavior of human beings. Through the norm-generating operations of religion, either a green, a not-so-green, or a completely different environmental ‘color’ will proceed to bleed into the world. It behooves us to look more closely at religion, and in particular, its color.

Religion has been grossly overlooked by the ecological movement. It is not that politics and economics are unimportant: quite to the contrary. Anyone who thinks that religion and politics are separate in the United States, need only look at the Republican party to blow that illusion out of the water. The Republicans are taking their money and fighting back, buying seats in the House, struggling to insure the plutocracy can live on.

Oh. Did I say plutocracy?

That's another subject. For now, just take a look at the monastery, church, temple, mosque, wherever you happen to derive your norms, and see what color your particular religious institution is. Well, at least try to notice how much green there is.

© copyright 2010, Steve Serr