Layne writes his American Journal each week for Gawker
where this article originally appeared.
the grim news about our slow-cooking world has got you down,
you might be an environmentalist. Recycling bins, hiking boots
and that reusable grocery bag you got at the farmer's market
are signs that you may have ecological beliefs and concerns.
To the industrial propagandists, even your awareness of the
hotter temperatures and horrific storms is proof that your green
behaviour is actually a religion. So what would happen if 10
million or 50 million religious environmentalists suddenly appeared
on the national scene?
are many quasi-religious practices in our increasingly secular
era: consumerism, drunkenly cheering the local sports franchise,
playing Quidditch at Ivy League universities, the Cult of Mac,
to name a few. Unlike these ritualized amusements, environmentalism
is actually spiritual. It combines the oldest forms of nature
worship with the good and evil of monotheistic faiths and the
transcendence of Buddhism, all leading to a utopian goal of
an earthly paradise -- a state of grace with creation, which
is exactly what saints and seekers have always pursued.
tenets of environmentalism are all about belief," the hack
writer Michael Crichton said during one of his speeches to right-wing
group. "It's about whether you are going to be a sinner
or saved. Whether you are going to be one of the people on the
side of salvation, or on the side of doom. Whether you are going
to be one of us, or one of them."
wrong with that? Who wants to be on the side of doom?
is unconcerned with harmless faiths like American Christianity,
which is now little more than a befuddled cheering squad for
the very rich. Environmentalism, deeply felt and morally certain,
is a massive threat to business as usual. This explains the
simultaneous attack on the science of global warming and the
supposed religion of ecology.
Western Europe, where at least some of the hippies stuck to
their beliefs and now have a legitimate and influential opposition
movement, ‘Green’ means environmentalism as a crucial
part of social justice. The Green Party fizzled in America,
where industrialists have too solid a hold on politics. A spiritual
awakening is a far more realistic goal in the United States,
which has always been a country of religious invention and zeal.
America is also where pioneering environmentalists such as Ralph
Waldo Emerson and John Muir embraced the sacred in nature.
way we identify something as a religion is by its rituals, just
as the critiques of environmentalism as a religion sneeringly
note its sacred meals (local and sustainable food), village
altars (recycling and compost bins) and Earth Day festivals.
But to ramp it up to a true religion, environmentalists should
also keep a day of the week for rest and renewal. When you spend
a weekend morning doing something pleasant outside with your
friends, and then go eat somewhere and talk around a big table
for two hours, you're already doing what Christ and His disciples
did, or Buddha and his monks. Maybe you'll even keep your phones
turned off during your weekly church supper, who knows.
something like this on a regular basis and you've got a Sabbath
tradition that fits nicely alongside the small ceremonies we
already perform: sharing a bottle of wine, lighting a candle,
watching the sunset, or using a whole afternoon to cook a good
homemade meal. These small acts alter our usual routines of
chores and consumption. That's what religious rituals have always
what church is supposed to do, too. Church is, ideally, a regular
neighbourhood meeting of a non-profit community. I went to several
Occupy Wall Street encampments in their waning days, from Zuccotti
Park to Oakland, and it felt like everyone was waiting for a
way to carry on, but nobody made the leap or saw the analogy
to the connection between church and community. Jonathan Franzen's
lonely crusade against certain brands of computer and the existence
of Twitter is easy to mock, but his impotent swipes at modern
existence are really just his way of mourning the lack of meaningful
ritual and occasional transcendence for the urban secularist.
can't engage the soul with a hundred-dollar check to Defenders
of Wildlife or a subscription to Adbusters, even if those
groups do important work. The soul requires satisfying actions
and habits to make up for those long stretches when nothing
particular is going on. Sacred meals, meditation, time spent
outside, and regular meetings with your like-minded friends
and neighbours are all proven ways to keep a movement alive
long after the big events that started it. Combined with charity
and health care, this is how Christianity was victorious over
the Roman Empire and became the world's largest faith.
and festivals -- holy days and feasts -- keep time with the
seasons and put temporary disappointments into perspective.
All the big holidays already mesh with the original holy days,
the winter and summer solstice and the spring and autumn equinox.
There has never been a more ready-made religion with so many
in spiritual expression is a sign of a healthy, living religion.
Environmentalism offers a place for city families who enjoy
farmer's markets, for restless college students, for Generation
Xrs, for Detroit’s best looking to resuscitate their city,
for aging baby boomers who want to reconnect with abandoned
traditions. There is plenty of space for religious orders in
their green friar's robes, and for Occupy-style guerillas in
green military pants and black clerical T-shirts. The casual
ecologist will find her place among the LED lightbulbs and yoga
mats, and the fire-and-brimstone prophet will cry out from (and
for) the wilderness.
they all say ‘environmentalist’ when asked what
religion they practice, things might just change as much as
the evildoers fear. The details will work themselves out, as
they have with all the world's big religions. When Christianity
was the universal religion of Europe, everything was touched
by religion. What if everything was steered not by boardroom
profit, but by environmental devotion?
are climate scientists and proud secularists who will object
to the establishment of a spiritually motivated environmental
community. "Equate 'greens' with this type of religion,
with faith and deities, adherence and heresy," James Murray
of The Guardian's GreenBusiness section wrote last
year, "and it becomes all but impossible to prove or disprove
the central tenets of environmentalism."
religion isn't globally monotheistic or even necessarily theistic.
Only half the world's population worships the big three of Yahweh,
Allah and Jesus; the other half includes nearly a billion Hindu,
400 million followers of traditional Chinese religion, and 350
million Buddhists. There are a billion humans today who don't
adhere to any religion, and they might just be environmentalism's
first billion adherents.
makes environmentalism such an attractive spiritual practice
is that it's based on both science fact and it’s morally
grounded. You don't have to pretend to believe in ghosts or
gods or women made from a dude's spare rib.
a healthy society, old people plant trees they'll never live
to see grow tall. That's what an environmental religion would
do, as it looks to steer the world away from a future apocalypse
while making life more satisfying and more fun right now.
if you like the basic idea but scoff at huge numbers of people
suddenly identifying as spiritual environmentalists, look at
the example of the Jedi in the United Kingdom. A decade ago,
the U.K. census found nearly 400,000 self-proclaimed Jedi. It
remains the biggest alternative religion, despite its origin
as a fictional order of warrior-monks in the Star Wars
movies. The U.S. Census doesn't ask about religion anymore,
so we would use the all-powerful political pollsters and Pew
surveyors the same way the Moral Majority did: as a show of
why not an environmentalism based on the word of climate scientists
instead of politicians who only answer to their paymasters?