The Unchecked Growth of Environmentalism

David Taylor FAITH Magazine January-February 2010

Is the Church really aware of, or concerned about, the rapid growth of various environmental movements? Their aims are mainly good but a significant proportion are semi-pagan and wholly indifferent if not hostile to Christianity and the Church.

First of all I must state that I am not referring to, and largely approve of, the older and more scientific environmental and sustainability organizations that are trying to prepare us for the very different and difficult future we will face in the coming years. Such organizations as Friends of the Earth, The Permaculture Association, The Centre for Alternative Technology, The Soil Association, Garden Organic (previously the Henry Doubleday Research Association - HDRA), the many Wildlife Trusts and Conservation bodies and the recent Transition Towns Network try to address these issues. These organizations are not the problem I wish to highlight.

But many also try to provide for the spiritual longings of those today who reject organised religion. This ranges from legitimately reconnecting people with the natural world, to, in varying ways, providing a "spiritual journey". Some of this seems like a re-run of the early 19th century Romantic Movement - many today clearly desire to escape from industrial civilization and live a simpler life. This religious quest results in centres holding courses entitled "The Journey", "The Homecoming", "The Circle of Fire", this latter being described as "a handrail into the mystery of becoming [...] a descent and an ascent". Others include, for their summer festivals and camps, Earth Mysteries, Earth Energies and Ley Lines, Ancient Knowledge, Mayan Calendries, Shamanism, Serious Esoterica. All thismixed up with, in this writer's view, perfectly valid concerns about the environment, conservation, sustainability and the importance of the natural world for human well-being. It is a real jumble.

There is often an infatuation with all things "Celtic". This occasionally includes the Celtic Church, but with little understanding that it was an integral part of the One Church, and was thoroughly orthodox and Trinitarian. However, the monks in Celtic lands do seem to have had a greater awareness of the Creation as a revelation of God than has often been the case.

But what is almost universal is that in all the emphasis on "honouring the sacred" Christianity has almost no place, whereas Buddhism, Shamanism and Native Religions often do. Christianity and the Church are regarded as, at best largely irrelevant and at worst as actively malevolent. Many sites and festivals that have a "sacred" emphasis do in practice indulge in various forms of nature worship, sometimes overt. On one website which asks, "Did the Christians get it wrong?" - the sun is regarded as a conscious entity whose worship has been "cast out by today's dominant religion".

Thus what is happening, and quite rapidly, is the recrudescence of paganism in this country, all combined with valid environmental concerns and various alternative therapies and life-styles. Much of this can be gleaned by looking at the multitude of "Green Events" in pamphlets, flyers and websites.

All this does not, however, prevent some of the pagans from stealing from Christianity when it suits them. On a weekend singing (and environmental) course the woman leader, who turned out to be shaman, used as her favourite chant Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est. At another venue, Gregorian chant was being taught - but the words were poems about nature. One of the poems - a good one about animate and inanimate nature - began Glory be to Gaia. The teacher said it was just a song about nature - "nothing religious about it".

This paganism, with the quasi- or actual worship of nature, leads easily to worship of the Earth as the deity - the worship of Mother Earth, or the Goddess.

Resurgence magazine may be called the flagship of many of these groups; it is in many ways an excellent magazine and is deeply concerned with "spiritual awareness" as well as with environmental matters, but needless to say it considers orthodox Christianity to be totally irrelevant.

The Church does not seem to be very aware of this diffuse but growing neo-pagan movement. Most Christians seem to know little or nothing about it.

How the Church can counter this is no doubt a difficult question. First it has to realise the extent of this widespread and growing phenomenon. Many Catholics, in this writer's experience, seem to think that any concern for "Green" issues, environmental degradation, ecological collapse or climate change is non-Christian and automatically puts you with the New Agers and pagans. Sadly, the ones most likely to be interested and concerned are the liberals, not the more orthodox.

I find it interesting that Teddy Goldsmith, who founded the Ecologist magazine and who recently died, has been called "The Godfather of Green". In an article about him {Ecologist, March 2007, reprinted after his death on the Ecologist web site), it states that,

"Today's leading Greens are almost all drawn from the political left [...] and are anxious to trumpet their 'progressive' principles. In this context, Teddy Goldsmith's stubbornly small-c conservative vision, and his commitment to 'stability', 'tradition' and the teachings of ancient religions are red rags to a green bull."

The article also said that in his time he had been called "an extreme right-wing ideologue", a "fascistoid", a "Bolshevik", a "wacko-communist liberal" and a "Jacobin terrorist". So maybe he got it about right.

Perhaps this is another reason why many Church people are ignorant of, or hostile to, Green and environmental matters -they perceive them as extreme left-wing issues. But they are not, and surely Christians, above all, should be working hard to proclaim the glory of God's Creation and doing their best to protect it - not leaving it to pagans and secular left-wingers.

For further information:

www.earthcentrenetwork.org.ukgives a list of some of relevant organizations. New websites seem to be appearing all the time.

www.sunrisecelebration.com is one of the more pagan organizations, which also includes valid environmental concerns.

Faith Magazine

January - February 2010