Environmentalism and Religion

It is to GK Chesterton that we attribute the line, “When a man ceases to believe in God, he does not believe in nothing. He believes in anything” (although we can’t seem to pin this line down in his works). The point is, mankind is inherently religious, and when the true God is not worshipped, false gods will take his place.

As Vincent Miceli said of the First Commandment: “It was as if Moses had written: ‘Atheists are not godless men; they are men addicted to false gods’.” We will all bow down to something, be it self, sex, money, power or whatever. If it is not the God of the universe, it will be some god of our own choosing.

A number of years ago the late sociologist Robert Nisbet noted that environmentalism had become the third great redemptive movement in human history. It is a religious worldview that has its own concept of the fall and salvation. The first two, said Nisbet, were Christianity and Marxism. Indeed both Marxism and radical environmentalism have become pseudo-religions. Both have notions of sin, guilt and redemption. Both have sacred texts and venerated leaders. And like all false religions, both have their fair share of zealots.

While Marxism may be in the wane in much of the world, environmentalism has in many ways replaced it as a new secular religion. Now having concern for the environment is vital, and we all need to do our bit to be good stewards of planet earth. But it is when radical environmentalism takes on religious dimensions that we need to be wary.

This is especially the case when the radical greens are quite happy to embrace agendas which are totalitarian, even in the name of saving the planet. Too often we see radical greens acting as the new coercive utopians, just as the Marxists were. Both have been happy to trample on freedom and democracy in the name of their religious vision.

The old joke about radical environmentalists being like watermelons – green on the outside, red on the inside – may have some truth to it. Many radical greens are happy to see the same coercive state intervention and heavy-handedness as did the socialists and Marxists.

And this totalitarian impulse is driven by hefty doses of hysteria and hyperbole. Consider just one recent example. Columnist Andrew Bolt reports on a British Bishop who has actually compared scepticism about global warming with paedophilia! I kid you not. Here is what the good Bishop actually said: “[Austrian paedophile] Josef Fritzl represents merely the most extreme form of a very common philosophy of life: I will do what makes me happy, and if that causes others to suffer, hard luck. In fact you could argue that, by our refusal to face the truth about climate change, we are as guilty as he is…’’

Bolt makes this reply: “Of course, the Bishop is also arguing that men who imprison and rape their daughters are really no worse than leading scientists who dispute the causes and dangers of global warming, which is further proof that this cleric is as stupid as he is hysterical.”

But such reckless claims are far too common among the radical greens. Talk about zealots and true believers! Charles Krauthammer wrote an excellent column on this recently, warning about the new green religion. Entitled “Environmentalists Pick Up Where Communists Left Off,” he begins by declaring his hand on the global warming debate:

“I’m not a global warming believer. I’m not a global warming denier. I’m a global warming agnostic who believes instinctively that it can’t be very good to pump lots of CO2 into the atmosphere, but is equally convinced that those who presume to know exactly where that leads are talking through their hats. “

He explains, “Predictions of catastrophe depend on models. Models depend on assumptions about complex planetary systems – from ocean currents to cloud formation – that no one fully understands. Which is why the models are inherently flawed and forever changing. The doomsday scenarios posit a cascade of events, each with a certain probability. The multiple improbability of their simultaneous occurrence renders all such predictions entirely speculative.”

And the danger is this: “Yet on the basis of this speculation, environmental activists, attended by compliant scientists and opportunistic politicians, are advocating radical economic and social regulation. ‘The largest threat to freedom, democracy, the market economy and prosperity,’ warns Czech President Vaclav Klaus, ‘is no longer socialism. It is, instead, the ambitious, arrogant, unscrupulous ideology of environmentalism’.”

Indeed, science is transformed into religious zealotry: “If you doubt the arrogance, you haven’t seen that Newsweek cover story that declared the global warming debate over. Consider: If Newton’s laws of motion could, after 200 years of unfailing experimental and experiential confirmation, be overthrown, it requires religious fervor to believe that global warming – infinitely more untested, complex and speculative – is a closed issue. But declaring it closed has its rewards. It not only dismisses skeptics as the running dogs of reaction, i.e., of Exxon, Cheney and now Klaus. By fiat, it also hugely re-empowers the intellectual left.”

He continues, “For a century, an ambitious, arrogant, unscrupulous knowledge class – social planners, scientists, intellectuals, experts and their left-wing political allies – arrogated to themselves the right to rule either in the name of the oppressed working class (communism) or, in its more benign form, by virtue of their superior expertise in achieving the highest social progress by means of state planning (socialism). Two decades ago, however, socialism and communism died rudely, then were buried forever by the empirical demonstration of the superiority of market capitalism everywhere from Thatcher’s England to Deng’s China, where just the partial abolition of socialism lifted more people out of poverty more rapidly than ever in human history.”

Green issues have resurrected the moribund left: “Just as the ash heap of history beckoned, the intellectual left was handed the ultimate salvation: environmentalism. Now the experts will regulate your life not in the name of the proletariat or Fabian socialism but – even better – in the name of Earth itself. Environmentalists are Gaia’s priests, instructing us in her proper service and casting out those who refuse to genuflect. (See Newsweek above.) And having proclaimed the ultimate commandment – carbon chastity – they are preparing the supporting canonical legislation that will tell you how much you can travel, what kind of light you will read by, and at what temperature you may set your bedroom thermostat.”

Enter the coercive utopians: “Just Monday, a British parliamentary committee proposed that every citizen be required to carry a carbon card that must be presented, under penalty of law, when buying gasoline, taking an airplane or using electricity. The card contains your yearly carbon ration to be drawn down with every purchase, every trip, every swipe. There’s no greater social power than the power to ration. And, other than rationing food, there is no greater instrument of social control than rationing energy, the currency of just about everything one does and uses in an advanced society.”

But Krauthammer does not just warn about the extremists. He offers sensible alternatives:

“So what does the global warming agnostic propose as an alternative? First, more research – untainted and reliable – to determine (a) whether the carbon footprint of man is or is not lost among the massive natural forces (from sunspot activity to ocean currents) that affect climate, and (b) if the human effect is indeed significant, whether the planetary climate system has the homeostatic mechanisms (like the feedback loops in the human body, for example) with which to compensate. Second, reduce our carbon footprint in the interim by doing the doable, rather than the economically ruinous and socially destructive. The most obvious step is a major move to nuclear power, which to the atmosphere is the cleanest of the clean.”

As I have said before, we all have a responsibility to properly look after this planet. But worshipping it is not the answer, nor is the erosion of our freedom in the name of green salvation. While the left is happy to push for more statism and more power for themselves, the sensible environmentalist will know that as with all things in life, there are tradeoffs. There are costs and benefits which must carefully be weighted.

While we may need some of the green prophets of doom to shake us out of our complacency, we also need prophets of common sense and balance to help keep things from getting even worse, as the coercive utopians seek to exploit this situation for their own totalitarian ends.


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13 Replies to “Environmentalism and Religion”

  1. Just this morning I read an interesting blog on Amazon from Lawrence Solomon about him trying to edit a page on Wikipedia. Because it has ramifications about global warming ‘consensus’, the edit got removed every time. Whilst there seems to be some question over the identity of the Wikipedia editor, Tabletop/Kim Dabelstein Petersen, the sobering conclusion cannot be ignored – “Wikipedia is in the hands of the zealots.” Think I’ll start gravitating towards Conservapedia.com more often.


    Mark Rabich, Melbourne

  2. Bill, I think from now on I will also call myself “a Global Warming Agnostic”, it describes me perfectly. I certainly don’t claim to know everything but I sure can spot the religious fervour of environmentalism mixed with media hype and political opportunism. It’s as if we have a new religious trinity of Science, Greenies & Politicians to save us?
    Lyle Hutchinson

  3. “If it is not the God of the universe, it will be some god of our own choosing.”

    Exactly, and since it is a god of OUR choosing, we are in control of it. So ultimately, we enthrone ourselves.

    Thus as CS Lewis pointed out, there will only be one sentence spoken at our judgement:
    “Thy will be done.”

    Either God will say it to those who fit the above by choosing a god for themselves, or we will say it to God, if we are submitted to Him through faith in Jesus.

    John Angelico

  4. Thanks John

    Yes, quite right: the dethroning of God always entails the enthroning of ourselves. The greatest sin is always idolatry, putting ourselves in the place of God.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  5. Bill,

    You are currently cited in the 5th most popular article on atheism in the English speaking world that is located on the internet (see: Google for the USA).

    A reciprocal link on your main page would be much appreciated though not necessary of course.

    Here is the article:



  6. Thanks Anon

    Of course I generally frown upon anonymous comments, but perhaps in this case I can make an exception. As Wikipedia can often be unreliable, and subject to leftist takeovers, I do recommend Conservapedia to my readers.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  7. I like how you put the three ‘great redemptive movements’ Christianity, Marxism and Environmentalism in a row. Unfortunately you arbitrarily decide to draw a line the first and the other two.

    Clearly all three of them have notions of sin, guilt and redemption, All three have sacred texts and venerated leaders. And like all false (?) religions, all three have their fair share of zealots.

    Thul Dai

  8. Amazingly, the pro legalisation-of-abortion Anglican Archbishop of Melbourne Philip Freier has an opinion column in The Age claiming global-warming and evironmentalism in general is a “key moral issue of our time”.
    Ewan McDonald

  9. This column by Philip Freier to which I previously referred, is completely over-the-top. Not only does he claim that “global warming and environmental degradation” is a “key moral issue of our time”, but he also says we need to “repent of our self-centered abuse of creation” and “say sorry for our misuse of the earth”. He also talks about the “spiritual dimension of our relationship to the environment” and invites “people of all faiths” to attend his church to “pray for the future of the earth” (never mind about the state of their souls).

    What makes this column even worse is that last year the Anglican diocese of Melbourne under Freier’s leadership put in a submission to the VLRC report on ‘decriminalising’ abortion which actually supported decriminalisation! So for Freier and the Melbourne Anglicans, killing babies is OK but using fossil fuels is a sin. Do examples of apostasy come much clearer than this?

    Ewan McDonald, Victoria.

  10. Do you not think that Christians have a responsibility to care for the planet, be good stewards, and champion the protection of creation?
    Sara Goodwin

  11. Thanks Sara

    Yes is the answer to all your questions, which I have stated many times here on related posts. Balance, as usual is the key here. We are to be good stewards of planet earth, and not be callous about it, but we are not to worship it either, or go to extremes as some would have us, and put people way on the bottom of our priority list.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

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