Environmentalism as a religion

Via IM from son James we have a philosophy professor explaining how environmentalism is a substitute for more traditional religions:

Feeling unworthy is still a large part of Western religious culture, but many people, especially in multicultural urban centers, are less religious. There are still those who believe that God is watching them and judging them, so their feelings of guilt and moral indignation are couched in the traditional theological furniture. But increasing numbers, in the middle and upper classes, identify themselves as being secular or perhaps “spiritual” rather than religious.

Now the secular world still has to make sense out of its own invisible, psychological drama—in particular, its feelings of guilt and indignation. Environmentalism, as a substitute for religion, has come to the rescue. Nietzsche’s argument about an ideal God and guilt can be replicated in a new form: We need a belief in a pristine environment because we need to be cruel to ourselves as inferior beings, and we need that because we have these aggressive instincts that cannot be let out.

Instead of religious sins plaguing our conscience, we now have the transgressions of leaving the water running, leaving the lights on, failing to recycle, and using plastic grocery bags instead of paper. In addition, the righteous pleasures of being more orthodox than your neighbor (in this case being more green) can still be had—the new heresies include failure to compost, or refusal to go organic. Vitriol that used to be reserved for Satan can now be discharged against evil corporate chief executives and drivers of gas-guzzling vehicles. Apocalyptic fear-mongering previously took the shape of repent or burn in hell, but now it is recycle or burn in the ozone hole. In fact, it is interesting the way environmentalism takes on the apocalyptic aspects of the traditional religious narrative. The idea that the end is nigh is quite central to traditional Christianity—it is a jolting wake-up call to get on the righteous path. And we find many environmentalists in a similarly earnest panic about climate change and global warming. There are also high priests of the new religion, with Al Gore (“the Goracle”) playing an especially prophetic role.

We even find parallels in environmentalism of the most extreme, self-flagellating forms of religious guilt. Nietzsche claims that religion has fostered guilt to such neurotic levels that some people feel culpable and apologetic about their very existence. Compare this with extreme conservationists who want to sacrifice themselves for trees and whales. And teachers, like myself, will attest to significant numbers of their students who feel that their cats or whatever are equal to human beings. And not only are members of the next generation egalitarian about all life, but they often feel positively awful about the way that their species has corrupted and defiled the whole beautiful symphony of nature. The planet, they feel, would be better off without us. We are not worthy. In this extreme form, one does not seek to reduce one’s carbon footprint so much as eliminate one’s very being.

It appears many people have a religious gene. They are, in essence, programmed to feel as they do toward “something greater than themselves”. As science made the unknown more knowable and more under the control of man it reduced the domain of possibility and probability of god(s) controlling people’s lives. And people had to have a substitute. This professor proposes environmentalism fulfills this need for many people.

I would like to suggest that an all powerful state fulfills that need for far too many other people–socialism can be thought of as a religion. It is a belief in the goodness of something without, or in spite of, evidence. Compare that to traditional religious faith.

This has serious implications for society and even the entire human race. If we are condemned to believe in things contrary to the facts how can we make the best decisions for ourselves let alone justify the forcing of others to adhere to the will of the majority?


6 thoughts on “Environmentalism as a religion

  1. Having an early background in religion (parents were missionaries, dad has a PhD in Theology), in college I was an Anthropology major – and also was the TA for an undergrad course titled “The Anthropology of Religion,” so I feel confident saying that Environmentalism and Socialism are both definitely religions. The problem with Socialism is that People as a group are deified, and propelled by the mistaken and hubris-driven belief in human perfectibility they apply to the leadership the status of more-perfect-than-thou – they are “more evolved” therefore they are more entitled to lead. Which is transparently bogus, but “perfectibility” and “evolving” have a way of clouding that transparency.
    As for Environmentalism, it’s Animism – the oldest religion on the planet and one with the least sophisticated theological development, it’s just a constant, wingin’ it, kind of morality-and-purpose thing. But then it doesn’t ask for much in that respect, it’s demands are placed elsewhere – on planet-influencing behaviors. It’s an equation (of massive dissimilarities): if you do X, then the Gods/Gaia will respond with Y. Yeh right, but they got a lot of people going with the whole Co2 thing…

  2. The analogy is a sound one, especially when one compares the apocalypticists among Christians and environmentalists — those who believe that the End is Nigh. They yearn for this destruction, for it will vindicate them and punish the wicked. But no matter how many times their predictions fail to come true, they just roll out a later date and keep on preaching hellfire and tidal waves.

  3. Of course compelling the individual to follow the will of the majority’s religion cannot be justified, but then, it couldn’t be justified before this particular insight (which I have believed myself for quite some time) either. Unfortunately, understanding the problem doesn’t seem to help in coming up with solutions. Maybe in coming up with a religion that has as its sole tenant “Thou Shalt Leave Others Alone”.

  4. “As for Environmentalism, it’s Animism.”

    Or pantheism. Do not commit blasphemy my insulting the Supreme Seer, Algore– The Goracle.

    Interesting that Pat Robertson said the earthquake in Hati happened because the Hatians sold their souls to the devil in return for liberating them from the French, while Danny Glover blamed the earthquake on “climate change” and our failure to sign a climate treaty at Copenhagen. Both purely religious assertions, both dead serious, both groundless, both astonishingly ignorant, and both of course entirely insane. There aren’t many things that I can say I actually fear, in the visceral sense, but his kind of “aggressive ignorance” is perhaps one of them.

    For further study; if environmentalism is a religion, and certainly Danny Glover’s comment rises to the definition quite handily, then, according to our own American Left, it would have to be purged from government, post haste. Hence, enviro-socialism, or anything resembling it, is unconstitutional on first amendment grounds alone. No?

  5. The conspiracy theorist is also religious. Just not happy about. All the chaos in the world is actually part of a Plan. An evil plan. There are people out there who are so smart, they can run the world, and make it look like chaos. That’s godlike power. Where the god in question is the Gnostic demiurge.

    RE: How can we make the best decisions for ourselves let alone justify the forcing of others to adhere to the will of the majority?

    Nobody wants the best decision, which is generally unmakable anywho. We aren’t playing a game of full information.

    Not chess, Spock. Poker!
    – James T. Kirk

    What we’re looking for is good enough and on time. By short-circuiting the big questions and providing ready answers, religion makes decision-making fast. In this sense, a good, rigid ideology works the same way. Judgements can be made fast. Your OODA loop is tighter. Your observations are colored, but you can decide and act faster than someone who is weighing all the facts carefully and checking himself for bias. It’s sort of like why CoreWars was short-lived. It turned out that the winning strategy was to have a tight loop that shat all over memory at random.

    Obviously there are limits to my argument. Components of Islam and Taoism stunted the development of science and later on put those cultures at an evolutionary disadvantage vs the West. It remains to be seen if the West has become too rational for its own good in the long term.

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